Natural light product photography can be challenging. This is because natural light is always changing and it can be tricky to control. In this post, I’m going to show you how to shoot and composite a bottle using natural light and one, small dimmable light that costs under $25.00.
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Natural Light Product Photography: How To Shoot A Bottle
Shooting a bottle is a little different than other types of product photography, because you’re shooting glass and will need to focus on one part of the bottle at a time. After you’ve shot the different parts of the bottle, you will take the images and merge parts of them to create your final image. This technique is known as compositing and is a very cool editing technique to know in photography. We’ll cover this further into the post.
Neewer CN-160 Light
This little light is my secret weapon for shooting bottles. It helps me create that beautiful glow shining through the back of the bottle. You can really use any type of small light you want, but I use the Neewer CN-160. I highly recommend this light because it’s dimmable, so you can get the perfect glow. Did I mention it’s under $25? I also recommend using Kleenex to cover the grid pattern and to soften the light a bit. It’s a cheap light with a cheap modifier, but hey, it works!
A tripod is a must-have when you’re shooting natural light product photography, especially when shooting glass or a bottle. This is because you will be shooting a variety of images with the camera and bottle staying in the exact same place. This is important to make compositing the images much easier during editing. If the camera or bottle move at all during the shoot process, it will make compositing the images very difficult. I use this Manfrotto Tripod for a lot of my shoots.
You’ll want to shoot tethered when shooting natural light product photography. This means that your camera is connected to your computer, so you can review images as you shoot. This will help you see the images on a much larger screen and make adjustments as you shoot. Make sure your tether cable is compatible with your camera model. For example, I use the Nikon D750 and use this tether cable.
A shutter release will come in handy for the variety of images you need to take, especially if you’re shooting by yourself. For example, 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 be close to your camera or your computer. Make sure your shutter release is compatible with your camera model.
READ MORE ABOUT: NATURAL LIGHT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
Getting Set Up
Set The Stage
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. I decided to shoot a Jack Daniel’s bottle because I thought the golden/amber hue would be really pretty popping off the dark background.
Set Up Near A Window
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 sides bottle. I adjusted my camera settings to allow enough light in to outline the bottle and make the label readable.
CAMERA EQUIPMENT & SETTINGS: Nikon D750; 105mm 2.8; 1/10 sec; f/14; ISO 200
Clean the Bottle
You’ll want to be sure and clean the bottle before you shoot it. Eliminating dust spots and fingerprints will save a lot of time when you get to the editing stage.
Shoot One Side At A Time
Start by 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. For example, I shoot the left side first and make sure the light is hitting that left side just right. Then, I shoot the right side and make sure the light is hitting the right side just right. During editing, you composite left side of the image and right side of the image together to make one final image. Pretty cool, right?
My shoot order is listed below. Luckily, steps 1-3 ended up working out in one image during this shoot thanks to enough natural light coming into my home studio and thanks to using the appropriate camera settings for that type of light.
- 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.
The left image includes steps 1-3 (capturing the outline on left, the outline on right and the bright label).
The right image includes step 4 (me capturing the glow).
What Is Compositing?
Compositing is where you take elements from one or multiple images to create one final image. This editing technique is incredibly popular with product photography and allows you to create final images that you can’t capture with just one shot. Let’s go over the steps on how to do it next!
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. Review 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.
Natural light product photography is a fun way to get started shooting product photography when you’re not ready to explore artificial lights yet. However, I do have a post that dives into Artificial Light Photography: How To Shoot A Bottle, if you’re curious to see how this process works with artificial lights.
READ MORE ABOUT: GETTING STARTED WITH ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.