Shooting a bottle is a different type of shooting, but it’s also a really cool process to experiment with. Rather than focusing on the bottle as a whole, you focus on shooting parts of the bottle separately. Then, during editing, you composite the different parts of the bottle to create your final image. In a previous post, I shared how to shoot & composite a bottle with natural light. This post will demonstrate how to shoot & composite a bottle using studio lights.
HOW TO SHOOT & COMPOSITE A BOTTLE USING STUDIO LIGHTS
Equipment You Need
You can use any brand of studio lighting you’d like, but I can highly recommend Paul C. Buff based on my own experience. I use these two strobes for most of my shoots (the x1600 model) and they work oh-so-beautifully and offer a nice range of power.
I use two different types of modifiers with these lights including: umbrellas and two soft boxes. They work great in my home studio and also when I’m traveling on location. It’s ok to start with one light to be sure you like it first, because studio lighting can be an investment.
You will need one small light to help you create the glow on the back of the bottle. You can use any type of light you want, but I use the Neewer CN-160. I recommend this light because it’s dimmable and makes it easy to get that perfect glow. It’s my “secret weapon” for these types of shoots and… IT’S ONLY $22.
TIP: This light has a grid built in that can sometimes show up through clear bottles. I have a very “high end” solution for this: I tape a Kleenex over the front to hide the grid lines. It creates a simple modifier to soften the light and also creates a nice smooth glow. Easy peasy.
Pocket wizards have been a total game changer for me and my studio lights. They allow my camera and studio lights to talk to each other wirelessly without having to use a sync cable. Fewer cables are always a good thing. You might need these adaptors to connect the pocket wizard cables to your lights.
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 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.
My Studio Setup
I used two black foam boards for my background and surface and chose a beautiful bottle of Diplomatico Rum for the demo. My tripod is setup to shoot the bottle straight on and I have two Paul C. Buff strobes with soft boxes set up on each side of the set.
READ MORE ABOUT: MY CURRENT GEAR FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
I always do light tests prior to my shoot to be sure everything is setup correctly when it’s time to dive into shooting. I did some lighting tests with my strobes to find the right amount of power I wanted to use. And also adjusted the position of the lights to make sure they were hitting the bottle just right. I love having this type of control and consistency with my lighting.
The light test example below focuses on lighting the LEFT outline of the bottle.
I decided to use 1/2 power. Even though you’ll notice the glow getting a little harsh at 1/2 power, I’m only compositing the left outline of the bottle from this image – not the glow. The glow will be shot separately.
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 composite those “parts” of each image together to make the final image.
My shoot order for this shoot went like this:
- Shoot the bottle where it’s mostly DARK.
I left my studio lights off for this shot. I shot this because I wanted to have the surface be dark for the final image so I could add a pretty reflection of the bottle.
- Shoot the LEFT SIDE of the bottle only and get a nice outline along the side.
I only used one light on the left side powered at 1/2 power.
- Shoot the RIGHT SIDE of the bottle only and get a nice outline along the side.
I only used one light on the right side powered at 1/2 power.
- Shoot the LABEL only so it’s bright, sharp and readable.
I used both lights at 1/2 power and moved each light forward a bit to fully light the label. Note: I didn’t shoot the top label, because the bottle had been opened before I shot it and I didn’t want to highlight the torn label.
- Shoot the BOTTLE GLOW only and adjust the dimmable light as needed.
To do this, you will hold the dimmable 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 Five Images
The first image is step 1 (shot dark to achieve a dark surface).
The second image is step 2 (light and shoot the left outline).
The third image is step 3 (light and shoot the right outline).
The fourth image is step 4 (light and shoot the label).
The fifth image is step 5 (shoot the glow using the separate, dimmable light).
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 had five images to work with for this demonstration and used my dark image as my top layer with the rest of the layers beneath it.
2. Create A Layer Mask
A) Make sure your images are open together in the same work space with the dark layer on top.
B) Add a layer mask to the top layer. You do this by clicking the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel.
C) After you click the layer mask icon, you’ll see a white box appear next to your main image in the layers panel. Be sure that white box is selected and make sure the layers you want to start with are turned on. I had my top layer and the layer immediately beneath it (left light) turned on. I usually leave the rest of the layers turned off until I’m ready for them.
D) Select your brush tool and adjust the size to your liking.
E) 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.
3. Use Your Paint Brush Tool (black) to Reveal
This part is so fun, because you get to see the different parts of the images come together to create your final image. Make sure the layers you’re working with are turned on so they can be revealed and leave the rest off until you’re ready to work with them.
I composite one layer into my top layer at a time.
A) Once I have revealed and erased what I want into the top layer from the layer immediately beneath it, I duplicate these two layers. Then, I place the duplicated files into a group folder named appropriately for later just in case I need to go back and make adjustments to those edits. The duplicated layers are in a group folder called Left Edit Reveal, Right Edit Reveal, etc.
B) After I’ve duplicated and grouped the two layers, I merge the same two layers together. Now, that layer has become my top layer and I start the process over again. I create another layer mask in the top layer, turn on the layer directly beneath it and start revealing and erasing.
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.
The Composite Steps
Retouching is a true specialty and also a big part of the photography 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. I didn’t require retouching for this demonstration, but I did have her retouch the Jack Daniels bottle in the natural light experiment, if you want to hop over and take a look.
I hope you enjoyed this demo on how to light a bottle using studio lights! 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!
READ MORE ABOUT: HOW TO SHOOT AND COMPOSITE A BOTTLE USING NATURAL LIGHT
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.