The do’s and don’ts of
If you’re looking to practice your product photography, bottles are something you can easily get your hands on if you want to try something new or refine your skills.
These reflective products can be a challenge to photograph, with their glass surface and reflections, but there are a few key do’s and don’ts. These 10 tips will help you understand how to achieve professional results every time, for any type of bottle.
How to photograph bottles
1. Plan your shot
A simple step that’s often neglected, planning your shot, any shot, is crucial. Before you start shooting, think about the layout of the image, what props you need, and what lighting you’ll use.
As you’ll see in my whisky live show, I had pre-determined all of this before I even started. Thinking about all of this means you’ll be able to identify challenges you may face and how you might overcome them. You should also be able to see what will work and what won’t, particularly when it comes to the layout and lighting.
Having a plan doesn’t mean you have to stick to it — often a concept will evolve throughout the shoot — but it does provide a good guide and can help make the shoot run smoother.
2. Prepare your bottle
Just like you wouldn’t photograph a model without having them at least brush their hair or put on some makeup, you also need to prepare the bottle before you start shooting.
This may include cleaning the bottle to remove any dust or fingerprints, removing unnecessary or distracting labels, and creating artificial condensation.
Although the first two points could, arguably, be done in post-production, doing it before the shoot will save you a lot of time and frustration later.
Creating artificial condensation will also save you a lot of frustration and help create more professional results as it’s much easier to control than real condensation or just water spray. I show you how to create perfect condensation for bottle photography in our clear bottles live show and pint photography tutorial.
3. Work with gloves
After you’ve cleaned the bottle, the last thing you want is to undo all your hard work, so working with gloves will help protect against additional fingerprints while you position and adjust the bottle during the shoot.
Silk gloves are the best as they don’t leave any fibres or dust on the bottle. You can easily get these online or you could ask your local jewellery store if they have some old ones you could have.
4. Use a tripod
As with any product photography, using a tripod is essential. Working with your camera in a fixed position means you can more easily focus on the composition and layout of your image.
It also reduces the possibility of camera shake. This won’t be a problem if you’re using studio flash, but if you’re using natural light or continuous light then you may be working with slower shutter speeds and camera shake becomes a possibility.
5. Choose the right modifiers
Because bottles are so reflective, the choice of modifier can have a big impact on the final result, and I often see new photographers struggling to deal with reflections because they’ve used the wrong modifiers.
Most commonly, inexperienced photographers use softboxes, either because they’re comfortable with them or they don’t have anything else.
Now I’m not saying you can’t use softboxes for bottle photography, because I actually do. But I never use just a softbox. As you’ll see in all of my bottle photography classes if I use a softbox I generally have it shining through a scrim.
This helps to remove the hard reflections down the side of the bottle and allows you to create controlled gradients of light instead.
Tips for taking better bottle photos
Now that you understand what you should do when photographing bottles, let’s take a look at some of the things you shouldn’t do…
1. Don’t assume all bottles are the same
Because most bottles are the same — they all generally have a similar shape, texture and features — one may fall into the trap of thinking the lighting for all bottles is the same. But this certainly isn’t the case.
If you watch any of our bottle photography classes, you’ll see that every single one has a different lighting setup, and this varies depending on the characteristics of the bottle, the mood I want to invoke and the type of image I’m trying to create.
Some bottles may require backlighting, while others may need side lighting. Some might need additional light for the label and others don’t.
Even the exact same bottle can be lit in different ways! A great example of this is my wine bottle live show, where I photographed the same bottle of wine in two very different ways.
The first was a moody rim lighting setup, where the key light was behind the product with a little pocket of light on the label, and the second was a more traditional-style shot, with the key light to the side and an additional background light.
2. Don’t settle on your lighting
Because bottles are fairly straightforward to light and photograph, there’s really no excuse to not get the lighting perfect in camera.
Don’t leave reflections to fix in post, or rely on Photoshop to light the label, or hope you can give the liquid more pop afterwards. All of this can easily be done in-camera, whether you’re working with studio flash or natural light.
As I mentioned earlier, scrims are one of the best ways to control reflections in the glass, and light can very easily be added to the label using simple accessories like mirrors or even just one extra light. As for making liquid pop — there’s a very simple fix to this that I show in my whisky live show.
3. Don’t forget to light the label
As bottle photography falls under the genre of product photography, the purpose of the image should be to sell the product, so making sure the name of the product is clear is a must.
If the label isn’t clearly lit, there’s no way the viewer will remember the brand and therefore won’t remember the product.
4. Don’t rely on studio flash
I always use studio flash lighting for my professional product photography because it allows for much more precise control, but it is possible to photograph bottles using natural light or even speedlites.
Although I wouldn’t generally recommend making life difficult for yourself, if you’re looking to try something new or want to add some diversity to your portfolio then natural light should allow you to do this without going to the expense of buying studio lights.
5. Don’t neglect the post-production stage
No matter how hard you work during the shoot, there will always be some degree of post-production work required for bottle photography.
This may be as small as removing dust or it might require slightly more work like compositing multiple images together.
To learn more about how to photograph bottles, make sure to take a look at our product photography course, where you'll find multiple classes on how to photograph various types of bottles. From controlling reflections to lighting liquid, these classes cover essential skills that will help you achieve professional results.