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How to Photograph a Message in a Bottle
Messages of hope, which was to be the original tittle of this article, has a catchy name with a very potent title but it is yet another in the long list of photographic themes that any astute photographer can use to create a photographic shoot around it.
"A message in a bottle is a form of communication whereby a message is sealed in a container (archetypically a glass bottle, but could be any medium, so long as it floats and remains waterproof) and released into the sea or ocean. Among other purposes they are used for scientific studies of ocean currents"....The first recorded messages in bottles were released around 310 BC by the Ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus, as part of an experiment to show that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by the inflowing Atlantic Ocean." Wikipedia
So you see, this is nothing new and there have been many movies, paintings and romantic notions associated with messages in a bottle. This is where the appeal of the theme comes to light as it were.
Your first step should be to secure some props that will be crucial in creating the "atmosphere" of the entire photographic project. Among these should be clear glass wine bottles free of any water marks, dust, scratches or traces of their labels.
The next series of props should be some manuscript type papers or parchment, preferably one that has the appearance of having been exposed to the elements. You can alternatively "age" the paper by exposing it to low levels of heat and scorching small portions around the edges.
You should also write a message onto the parchment. The message does not need to be legible, the presence of ink and the appearance of writing is what really maters. Keep in mind however that there are variations to the theme and you can show the parchment in its entirety next to a bottle that is laying upon the sand next to the ocean waves. In this case the message should be legible and written in a manuscript font and preferably in India ink.
The bottle with the rolled up parchment should be placed at an angle next to the surf where it apparently washed upon the shore.
Other variations would be to roll up the parchment, flatten it as it were a letter, seal the two connecting sides with a wax seal and placed inside the bottle with the seal visible. Make sure to use a cork and not a twist of cap on your bottles. This simple detail can make or ruin a shot.
The best angles are those that are done at eye level or in other words; the lens is at the same level with the bottle, so laying down on the sand is a must and you should thereof be alert to keeping your gear dry and sand free.
Practice with several angles and various perspectives. Also try to experiment with various props in combinations with each other and do not discount the power of simplicity.
Some of the best perspectives are those that are done with the camera aiming towards the sea to enhance the appearance and the theme. But use a large aperture so as to throw the sea into an out of focus element . This way the waves, surf and so on do not distract the viewer from the main point of focus.
However, just putting a paper inside a bottle and photographing it next to the surf will not make the photo a good one. It takes creativity and an artistic touch.
Low subdued light works best since it enhances the romantic mystery associated with the theme. This light is best when it comes from the light available during sunsets and dawns.
A very good variation which lends itself quite well for many publications is to do some shots of the writing utensils such as a quill, the wax, the wax seal, a candle for light and the parchment itself next to the bottle.
This has the effect of "telling" the story. The begining of the journey; when the letter or message is being written, to the end of the journey; when the bottle "washes" up upon the shore.
Try to do some close ups that show details of the bottle, the parchment inside of it and the cork. Do not worry to much about details in the sand unless there are some elements that complement the scene such as some seaweed, some seashells, driftwood or a curious crab.
This variation can be easily submitted to many greeting card publications, posters that use motivational themes, other publishers who may be interested in the art of writing, history and photographic stock houses as well as many fine art galleries. Celebrations such as Valentine's day are prime examples during which to apply the theme.
Do not overlook conducting other projects around this theme such as a "message of hope for better things" or "hope for a bright future" from a newlywed couple.
Some advertising campaigns, especially those used by non profit groups can also find uses for these types of photographs.
The one thing that all of these potential clients will be looking for are images that stand out from the rest.
Good research will lead you to investigate other similar images and decide what is it that makes them good photographs and conduct your project with that in mind.
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© 2012 Luis E Gonzalez