Meet Winston. The most unusual thing I ever photographed // Product photography with the Fuji X-T1

One attic , 4 guys with an unusual idea and 2 years of perseverance and meetings on Tuesday.

Meet Winston, the robotic bartender.

I met Nick through our 5 year old’s school “posse”, we are “the dads”. We seem to be sharing the same geeky interests and when he first told me about a project that he and his friends were working on I was intrigued to go and meet Winston. Later I learned that that they wanted to launch a Kickstarter campaign and because I like a good challenge …. I proposed to pimp their product shots.

Winston is the most unusual thing I ever photographer and that posed a couple of problems.

  • One glass bottle isn’t the most easy thing to photograph. Let alone 10!
  • The attic that would serve as the studio was fitted with TL & tungsten and one small attic window.


  • I wanted to create a cocktail bar atmosphere. Your typical attic mancave doesn’t fit that description.
  • I wanted the prototype to look as good at possible. Like a MUA would do for a bride.
  • I didn’t want to show the wooden panels where the bottles were mounted on it too much. (this is a prototype remember)
  • The star of the show is the robotic arm, I wanted to focus on that too.
  • For a more dynamic shot I wanted to have some movement.
  • I wanted to solve as much as I could in-camera and limit post production.

Before – After
Let me jump right in and show you the before and after. I’ll dive in to the technical details further down.

These are some of the snaps that the guys had made. (They are still on the kickstarter page to show the real basement project feeling of it)


Room for improvement … no critique on the guys because I wouldn’t be able to create a robot arm either. First thing we did was to switch out the test bottles for the real deal.

My test shot with the available light as it was. Better? but not nearly there…


(click on the pictures for a full screen view.)

Technical Deep dive

Using a softbox & flashes to light Winston would cause me too many headaches with all the reflective materials. It would also be very difficult to light the bottles and the robotic arm separately without having too much stray light on the wooden panels of the device.

We gaffered up the windows to block out any remaining daylight from entering and killed the TL & tungsten. To accompany the colored LEDs that Winston has in the console & underneath the fluid recipient area AND to get that coyote ugly cocktail bar vibe I opted to use a blue gelled LED panel. The camera was set to ISO200 and F11 (for lots of detail) and I chose a long exposure. Using a long exposure for reflective surfaces washes out most of the specular highlights you would normally get when you would use a single short burst of light.

Our single exposure was created in two steps:

  • To light the bottles we used the first seconds of our exposure to light them slightly angled from above. With the barndoors on the LED we could control spill.
  • To make the robotic arm stand out we handheld a small flashgun with a snoot & some CTO gels. In the last part of the exposure we simply manually fired X number of small pops of lights onto the arm from close range to make it stand out. Using an orange gel gave me some color contrast and separation from the background.

We experimented with shutter times from 4 to 10 seconds and the only trick was to time our movements a bit. It took us about 20 for each setup to find a good balance to light everything the way we wanted to. Being able to review your work on a computer monitor is essential.

Camera: Fujifilm X-T1 mounted on a tripod and tethered to Lightroom via a plugin.
Lens: Fujinon XF 56mm
Light: An ebay LED panel with a blue frosted gel

Post processing
Minimal really.. some basic dodging & burning for the black areas. And I merged part of another picture to get a good exposure on the console & the cocktail glass. (Winston his LEDs have a life of their own)

So guys, that’s it. I hope this has been useful to some of you. I never did any sponsored posts but I really hope you take some time and go check out Winston on Kickstarter. Even if you only the SparksNCave crew for 5$ you’re helping them to reach their goal. And maybe someday, you’ll find yourself in a bar or on an event talking to your friends standing around Winston while he is serving you a cocktail. You’ll have a good story to tell!

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