Learning how to shoot whisky on a white background requires an appreciation of physics (light), aesthetics (look and feel) and technology (lenses, depth of field, post processing).
A photograph records the light returned or reflected from an object. Light travels in straight lines (more or less) and can be modified in a number of different ways. It can be reflected, diffused, polarised etc.
The angle of incidence is the angle at which light bounces off an object in relation to the source of the light. When we photograph glass, we need to think about how we can avoid seeing the light source reflected in the image. If we light it from the front, it will bounce straight back into the camera and you’ll see a blown out white spot on the image. Glass being what it is, the spot could be round or it could be altered by the shape of the bottle. Don’t be tempted to think you can remove it in post production.
The aesthetics of drink are an interesting study in themselves. A premium whisky is expensive and the image needs to convey that quality as well as the qualities we instinctively associate with premium whiskys – warm, refined and cultured. We also need to bring out the subtlety of the drink by bringing light and shade into the photograph, emphasising the curves of the glass and the light reflecting from it.
Choice of lens, lighting and background. I use a Canon 50mm f1.2 prime lens for photographing bottles. Minimum spatial distortion, consistency between shots and maximum sharpness. Lighting needs to be carefully set up.
We light liquids in clear glass bottles from an angle of about 45 degrees behind the bottle. Place a reflector on the opposite side to bounce light back across the label. Then, position a light to one side, high above the bottle highlighting the bottom of the bottle to create the yellow reflection in the base of the glass and give a little depth to the composition.
We’ll light the background with one dedicated light. We need this light to bounce back through the bottle, creating that nice expensive, warm glow. Light this to just under perfect white so that we have good definition on the glass and no blown out areas.
I’m a great believer in building my lighting gradually. If I can get a shot with just one light, I will! Start with the background, then position reflectors to bounce that light back at the label. I use white foam core. Some people use a silver reflector but I find that can add unwanted texture to the glass. Get the first light right and add the second. Take your time and change the lights power and position until you have a great clean image.
A black box such as the one shown here, will add a defining black line to the edge of the glass, the closer it is, the sharper the line. In a single exposure there is a compromise between composition and perfect black line. If you take two exposures, you can get the best of both worlds by blending the images together, using the best part of each. If you go this route, do not move the bottle between shots! Instead move the box to get the perfect line then retake the shot with the perfect composition.
At Helter Skelter Studios we use Capture One raw processing software to capture the initial shot. Next we will export the raw file as a PSD to Photoshop. We then go through a defined workflow for every image. This shoot involved more than 70 different bottles.
- Apply Crop.
- Separate the image from its background and place in a new layer.
- Use the Channels to create an image that includes the shadows. Place this in a new layer under the last one so that it will only add the shadow to the image. Done subtly, this prevents it from ‘floating in space’.
- Add a pure white layer above the original layer.
- Using a layer mask, add exposure/colour/vibrance correction to the top layer.
There are many different ways to get to the same end point, this one works well for us. We do the crop first to avoid being distracted by anything that will not impact the image in the final version. We use a pure white fill because its generally quicker than erasing the near white layer we started with.
Related post: How to Shoot Wine on a White Background
If you’d like us to shoot your products, we’d love to help! Give us a call on 01743 231 416 or drop us a note via our contact form.