How to Make your Bottle Look Expensive
Guess how many lights I used? 3? Gridded strip boxes on each side? Beauty dish? Nope. I spent less than $10 on this picture.
I have been thinking about this for a while. A few years ago, I read a Strobist article about a very simple lighting setup for a gorgeous helmet picture. I was very impressed about how easily this can be done. The key idea is that when it comes to dark reflective subjects, it is not the light you project on it that matters. Instead, it is what the subject reflects that counts.
The setup is pretty simple. First, I placed a piece of Plexiglas (got it from my coffee table) on top of black cloth. The Plexiglas is needed to generate reflection of the bottle itself; I like reflections because it anchors your subject. Now the lighting. One black foam core (about $4) behind the bottle as black background. Next, place a light (any light) behind the black foam core to throw light forward. In my case, I used a bare SB-80DX. To generate reflection on the sides of the bottle, I used two white foam cores (about $2.50 each); one on each side. The white foam cores catches the light from behind the black background; generating a nice glow around the edges of the bottle. Here is what the bottle looks like at this point.
It worked as advertised! Pretty cool for a one light setup. But I wanted to jazz it up a bit. I placed a 2nd light (SB-800) behind and below the bottle. I added a grid to the light to tighten the pattern; this way it will look like it is glowing from the center of the background. Then a red gel is to added for accent. Now it looks like a glowing red pattern. Here are pictures of the setup.
Post-processing: yes, even bottles want to be flawless. Add a layer to expose the label a little bit more. Cloned out dusts and blemishes on the bottle. Blended the edge of the table with the background. Darkened the edges of the picture to 100% black.
Some random thoughts. Yes, I do shoot things other than people. Rarely, but I do. Bottles are very nice subjects: they are patient, they are shapely, they have very nice curves, and they hold their pose very well. However, I just don’t get the same satisfaction compared to people. They look the same no matter how many times you shoot: I have proves – about 10 of them. Plus, bottles don’t get excited or thank you when you show them how hot they look on the LCD screen. I think I am sticking with portraits.