Bottle Product Photography Using Speedlights
As a professional commercial photographer, I often use specialist photography lighting for my work. But what do you do if you only have a couple of speedlites?
Shooting professional product photography using speedlites isn’t necessarily the easiest way to go about it but it can be done, as I showed in a recent Youtube video where I photographed a clear glass bottle using just three speedlites.
Having been a photography educator for more than 10 years now, I often get asked if it's possible to do a shoot using speedlites instead of studio lights. The answer to this is simple: yes, but not as easily.
Speedlites offer far less control compared to strobe lights — they aren't as easily modified and don't have the same power output. Despite this, I still managed to do a lot of my early commercial work using speedlites, or a combination of speedlites and studio flash.
Usually I'd use broncolor studio lights to create this type of image, but as you can see, you don't need this professional equipment to get good results (although it does make it a lot more efficient). It isn't the equipment that allows me to create the images I do— it's my understanding of how to control and shape light, and why.
Challenges & considerations
Glass bottles can present a number of challenges when shooting. I knew that if not lit correctly, the bottle would look dull and flat. Due to the reflective surface of the bottle, there was also the likelihood that there would be horrible reflections in the glass. The label was also something to consider — the brand needed to be well-lit, but without the front illumination overpowering the whole shot.
Before getting to the lighting though, the first step was to prepare the bottle. This involved removing the back label and creating a controllable condensation on the bottle (you can learn how to create your own perfect condensation in this class).
The Speedlite setup
I’ve shot plenty of commercial bottle photography during my career, so I knew roughly the lighting I would need and the position of the lights. For this shot, I used three speedlites: one behind the bottle, one to the right of the bottle, and one from the front.
The back speedlite was to illuminate through the liquid and create the graduated light behind the bottle, adding that separation between the subject and background. The side speedlite enhanced the shape of the bottle and added additional illumination. Both of these lights were fairly straightforward, and you'll see how I modified both of these using frosted acrylic, diffusion material, and a small softbox to achieve beautiful gradient lighting.
The third light was to illuminate the label — a detail that I see many photographers neglect. When it comes to product photography, the brand is key so having a clearly lit label is an absolute must. While I would typically use something like a picolite with a projection attachment to light small areas like this, for this shoot I made my own DIY snoot using a piece of cardboard.
All-in-all, this shoot required a DSLR camera, a tripod, three speedlites, a small softbox, a piece of frosted acrylic (makralon), diffusion material, a piece of cardboard, and an acrylic mirror. It doesn’t get much simpler than that (unless you’re using natural light)!
Retouching product images
There was some basic retouching to be done on the image, as there is for any product shot. This included subtle colour adjustment, fixing the bottom the bottom, removing the barcode on the bottle cap, and some work on the background. You can see an overview of the post-production process for the image at the end of the video.
Key to this shot was understanding light and the basic physics of it. This understanding meant I knew how to control the light to reach the final results and it’s something I can (and do) apply to a whole range of different subjects. Remember you can find hundreds of photography classes on our site that cover studio light, how it works, and how to apply this knowledge to any type of photography.
Get up to speed
Of course, you can use speedlights to shoot far more than just bottles.
To take a deeper dive into the world of product photography with speedlights (AKA off-camera flash units, AKA flashguns), check out our more comprehensive blog post on the subject. It contains everything you need to know about Product Photography With Speedlights.
To learn more about how to photograph products, make sure to take a look at our wide selection of product photography classes. Included in these are multiple classes on how to photograph bottles. Below are a selection of recommended classes for you.