If you’re looking to get into product photography, one of the things you’ll probably need to learn how to shoot is a bottle. Whether you’re photographing drinks products or not, glass is a subject you need to know how to work with. What better way to learn than with a bottle of wine? After all, when you finally get it right you can pour yourself a celebratory glass (assuming you’re of legal age).
In this video from photographer Dustin Dolby, we see how we can get great looking wine bottle shots with very little gear. All you need are some speedlight, your kit lens, diffusers, reflectors and a little bit of compositing. And it can give you some very impressive results.
The key thing to remember when photographing glass is that we’re not really lighting the glass. Sure, we may be lighting labels or the contents within, but not the glass itself. We’re lighting things to reflect on the surface of the glass. This is what allows us to show shape and form. And if you’re going to be compositing separate shots, you’ll also need your camera on a tripod.
The initial setup is quite simple. A speedlight in a softbox to one side, with a large diffuser in between the softbox and the glass. This large soft surface provides nice light on the gold cap and white label of the bottle. It also gives a nice long reflection down the left side of the glass.
And this is what the setup gives us. A nice tall reflection going from the top to the bottom of the bottle. The reflection curves with the shape of the glass, so we get some depth and a sense of substance.
A white reflector, lit by the same light source, provides a reflection on the opposite side of the bottle. This adds depth to the opposite side and prevents it from appearing flat.
A second speedlight skimming across the backdrop provides a nice gradient to complete the look and separate the bottle from the background.
For a final touch, Dustin holds a piece of white paper over the gold bottle cap to throw it just a little more fill light. This adds a little more separation across the top of the cap, and subtly fills in the details.
The next step is to take out the wine bottle and pour some into the glass. Removing the bottle prevents it from blocking the diffuser from reflecting on the glass. You can see here the reflection is much broader, without that hard edged outline of the bottle’s silhouette.
Then it’s a simple case of compositing the two shots together in Photoshop.
And the whole thing could end here. But now that you have the “safe shot”, why not go a little further and see how much you can push things? If you screw up, it doesn’t matter, because you’ve already got your final image. So, Dustin swirls the glass a little to try and get some movement in the wine. Sometimes these experiments don’t work out so well. And sometimes they work perfectly.
Compositing each of hte images together is also very straightforward. All you need to do is choose the final images that you wish to take elements from and bring them into Photoshop, each on a separate later. Then it’s simply a case of masking out the different layers to hide or reveal parts from each one. These are the images Dustin chose to work with.
And the final result looks a little something like this.
Some might consider compositing to be “cheating”, but the final result is often all that matters. If you have limited equipment or budget, though, you don’t always have other alternatives. And working in this way will probably teach you a lot more about lighting these kinds of objects, too. Because you’ll get to see exactly what challenges you’ll face on shots like these.
Then, when you are in a position to acquire more or better equipment, you’ve got a much more solid idea of what you’re getting and why. And, maybe you’ll come up with some more creative solutions in the meantime.