Lighting a Translucent Bottle

Shoju - Aya Selection

Ever since I shot the Nemuro Cabernet, I’ve been very curious about how to shoot a translucent wine bottle.  Obviously, I could have used the exact same setup; but it won’t bring out the color of the liquid inside the bottle.  After some research, I found a website called DYI Photography; which described a very clever way to photograph beer (hmmm… beeer…).  The main idea is to light the bottle almost entirely from the bottom.  Here is my attempt.

The key to the setup is a light table made from a cardboard box and a piece of glass (free – borrowed it from my refrigerator shelf).  Inside the box, I placed a strobe to light up the bottle from the bottom.  The first attempt was pretty good, except that the light from the bottom also lights up the imperfections in the refrigerator glass (scratches, stains which couldn’t be cleaned, etc).  I decided that I need to control that cause it will be too painful to remove them in Photoshop.  To solve this problem, I used a cardboard snoot.

You can still see some reflections in the above picture; but much better than having them across half of the glass.  Now that the bottle is lit, the next step is to setup the background like last time – a black foam core.  Another flash is placed behind the black foam core and pointed a the back wall.

Two white foam cores are then placed on each side of the bottle to create white highlights on the sides of the bottle.  Next step is to light up the label.  This is another challenge.  Too much light would create more reflections on the bottle; or even on the black background.  I need a very controlled spotlight to brighten the label in a very subtle fashion.  To do so, I brought out another flash and my old home made grid (made from black straws).  Grids tighten the light from the flash into a small circle; which is perfect for this exercise.  The tough part is aiming the light in the correct spot.

The remainder of the job is to carefully balance each of the 3 lights until the desired effect is created.  Although I am happy with the outcome of the final picture, I do not think it is perfect yet.  I ended up with more questions before I started.

  • First, the bottle is round, making logic a little complicated. The band across the bottle actually came from a very small label in the back (I couldn’t remove it, darn Japanese quality!); I would never imagine such a small label would get magnified so much.
  • The light from the bottom is very tricky.  As mentioned,  I decided to snoot it to reduce reflections on the refrigerator shelf.  However, it also creates reflections at  the top of the bottle (neck area).  I experimented a little on the placement of the light vs. the bottle.  I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  I wonder if it will look different if I were to angle it so that it points backward.
  • The black foam core in the back actually becomes the narrow black strip inside the bottle; I expected it to cover the width of the bottle.  I suppose the bottle has a convex lens effect.  If you look carefully, the reflection is mirrored and upside down (you can see the base board).  It took me a while to figure it out.  As a result, the inner white strips on the sides of the bottle are actually reflections from the wall.  Only the outer white highlight is the result of the white foam cores.  I wonder if there is a way to completely eliminate the inner white strips.  Do I have to use a much wider black background?  But then I can use the white foam cores.  Which means I will have to use some kind of strip lights.

Despite the fact that lots of questions remained unanswered, it was still a very fun experiment!

As I started to tear down the setup, another question came up – how will the bottle look like if the background is white?  How would I shoot it so it could have a golden glow?  I knew I had to get the experiment done; else I will be up all night thinking about it.  So here it goes…

First step is to get rid of the black foam core as background.  I was too lazy to setup my white seamless paper; so I just point my SB-80DX flash at the back wall.  The wall is actually not white, it is egg shell-ish.  But I know if I over expose it a little; I can turn it pure white later in Photoshop.  I placed two black foam cores on each side of the bottle.  This is to add a black rim around the bottle for definition.  This is how it looks like with just the background light.

Next step is to light up the label.  Same setup as black background set; I used a SB-800 with a home made grid.

Finally, the last step is to light up the bottle from the bottom.  Again, the setup is the same – snooted SB-80DX inside the box, pointed straight up the bottom of the bottle.  Now, to make it glow, I added a gel to the SB-80DX.  I decided to use Roscosun from my Rosco sample pack.  Here is the final image.
Aya Selection - White

Not too bad at all!  Again, I still have lots of unanswered questions; such as, what’s that white strip inside the bottle?  Argh!!! Drives me nuts.


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