Taking photos of glass bottles looks amazing but doesn’t come without its challenges. In this glass bottle photography tutorial, I’ll share with you my tips and ideas about how to capture beautiful photos of wine bottles and similar glassware.
You’ll discover ways to photograph beer bottles without any distracting reflections and glare. Only by knowing how and where to place your lighting can you become a master of glass bottle photography!
It pretty much explains itself. This niche sub-genre of photography is mostly used in product and commercial photography. But that’s not to say beginner photographers can’t try it out.
In fact, glass bottle photography is a great indoor photo project when the weather isn’t great.
Read our full guide about how to photograph glassware here.
There are a few simple preparation tips to carry out before you start shooting.
While it may be obvious to most, it’s vital that you clean every glass surface that’s going to be in the photo. Even the smallest speck of dirt and fingerprints on the glass will be visible in the image.
Once you’re done cleaning double check by holding the glass to the light. A couple of minutes cleaning the glass bottles ultimately saves tonnes of time spot removing in post-processing.
To further this efficiency, you may notice pro product photographers use gloves while photographing glass bottles. This reduces fingerprints when moving the objects in the photo.
When it comes to lighting a bottle for photography avoid using strong, harsh, direct light sources. Instead I’d recommend to use diffused lighting. Something like a large softbox over a continuous light or off-camera flash will be ideal.
The size of the softbox that you use will affect the size of the dark lines that define the shape of the glass.
For example, if you want thicker lines in the reflection, use a narrower softbox and vice versa.
When it comes to positioning your lights for glass bottle photography, I’ve found that backlighting can be very attractive. Generally speaking, backlighting is the most common lighting setup for most product photographers when working with wine bottles or any clear receptacle.
The reason for the backlighting is that it won’t create any problematic reflections or hotspots on your bottle.
This also applies to using natural light as well as flash. By having the light source behind the glass it can be more help than a hindrance.
With that said it’s sometimes useful, if you’re wanting to light up the label of a wine bottle for example, to use two lights.
Using a light in front and behind the glass bottle need to be at the same power output and both covered with diffusers.
If you are finding, there are strong reflections on the surface of the glass bottles either move the position of the light until you can’t see the reflection or double up on the diffusion by adding another panel over the light to soften the glow.
When you are setting up the backlighting for shooting bottles there are a couple of different approaches. Not all of them require fancy photography equipment. In fact, you can use a rather simple lighting setup and simple techniques.
Start off by taking a large sheet of white paper and illuminating it with two lights pointing directly towards it, on either side.
Next, due to the fact your bottle wouldn’t be lit by these lights, you’ll need to make sure you have a clear outline of the bottle’s silhouette.
Shuffle the bottle left or right to get an even outline from the reflection of the two lights in the background. You may need to move the bottle closer to the background to get a better outline.
This type of low key photography can look great in black and white.
In truth, the success to glass bottle photography lies in mastering the lighting more than the camera settings.
But with that said there are a few tips I’ve learnt that can make the process easier when setting up your camera.
Using a longer focal length (around 100mm) means you can get further from the scene. This reduces the chance of getting your own reflection on the glass – which is always an occupational hazard when photographing bottles and glasses!
The other benefit to using a longer focal length is that you can use a smaller background. Due to compression at longer focal lengths, you’re only photographing a small area. This means you don’t need a big set-up – which is great if you don’t have a spare room or a dedicated photography studio to take these shots.
You may only need an area as big as a dining table to take shots as good as these.
Apart from choosing a longer focal length the other camera settings you need are simply the ones to get adequate exposure. Given that you’re shooting still life you can use a tripod and play around with the shutter speed.
This means your aperture can stay fixed for your desired depth of field and you don’t need to raise the ISO.
Personally, when it comes to shooting bottles there are only 2 options I’d recommend – black or white. This isn’t to say you can’t choose coloured backdrops but keep it simple to start.
Remember that if you choose a white background, it will help reflect all the light back towards the bottle. This can be useful, or not, depending upon the style of shot you want.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for more classic, elegant and sleek glassware shot then opt for a black background. Creating a low key vibe for your bottle photography can look great in a portfolio if you’re trying to attract clients for your product photography business.
To make life easier when photographing whisky, coke, champagne, rum and even milk bottles invest in a portable light tent. Light tents usually have built-in LED strips to illuminate your object from the top.
You may need other lights to fill in other areas but having this dedicated space for bottle photography makes it easy to set up. The other benefit of using an enclosed space such as a light tent is that there’s less light spill.
Light can bounce off the 3 surfaces, roof and floor and fill in shadows on the bottle. Using an open space means that light isn’t reflected as much and the exposure could be darker in comparison.
When it comes to photographing a glass bottle there are a few ways you could illuminate the backdrop and each method will give you a different style of shot.
Here are 3 different positions you can try with your lighting.
● Pointing light sources at the background from the front – You can try pointing lights directly at the backdrop with light sources from below, from above, or from the sides. Regardless of the angle, it will hit the background from the front.
● Pointing light sources at the background from behind – Same technique as above, except that the lights strike the backdrop from behind.
● Using reflectors – Instead of striking light directly at the background, you can use reflectors to reflect light onto it. Setting up reflectors is a bit of tedious work with stands and clamps, but will provide excellent results as the reflected light enhances the contrast of the glass, helping make a cleaner image.
Those are the basic ways which you can combine to give an excellent photo of glass. You can mix and match according to your taste. However, you may find minor reflections on the glass to be visible and the image to be overexposed. That is where and black backgrounds and poly boards come in.
As I mentioned earlier the difference with photographing commercialised glass bottles like wine, champagne and whiskey etc is that you’ll probably want to illuminate the label.
Therefore, you need to be careful that this front light doesn’t spill on to the background and ruin the exposure. A small narrow light source such as a torch, phone light or a little Lume Cube would be ideal.
You can get away with using a hard light when lighting up the label on a wine bottle because the label won’t reflect as much light.
To complement the scene further consider pouring some of the wine into a glass and having it positioned in front of the bottle.
This creates more of an atmosphere for the shot and shows the product in use. Be sure to have some light falling on the glass so that the colour of the red wine stands out and makes sense to the audience.
Why not go further and add in some grapes to convey that idea of grape to wine. It may feel a little bit rustic bringing in the idea of the vineyard so further add to it with some vine leaves, and maybe some food that goes well with the wine – don’t forget the cork too!
Once you’ve started to get the hang of glass bottle photography look to take the whole project further and even go a little abstract.
Why not do some beer bottle photography on a reflective surface – a colour that matches the background to add depth to the shot.
Next you can splash the bottles with a bit of water. Otherwise use a spray bottle to give a fresh feel like it’s just come out of the chiller and decorate the surroundings with some ice cubes. You will either need to bring your lighting closer to be illuminate the water droplets or use an off-camera flash close up, with a diffuser to highlight the droplets.
Play around with the composition too. Wine bottle photography can be fun if you splash the wine itself around. Fill up a glass and ask someone to swirl it around.
Use a fast shutter speed to avoid motion blur in the liquid and a continuous AF mode to keep the lip of the glass in focus at least.
Overall, there is lots to learn and practise with glass photography. Unwanted reflections or a messy background can ruin your bottle photography.
Glass can look flat and uninspiring if you don’t set up the right lighting. Make sure you’re always paying attention to where the reflections are appearing on the bottle.