Whiskey Barrels and HDR Photography

I’m running a photography club at our current location, on an army post. When one of our members said she used to work at the J. Rieger & Co. distillery in Kansas City, Missouri, and suggested that as a field trip for our group, I immediately jumped in on the opportunity! Thank you, Laura (photographed below, far left)!

Photography Club tours J. Rieger & Co. Distillery in KC

Jay from J Rieger Distillery discusses the products created by the company with the Photography Club members.

Before, during and after the tour, our club members learning about how whiskey and gin were produced, while also photograph throughout the distillery. A small album of photos I took on the tour can be seen on my Flickr site linked here. Our club members have shared many of their field trip photos online, and it’s fascinating to see how each person uniquely viewed and captured the distillery!

While I found the distillation process (and products) fascinating, I also fell in love with the lines and tones of the whiskey barrels stacked along the walls. What beautiful barrels of libation! My favorite scene combined the round lines of the stamped barrels with the straight lines of the shelving, while balancing areas of light and dark wood and metal tones. Oh! I just had to catch that scene!

I photographed the scene with my Nikon 7100, using my Tokina AT-X 11-20mm F2.8 PRO DX lens. I wanted to see what I could do with this scene, recreating it with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. What is HDR photography? According to Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs website, “HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. It is a post-processing task of taking either one image or a series of images, combining them, and adjusting the contrast ratios to do things that are virtually impossible with a single aperture and shutter speed.” Yes! There you go, straight from the HDR master! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

My baseline photo had an exposure value (EV) of 0.0, shot at 16 mm, ISO 100, f-10, 10 seconds. I absolutely had the camera on a good, solid tripod for the long exposure, and set the timer to fire 2 seconds after I pressed the shutter release button. Before taking the photos, I also set up my camera to shoot a sequence of five photos, bracketed for different exposures: the primary exposure (EV 0.0), two over exposed (EV +2.0, EV +1.0) and two underexposed (EV -1.0, EV -2.0).

When finally processing the photos at home later that night, I imported them into Adobe Lightroom CC and initially processed them using the Photomatix Pro plug-in.

Side note: I had initially fallen in love with HDR photography after being inspired by Brandon Kopp’s photography on Flickr, especially his HDR vertoramas. Lucky me, I bumped into Brandon as soon as we moved to the D.C. area, when on a Flickr meetup at the Library of Congress! I believe it might have been Brandon who initially pointed me toward Trey Ratcliff’s website to learn more about HDR photography, and another person to learn about panorama and vertorama photography (I need to find that resource!).

The picture below is the HDR image I initially processed using my five photographs of the barrels. With Photomatix Pro I could utilize different presets and adjust sliders to to bring out many different aspects of the image. For some reason, this picture just sang out to me as you see it below! Looking at it now, though, once it was brought back into Lightroom, I might have used the graduated filter adjustment to bring in some light and contrast from the left, and maybe brightened and warmed the overall image a bit more… I sometimes obsess about my images, work on them for hours, and go back to them later to work on them some more. Not in this case, though. I only spent a few minutes creating the HDR result you see here:

Whiskey Barrels HDR processed with Photomatix Pro

Whiskey barrels processed using Lightroom and Photomatix Pro to create a high dynamic range (HDR) image.

Did I really NEED to take five images, with different bracketed exposures, processed in Lightroom with the Photomatix plug-in? Hmmm… It seems like a lot of work. Right? Like I said, with my workflow in place, I hardly think about what I’m doing now and have an processed image in minutes from camera to export.

What if I just processed the RAW baseline EV 0.0 image in Lightroom, quickly adjusting the sliders to bring up the highlights half a stop, touch up the contrast just a little, drop down the highlights, lighten the shadows, boost the whites and drop the blacks a touch, maybe up clarity a little w/a smidgeon of vibrance? I asked myself that very same question, and came up with the image below in mere seconds. The result is closer to what I was imagining the HDR photo would look like after processing the full five images.

I’ve gone back and forth between the single processed image here and the HDR one above many times, and see different values in each of them. Working with one photo and using only Lightroom was much, much faster…and easier!

Whiskey Barrels processed with Lightroom

Whiskey barrels photographed at the normal exposure value (EV 0.0), processed only with Adobe Lightroom.

***UPDATE: Since I first published this post, I remembered that I have a set of Trey Ratcliff’s HDR-in-Lightroom presets! I made a virtual copy of my baseline photo, then tried out the different presets in the set. Below are three of the results. It’s amazing how many different results you can create from one RAW file:

Ahhhhh… Why mess with my DSLR, processing, exporting and uploading the photos to share? Why not just click and quickly process and post the same image with my phone and Instagram app? Good question! I did just that while waiting for my long exposures to finish, and came up with the image below. I believe this image was shot, processed, and posted to my Instagram account between the time I clicked my DSLR shutter release and the fifth exposure had finished. Cell phone photography is great for SPEED when sharing images!

Whiskey Barrels, LG G4 photo

Whiskey barrels photographed with LG G4 cellphone, processed and posted via the Instagram app.

This is all very exciting, but… WHAT ABOUT THE WHISKEY? I mean, the point of our whole field trip was for our group members to focus (Ha! Ha! Get it? Focus?) on different photography skills. Right? We individually worked on exposure, depths of field, different compositions, you name it. We also saw and SMELLED the whiskey mash, and were very, very lucky to sample some amazing whiskey, gin, and vodka and amaro, all created at the J. Rieger & Company distillery. Oh, it was all so WONDERFUL!

After our lovely morning tour, we sat down and enjoyed lunch next door at The Local Pig (a VERY popular place!), and then scouted out graffiti sites in the area. What a fun-filled day with our group of photography-minded folks! I feel fortunate to be a part of such a great photography club, and look forward to more learning and adventures with them throughout the year! 📷

no comments

Hi there!



Hi! I'm a portrait photographer in Leavenworth, KS. I photograph in the studio and on location: senior photos, family, maternity, newborn, head shots, passport photos, weddings and more. I also offer photography workshops, portrait parties in studio, and fun photo walks in local area. Fun!

Featured Posts