An Intro to Photographing Bottles
Bottle photography is one of the more challenging aspects of product work. Bottles are round and reflective and translucent: a photographer’s nightmare if you are unprepared. But there are a few tricks of the trade that can help you get amazing, glowing pictures of your bottles.
Here are a few items you may find helpful:
- 2 sheets of Savage Heavyweight Translum (tracing paper or bed sheets can work too)
- Reflective paper, Mylar, or aluminum foil
- Poster board
- Thick bendable wire or paper clips
You’ll want to start by hanging your two sheets of Translum on either side of your bottle.
The Translum is going to act like a giant light modifier. Unlike a softbox, where the light is evenly distributed, the Translum allows you to create a graduated light source. It will have a bright highlight and then fade off. This brings a huge sense of dimensionality to products, keeping them from looking flat and dull.
A note about using Translum...
I like to add a rod through a sheet of Translum and then put hooks in the top. This allows me to hang the material from my ceiling. You can also use background support systems, or just a boom arm on a C-stand...but if you have a small space like I do, this can really monopolize your “walking around” area.
And, yes, you can use a bed sheet or tracing paper for this, but Translum is much sturdier. It is made from a very strong Mylar material so you won’t tear it, and it won’t wrinkle like a bedsheet.
The ideal light source to put behind the Translum material is a strip softbox. You can use it bare bulb to get a little more power, so just take all the diffusion out of the softbox.
Using the strip softbox gives you a two-for-one effect. It still allows you to take advantage of the graduated light fall-off from the Translum material, and the height allows you to project long highlights on either side of the bottle.
Adjust the lights behind the sheets of Translum. You’ll have to adjust with some trial and error, moving lights in and out, up and down, side to side. Every bottle contour is different, so just play with positioning until the highlights are in an ideal place on your bottle.
Now comes the arts and crafts section. Trace the bottle contours onto a piece of poster board. You’ll want to cut this out slightly smaller than the bottle, using the bottle as a guide for the curves. The idea is that it can go behind the bottle without being seen.
White will reflect okay on its own, but if you really want your bottle to glow, add some reflective material like foil onto the card. Use a paper clip or bit of wire taped to the back to keep your tiny reflector upright.
Play with your reflector, twisting it, turning it, moving it back and forth. Try to eyeball this from the camera’s point of view so that the reflector glows through. If a piece of the reflector shows up in the shot, trim it off with scissors.
Another handy item is a snoot. This is a light attachment that creates a tiny circle of light on your subject and works great for adding just a touch of light to labels and such.
If you do not have one, you can usually recreate this effect in your image editor by selectively increasing exposure in that area. I like using the radial filter in Lightroom for this effect.
For the background, I recommend some nice seamless paper. I like to add a glow of light to create a natural vignette. In this photo, I used Savage black seamless paper and projected a ball of light onto it.
I used a honeycomb grid with a colored gel to achieve the intended glow effect. Honeycomb grids are great for this as they narrow the beam but keep a soft edge so it doesn’t look like a harsh spotlight.
Again, a lot of this will be trial and error. You will need to adjust things by mere inches. Just keep working the shot and you will get it. Doing it alone is harder. Having a helper can really be beneficial.
Don’t let bottles scare you. Practice and you can make them glow with beautiful results.