When you start getting into drink photography, having full control over your lighting setup becomes pretty important. Lighting glassware and bottles can be tricky, so I’m sharing some different drink photography lighting setups that will help you navigate the world of lighting drink photography more easily.
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Drink Photography: Challenges
There are a variety of options for how you can light your drink photography. When it comes to photography, there’s always more than one way to accomplish something and solve problems on set. What works for some photographers may not work for others. It really depends on your workflow and how you structure your photo shoot process.
Drink photography introduces the challenges including:
- UNWANTED REFLECTIONS
- DIFFERENT SHAPES OF GLASSWARE
- LIGHTING ADJUSTMENTS
Unwanted reflections are an inevitable challenge that you’ll face with drink photography. Glassware and bottles all vary in shape, size and design, which means your lighting will also vary depending on what you’re shooting. While reflections are challenging, they can also be a really beautiful part of the story. It’s important to control your light so the reflections feel natural and aren’t too distracting. You can control your lighting by adjusting your light positioning, power and modifiers. It takes some practice, but it can be fun to move things around on set and see what works and what doesn’t.
I’m going walk you through several different lighting setups and light effects and I’ll share behind the scenes images of how the equipment was setup in my studio.
Drink Photography Equipment
For reference, the camera and lighting equipment that I used in the demonstrations include:
- NIKON D750
- 105mm 2.8
- 24-70mm 2.8
- MANFROTTO 055 TRIPOD WITH BALL HEAD
- OVERHEAD SETUP
- ONE STROBE
- ONE LARGE SOFTBOX
- ONE WHITE UMBRELLA
- ONE LARGE DIFFUSER
- TETHERED SHOOTING
- REFLECTIVE SURFACE
- BLACK & WHITE FOAM CORE
- VARIETY OF BACKGROUNDS & SURFACES
PRO TIP: TEST YOUR LIGHTING WITH A STAND-IN DRINK OR GLASS FIRST. ADD THE REAL DEAL AFTER YOUR SETUP AND LIGHTING ARE ALL READY TO GO.
Let’s start with lighting your drink scene from the side. This is a popular way to shoot food and drinks and it basically means your light source is positioned on one or both sides of the subject.
In the coupe glasses example below, I used one strobe positioned on the right side of the glasses. I also used double diffusion (a large softbox and a large diffuser) to help spread the light out over the glasses. I did this to prevent the reflections from looking too harsh. Since this is a dark and moody image, the reflections could have become too bright and distracting. But, the double diffusion kept the light nice and soft.
Side/Back Light (My “Secret” Setup)
I had to get creative when thinking about how to light this glass. My home studio isn’t very wide, so there wasn’t enough room to set up two lights on each side of the table and far enough back from the glass to light it evenly.
So, how did I light it?
I decided to set up one strobe directly behind the foam core (and positioned it a little higher up) using a large softbox to soften the light. You would think that the light would be totally blocked off by the black foam core, right? It wasn’t. Because the softbox was larger than the foam core and positioned a little higher up, the light could pass by the foam core on the sides to light the glass.
I call this setup “side/back light,” because although the light is technically set up behind the subject, the light is actually passing by the foam board on the sides and evenly lighting the glass.
I don’t have a behind the scenes image of the bourbon shot below. Note to self: Always take behind the scenes images in case you ever want to show people how you set up the shot. 😉
In a nutshell, I used one strobe with the bulb exposed for more direct/hard light. I used a large diffuser in front of the light and positioned it to the back right of the scene. This allowed me to keep the harder shadows, but also soften them a touch. I also placed the light a little closer to the subject to create longer shadows casting off the glass.
PRO TIP: THE CLOSER YOUR SUBJECT IS TO YOUR LIGHT SOURCE, THE LONGER THE SHADOWS WILL BECOME.
When shooting backlit drink images, it’s important to position your light(s) in a way that will create that beautiful glow. It may or may not be directly behind the drink itself, so play around with the position and see what looks best. Back lighting glassware can be especially beautiful when the glass has some beautiful details or etching.
Using Gels (Back Light Example)
Using gels is a fun lighting trick in artificial light photography. Gels are transparent, colorful materials used to create a variety of different color effects in photography. You simply place the gels over your light source to get these creative effects in your images.
Similar to the back light example above, I positioned my strobe directly behind the wine glass for this image. Since I was going for a light and airy look, I used a large diffusor to serve as a bright white background and used a white reflective surface to show the reflection of the glass. I didn’t use a softbox in this example, because the gel was positioned over the light. Instead, I used the large diffusor to serve as my background and as my light modifier to soften the light. You can see an example using a pink gel followed by an example using no gel. Kinda fun, right?
Direct or hard light is a more focused light approach and creates hard shadows that brings your attention to a specific part of the image. It can be a dramatic, playful and bold look. The easiest way you can create direct/hard light is to expose the bulb on your strobe. When you modify the light with large soft boxes, umbrellas and diffusers, the more soft and spread out the light becomes. Take the modifiers away, and you get more of a direct/hard light.
READ MORE ABOUT: ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
In the drink image below, I used one strobe positioned to the right and slightly in front of the glasses. I exposed the bulb on my light and didn’t use any diffusion. This caused the light to be more directional, similar to a bright, sunny day. The palm frond was used to create extra shadows of palm trees in the background. Btw, positioning the palm frond “just right” probably took the most time in this image. 😉 You’ll notice all the aluminum wire I had to use in the behind the scenes image. It looks like a mess, but it got the job done.
Soft light is beautiful. The way to achieve soft light is by simply having a variety of light modifiers to work with. Softboxes, umbrellas and diffusers are wonderful options to have on hand.
In the example below with the Benham’s Gin, I used one strobe with an umbrella positioned on the side near the top of the bottle. I also used a round diffuser positioned opposite the light so it would bounce a little light back to the bottom of the image. You could use a white piece of foam core to do this, but I liked how subtle the diffuser was. The foam core bounced more light back than I wanted.
READ MORE ABOUT: THE BEST OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
Drink photography lighting can be a lot of fun to play with. The more control you have, the more creative you can get, which is why learning artificial lighting has been so pivotal for me as a food photographer. I hope my behind the scenes demonstrations helped you learn different setups you can try. Reach out with questions anytime!
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2021.