The process of how to shoot and composite a bottle using natural light is pretty interesting. To introduce you to this process, I’ll be using natural light and my “secret weapon light,” which is a dimmable light that costs under $25.00.
How To Shoot & Composite A Bottle Using Natural Light
Shooting a bottle is a little different than other types of shooting, because you focus on shooting one part of the bottle at a time. After you’ve shot the different parts of the bottle, you take the images and combine them to create your final image. This technique is known as compositing and it’s a very cool editing technique to know in photography.
You will need one small light to help you create the glow coming through the back of the bottle. You can use any type of light you want, but I use the Neewer CN-160. I highly recommend this light because it’s dimmable which helps you get that perfect glow with ease. I always use it for these types of shoots and… IT’S ONLY $22!
TIP: Tape some Kleenex over the front of the light to hide the grid lines and to act as a simple modifier to soften the light. This creates that nice soft glow behind the bottle.
A tripod is a MUST for this type of shooting, because you don’t want the camera to move at all during the shoot. You also don’t want to move the bottle as you shoot the different images. Everything needs to stay in the exact same spot. You’ll take multiple images and will use certain parts of each of image to create the final image. If the camera or bottle move at all, it will make the compositing and editing process very difficult. I use this Manfrotto Tripod for my shoots.
You’ll want to shoot tethered for this experiment (where your camera is connected to your computer) and even though you can trigger your camera from the computer, a shutter release will come in handy if you have to shoot alone and can’t be near your computer and your setup at the same time. You will need to hold the light behind your bottle for the glow shots and a shutter release will allow you capture these shots without having to touch your camera or be near your computer. Here’s a wireless shutter release to consider as well.
READ MORE ABOUT: MY FAVORITE LENSES FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
My Studio Setup
I used a dark wood board for my background and a small cutting board to give the bottle a little extra height. My tripod is setup to shoot the bottle straight on and I went with the Jack Daniel’s bottle because I knew that golden/amber hue would be really pretty popping off the dark wood background. Plus, the bottle hasn’t been opened, so the cap and label are fully intact at the top.
I positioned the bottle in front of the window with the dark background sitting behind it. This blocked direct backlight from the window, but still allowed light to sneak in around the bottle. I adjusted my camera settings to allow enough light in to outline the bottle and make the label readable.
My Shoot Process
First, be sure to clean the bottle before you shoot it. Eliminating dust spots and fingerprints ahead of time helps save time in the editing stage.
Next, think of the shoot process as focusing on one part of the bottle at a time rather than the bottle as a whole. You just want the area that you are lighting to be correct. Then, you move on to the next part of the bottle. Afterwards, you composite those “parts” of each image together to make the final image. Pretty cool, right?
My shoot order usually goes like this, but steps 1-3 ended up working out in one image during this shoot:
- Shoot the LEFT SIDE of the bottle only and get a nice outline along the side.
- Shoot the RIGHT SIDE of the bottle only. And get a nice outline along the side.
- Shoot the LABEL only so it’s bright, sharp and readable.
- Shoot the BOTTLE BACK GLOW only and adjust the dimmable light to the brightness you prefer.
To do this, you will hold the light behind the bottle and use your shutter release to capture these shots. Don’t worry about the light extending beyond the bottle or that your hand may be in the shot.
Let’s compare the two images.
The left image includes steps 1-3 (outline on left, outline on right, bright label).
The right image includes step 4 (capturing the glow).
How To Composite Your Images
1. Open Your Images in Photoshop
Once you have captured your images highlighting different parts of the bottle, export them from Lightroom and open up Photoshop. You’ll want to open each image that you’re using into the same work space with your main image as the top layer, so you can reveal parts of the layers beneath it. I only had two images to composite together for this demonstration and kept the bottle image as my top layer and the glow image as the layer beneath it.
2. Create a Layer Mask
A) Add a layer mask to your top image layer. You do this by clicking the layer mask icon below the layers.
B) After you click the layer mask icon, you’ll see a white box appear next to your top image in the layers panel. Be sure that white box is selected when you start to reveal the image beneath it and make sure both layers are turned on.
C) Select your brush tool and adjust the size to your liking.
D) Notice the black / white foreground and background color at the bottom of the tools panel. If you select black, your brush strokes will reveal the layer below. If you select white, your brush strokes will erase the layer below. Let’s reveal the glow.
3. Use Your Paint Brush Tool (black) to Reveal
This is my FAVORITE part of the compositing process, because you get to see the final image start coming together. Be sure your paint brush is using the black to reveal the glow. Isn’t it cool?!
4. Use Your Paint Brush Tool (white) to erase
Don’t worry if you start to show parts of the bottom layer that you don’t want to show. You can easily select the white color and erase them with the paint brush tool. Adjust your brush size accordingly to reveal or erase carefully.
5. Final Edits
After you’ve composited your images together, be sure to zoom in close to the bottle and clean up any dust spots and imperfections. I use the spot healing brush tool and the clone tool for the image clean up. It ensures that your final image is as close to perfect as possible.
Retouching is a true specialty and also a big part of the composite process. I know how to do some basic clean up and retouching on my own, but when it comes to the more advanced stuff, I work with Michelle Tucker.
She is my GO-TO for the advanced retouching that I don’t know how to do myself or simply don’t have the time to do myself. She has worked with photographers and clients in different industries including: beauty, fashion, products, food and manipulation. View her website here.
She’s super fast, a true professional and an EXPERT at her craft. I love being able to support her retouching business when a project calls for it, so I highly recommend checking her out to help with your retouching needs if/when you might need it.
Check out the final retouching requests I had her do for me on the final image below.
Using Natural Light
This demonstration used natural light and one dimmable light and it worked out pretty well. It’s a fun way to get started with this type of shooting, especially if you’re not comfortable with studio lights yet.
However, natural light can be limiting in flexibility and consistency. With this type of shooting, you can’t move the bottle around to catch different lighting from the window, so you have to backlight the bottle and adjust your camera settings accordingly to get a decent outline of the bottle. It’s not impossible to work this way, but it can be more time consuming for both the lighting and editing process.
Using Studio Lights
Using studio lights lets you have so much more control and is my preferred lighting method for shooting a bottle. You can control how much power your lights use AND you can move your lights around to hit the bottle just right. You don’t have to wait for the sun or find the right window. When you’re in complete control of the light, it also creates consistently lit images which make the compositing and editing process much less time consuming.
READ MORE ABOUT: HOW TO SHOOT AND COMPOSITE A BOTTLE USING STUDIO LIGHTS
I hope you enjoyed the demo using natural light and one dimmable light. It’s an easy way to get introduced to lighting a bottle without investing in studio lights yet. The compositing process works the same no matter what type of lighting you use, so experiment and practice with how it works. Feel free to reach out with any questions!
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.