Whisky product shoot

Glass bottles are another subject that many photographers struggle to make appealing, but they can be key to many advertising and product photographers careers. The techniques for shooting glass and liquids require a certain discipline and knowledge that, once acquired, will help you understand a variety of other similarly difficult lighting situations.

Having shot lots of beverage photography throughout his career, Karl outlines the most important things to consider when shooting these subjects, including the lighting on the bottle, the vibrancy of the liquid, and what glass and ice cubes to use.

Throughout this demonstration Karl shows you exactly how to style and light an advertising-style image of a bottle of whisky, explaining why and how to use gradient lighting, how to control reflections in glass, and how to light details like the label.

Class objectives:

  • How to photograph glass bottles
  • Lighting setups for beverage photography
  • How to create gradient lighting
  • Controlling reflections in glass surfaces
  • Techniques for lighting liquids

There is also an accompanying post-production class for this shoot, where Karl demonstrates how to retouch bottle photographs.

Other related classes that you may enjoy include:

If you have any questions about this class please post in the comment section below.

NOTE: This class is available with English subtitles and automatic translations.


  1. Hi Karl,
    I absolutely love this shot! Any advice where to get the black gloss backdrop? In Uk or online. Thanks

    1. Hi Alice, if you mean the black gloss surface that is Acrylic or in the USA it’s called plexiglass. All good plastic manufacturers or sign service companies.

  2. I’ve worked on my whiskey shooting several times over.. some of the shots have been excellent in my opinion. I’ve learned a great deal from these tutorials. I have even used fairly subtle light in the background to mimic streams of daylight to add atmosphere. The bottle and glass are quite bright, but I tend to keep it in the realm of realistic. Your example here is bright, but also in the realm of realistic. I was looking at David Lund’s bottle and splash work.. specifically the ones used in beer, whiskey, and whiskey glass/ice pours.. and they are pretty lively and somewhat overly colourful.. beautiful and extraordinary.. I find them quite amazing. But, are less than realistic, or over realistic and super punchy on the colours. There is the photograph supplied.. and then there is the ad. Is it the photographer supplying a realistic image and the ad designer/creative director drifting toward hyper reality or is that the intended target style from the photographer? To me it is as if whiskey has been punched up into a coke ad territory.. super punchy and over emphasized. Am I being too subtle and I need to rethink my presentation?

    1. Hi Gary, this is a very good question but I’d say it comes in and out of fashion for both styles. And it varies between brands. Have a look at Jonathan Knowles, Tal Silverman and other drinks specialists. I shot many whisky adverts years ago and they were more realistic, lately it seems extravagance and dynamics are the order of the day but that could change again.

  3. Hi Karl,

    Probably a silly question, but what do you used to keep the black acrylic clean?

    I have nearly everything to attempt this type of shot, obviously apart from the fibre-optic cables you used.

    I just need to work out how I’m going to like my labels on my bottle of, Gentleman Jack (Jack Daniels). The main label is at the top, and there is a smaller label at the bottom. Any suggestions on how to lite the labels would be very much appreciated.

    I only have one snoot, and the top label is quite wide.

    1. Hi James, for keeping the acrylic clean microfibre cloths and methylated spirits. If you don’t have a projection type light then snoots are the way to go, make your own from black card rolled into a cone and try different size openings to get the results you need.

  4. Karl, do you ever use optics from other manufacturers with your Hasselblad? If not, do you know of others who use adapters and get comparable results?

    1. Hi Shana, I don’t think there are any alternative lens options for the Hasselblad line up. In 35mm I’ve used Tamron and Sigma as alternatives to Canon lenses. Currently in 35mm I mostly using Sony now and the sony lenses.

  5. Hi Karl and team,

    I tried that fake ice cube link and it’s still not working. The only cubes I can find are much smaller, the largest being 30mm (1 3/16″). Would those work or, would they look a bit too small. To me they look like the ice you get from the ice machine at the end of the hotel hallway. Do you know of another source?


  6. Hi Karl, I’m wondering about your decision to use the strip softbox horizontally for the background glow. Did it have something to do with the colored gels you wanted to use? I also notice a lot of light spilling out of the sides around the gels. Was that not an issue because of the size of your studio? Why not create the glow in the same way that you did in the tutorial with the model where you used the strobe unit with only the grid or diffusion material over it?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Shana, I was trying to create a wider glow of light so that I could have the paper background further away (meaning background light would be smaller) so that I could make sure the paper was out of focus enough not to show ripples in the paper roll. Now that I use smooth solid backgrounds that is no longer a problem and I can have the background closer and use a smaller modifier as in this example – https://karltayloreducation.com/class/live-whisky-photography-advertising-shoot/ I hope that explains it. Cheers Karl.

  7. Hi Karl, awesome video. Just wanted to know which of the lights is firing? are they all or do you just have one flash firing and the rest as background light? Thanks

  8. Another awesome video, wonderfully detailed
    I can tell that you spent a lot of time trying to problem solve to get the correct highlights working on the bottle and the glass.
    I’m curious to know how long the shoot itself took to get all three shots accomplished?
    Set up time and shoot time

  9. Hey Karl

    Absolutely, love this video. I’m so happy that I have discovered your education videos.

    Do you have a post-production for this video where you assemble the label?

    Thanks in advance,


    1. Hi Todd, Glad you enjoyed it. Not this one but on many of the other ones we have. There are also newer whisky shoots, one in particular should be in the live shows replay section.

  10. Hi Karl and Team,

    I would like to purchase the Lee 216 Full White Filter Material and there are two (2) options here:

    – 48″ wide x 25FT roll (1.2M x 7.6M)
    – 60″ wide x 25FT roll (1.5M x 7.6M)

    Both rolls are the same cost, and I know you’re getting an extra 25 sq.ft. or 2.28 sq.m. with the wider roll, but I am working in a small room. The table I will be using for products is only 0.86m deep. Would the smaller width roll be good enough or would you still opt for the wider roll?

    Thanks for your time.

  11. Hi Karl,
    Could you please lend me the name of the floating ice cubes, the ones that you put in water, and if it is not too much to ask, where can I buy them. On the other hand, I have a few from Trengrove Studios, now represented by the SetShop in NY, If you ever need them, don’t hesitate to let me know, I have symmetric and asymmetric.
    On the other hand, I enjoyed your Live on Photography Biz, so on the point and on reality. I saw some of my sins there, so thank you for your sincerity, I agree 100% with you.
    Thanks a lot, Karl,

  12. Hi Karl, what sort of size perspex would you recommend for a shoot with similar sized products while also being quite multi-purpose? I’m thinking around 900 x 1500 from what I can tell from the video? Also I may have missed it but is 3mm a good thickness or should I go thicker as will be special order so want to get ‘right’. Thanks

    1. Hi Cameron, the thickness as a base surface doesn’t really matter so 3mm is fine. I have sheets in 1.2m x 1.2m for most stuff but I also have 1m x 1.5m

  13. Hi Karl, what kind of scrim is generally better for product shots? Fabric ? Full stop ? 1/4 stop ? If I use a lee filter will it create the same effect ?
    Thank you so much!!

  14. Hi Karl,

    The tutorial is amazing, thank you. But when you are showing the details on the screen, we cannot see it because the camera man is to far away.

  15. Hi Karl,

    Quick question..
    When do you use silver or golden reflector card?
    Thank you, you are an amazing teacher and a very patient human being!

    1. Hi it depends on the colour of the liquid in the bottle, for whisky I generally use gold and for clear spirits such as Gin you would use silver, however some whiskies already have a very rich colour and in those instances it is better to use silver.

  16. Both of the whiskey examples showcase a round circular bottle where the light behaves the same. Can you demonstrate how to light a bottle that has a more ‘boxy’ feel like a Woodford Reserve?

    1. Hi, Our Chanel perfume examples are a more ‘boxy’ shape but I’ll keep that in mind for a future bottle shot tutorial and live show.

  17. Absolutely love this video. I used the methods you teach on a recent product shoot and although I am a complete novice to product photography the client was more than pleased. Thank you for the info!! You Rock Karl!!

    Wondering if you would be able to put together a tutorial on the shot you cut the bottle and put an apple into it. Would love to see how that was done. I don’t see the photo here but it is one of my favorite shots. Hope you are able to put this in.

    Thanks again!!


    1. Hi Jay, thank you for your comments. I’ll explain how the cut bottle shot was done in a future live show.

  18. Hi Karl,
    I’ve already watched many of your tutorials (product, portrait..) and I’ve to say that they were all great; this is the best educational/training place for photography I’ve seen up to now. I have a question on scrims. I have at home a roll of Savage Translum. What do you think of it as scrim/diffuser for this (whisky) shoot and for others?

    1. Hi Enrico, thank you for your comments. I’m not familiar with that one but give it a try on a glossy surface and check how clean the gradient looks.

  19. Thank you Will, I think it was simply due to the size of the glow on the back ground. The perspective or magnification of your lens also changes the apparent size of the the background effects. I could have chosen to have the background closer of course and reverted to an 80mm. In addition over the years i’ve preferred and used different lenses for product work, for a while I favoured the 80mm to create a greater sense of intimacy but more recently I’ve been fond of using my new 100mm (73mm)!

  20. Hi Karl, thanks for this, awesome as always! I was just wondering why you used a 150mm (101.3mm) lens for this shot instead of your usual 80mm (50mm) lens? Was it to get a better perspective for the shape of the bottle? Many thanks. Best Will

  21. Hello Karl! I’m so excited to finally be apart of your learning techniques! I did have a question, do you have a link to where I might find those specific ice cubes? The ones I’ve purchase look entirely too fake. Thanks again and I look forward to learning a lot from you!

  22. Hi Karl,

    In this shoot your using a rather large sheet of Perspex. Would a smaller sheet work as well or is there a benifit to using such a large sheet.

    Also, what are the ratios of the lights you are using in this setup ?

    1. Hi Niall, yes a smaller sheet would have been just as good, in some ways better (width wise) as you can get the lighting closer for a softer look, length wise you still want some distance so you don’t have to have a sharp horizon. I don’t bother with lighting ratios, as every subject is different, different texture, reflectance, refraction etc etc, I only make my lighting decisions based on what I see. For more info on the theory of lighting and the way I work and to learn to ‘see the light’ then watch the first 15 chapters in the ‘Portrait’ section. Cheers Karl.

  23. Countless thanks Karl for the invaluable information. I’ve just won a local contest with a cognac bottle photographed the way you’ve learned me. I’ve seen some tips from you regarding photoshooting a bottle incolor in colour (vodka). Why not making a tutorial for that too? Thanks again, Bogdan.

    1. Thank you Thomas. However I would recommend watching the modules in the numbered order as they are designed to pick up bits of information along the way as you progress through. Also do not discount the first 15 modules of the Portrait Lighting section as these have proved invaluable even for product photographers.

  24. Great tutorial with valuable information. I really liked this one. It was interesting to see the part with the reflected light trough the bottle. I wouldn’t have guessed that you would go through the trouble of cutting it to size.

  25. Hi Karl,

    What did you use for the liquid in the glass, given that the whiskey bottle is closed. ?

    If your shooting products like like this is it typical to get several bottles so that the actual product can be used or is using a fake substitute the norm ?


    1. Hi Niall, I just use the cheaper stuff in the glass, but if I was shooting it for a client they would send several bottles so I would put their product in the glass.

  26. Hi Karl, thanks for the video, more involved than I thought, certainly learned a lot.

    Did you say you added light to a black background? I ask because I have a small home studio with very limited space and wanted to get a nice subtle background glow, but struggle to reduce the light on my mid grey background. Also, because of the lack of space, reducing spill is a little more challenging so I tend to use grids on everything – quite successfully.

    Do you think a black background could be used to better effect to counter these issues?

    1. Hi Andrew, yes adding coloured light on black paper backgrounds can work well, you get very rich saturated colour that falls away quickly.

  27. Fantastic tutorial Karl! You are providing solid value here and I’m already considering this one of the best investments for 2018. Thanks!

  28. I am loving these types of tutorials. . Love the comment about maybe being on the 2nd bottle. That was funny.

  29. Hello Karl, used another free tutorial you had up on youtube. This was before you started this education platform. I love how “wealthy” (is that the right word?) your image looks. I think the red-velvet accent background light really works.

    I had a stab at this when I had room to do the setup. Once again this was accomplished with three lights and reflectors.


  30. Just joined these tutorials and I’m very glad for my choice. As usual you, Karl, are very clear and your expertise in light managing, I’m sure will be extremely helpful for me. Thanks.

  31. Thank you for the tutorial Karl.

    I was wondering exactly where you got the textured ice cubes from. You mentioned it was a US based company but you weren’t very specific. I found some from Amazon but they’re not nicely textured like the ones you used.

      1. I’ve already found this company on internet, but unfortunately they don’t dispatch those cubes to Malaysia. I had to made do with a local supplier whose products are much less realistic…..

  32. Thank you Karl for the great tutorial. I have had very good success after watching the video. Just fyi; I was able to purchase a duel fiber optic machine from a medical supply company for less than $200. It worked perfectly. I was able to light the label and reflector card at the same time. The fiber optic cables are 24″ (61cm) and will hole any position you put it. The dimmer control allows you to add or subtract light as you need. I just wanted to post this as an option to very pricey fiber optics. Thank you again: your educational programs are golden to me and The value I get is amazing for the subscription cost.

    1. Hi Don, wow that medical fibre optic sounds great and like you say considerably less expensive too. Are you able to transmit a burst of flash down it or is it continuous light?

        1. I’m guessing it’s going to be tungsten balanced colour temperature, so you may need to put a blue gel on it if you want to use it in combination with flash unless of course the rest of your lighting is also tungsten. You may even find you can access with the projection lamp is an direct a studio light or speedlite at that point if you wanted flash, it should still fire down the fibre optic OK.

  33. Hi Karl

    What type of fibre optic cable is that and do you remember where you sourced it? I’m having mixed success with home made snoots and the optical snoots are either very expensive or dubious quality.

    Cheers Layt

    1. Hi Layton, these were actually some fibre optics that I picked up second hand from a shop display store and modified. I’ve also purchases second hand ones from medical supplies. I’d expect you could find something on ebay. To be hones I don’t think they are the best option anymore unless you need to get a small light up inside a product. I much prefer the picolites with the projection attachments as I can create and control the same look more easily but as you say some of these can be expensive.

  34. Great tutorial Karl loved the information.
    One thing i thought was should the bottle be opened as you had whiskey in the glass?

    1. Hi Mark, It’s common in advertising shots to have the bottle closed simply to keep it looking tidy. You could be on your second bottle after all 😉

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