Photographing bottles is challenging. It’s tricky to make them look good because you get all kinds of reflections on the glass. It’s these reflections that make red wine bottles even more difficult to photograph than white wine bottles.
In this article I’m going to show you how to photograph wine bottles on a white background – like a pro!
You’re going to learn to use the exact techniques I use every day, as a professional product photographer.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- The best equipment to use when photography wine bottles
- How to set up the lighting for bottle photography
- How to control the light
- How to set up your camera for bottle and product photography
- Other professional wine bottle photography tips & tricks
If you follow these instructions, you too will be taking wine bottle photos that look awesome.
Equipment for Photographing Wine Bottles
1 x Stripbox softbox (like this one – 30x120cm / 12″x 47″)
1 x Small softbox (like this one 16″x16″/40x40cm)
1 x 7” reflector with grid (you could use this one)
1 x DIY picture frame diffuser (using translum as diffusion material)
Lee filters diffusion paper (I used their 216 paper)
3 x studio strobes or speed lights
1 x Acrylic riser (like these ones here)
Transparent table (or similar – see notes in article below)
Flash Triggers (you can use flash triggers like these)
100mm macro lens or similar
DSLR camera (I used a Canon 6D Mark II)
Note: If using speedlights, you’ll need an adapter so you can use the softbox, stripbox and 7” reflector. I use a bowens mount speedlight adapter like this one.
How to Prepare a Wine Bottle for Photographing
Choose the Best Bottle to Photograph (and save retouching)
The first thing you should do is choose the best looking product to photograph.
The bottle you are photographing should be in good condition. The label should be firmly affixed without anything peeling up. Check that the printing on the label is good with no misprints. The lid should be free from dents and scratches.
Little blemishes can be touched up in post production but you can save yourself a lot of time starting with a pristine product. In some cases it’s better to ask the client for a product in better condition rather than spend extra time retouching later.
Avoid the Seams When Photographing Glass Bottles
In the case of wine bottles, and most glass bottles for that matter, there are two seams along the length of the bottle where it was joined during manufacture. Try to avoid using bottles where the seam will be visible in the image i.e. the seams should be at the side of the bottle otherwise they will show up in your photos.
Again, this is another problem that can be corrected later in Photoshop but it’s easier to start with a bottle without this issue.
Clean the Wine Bottle Before Photographing
As with all product photography, the first thing you want to do is make sure you clean the wine bottle thoroughly. Clean your hands well to minimize leaving any oil or smudges behind on the product.
Use a microfiber cloth to remove any dust and fingerprints. Wearing gloves while cleaning is ideal but, if you don’t have any handy, hold the bottle with a tea towel.
Even if you are not photographing the whole bottle, clean the entire surface, top, bottom, and all around. With transparent bottles, any marks on the back will show through.
Product Set Up
Best Table for Photographing Wine Bottles
I have been using a DIY transparent table for years. It’s far better than a regular table or seamless background. The reason I do this is to stop light bouncing up off the surface of the table. This is very important.
I made my table by buying a fold up table from the hardware store, removing the table top and replacing it with a transparent acrylic sheet (AKA Perspex or Plexiglass).
If you don’t have or don’t want to make a transparent product photography table, you can cover your table with black cardboard instead – this will prevent reflections.
Put Your Bottle on an Acrylic Riser
You’ll need a riser that is similar in size to the diameter of the bottle you are photographing (ideally a little smaller). When photographing on a table, slightly elevating the bottle like this is essential.
If you don’t do this, the light will not reach the bottom of the bottle.
If you are using any kind of stand or riser, use clear or frosted to minimize reflections on the product.
Center and Align the Bottle for Photographing
The next step is to make sure that the label is straight and centered when looking through the camera. You can use the edges of the label to help you center the label. Keep the distance at edges of the label the same for both sides.
If you have a label that wraps all the way around the bottle, use the main text or logo as a guide for the center. Rotate the bottle as needed to make sure that you have it centered.
The Best Lighting Setup for Wine Bottle Photography
The set-up I’ve perfected over many years of shooting wine bottles uses three lights along with two softboxes and diffusers.
Adding a Reflection to the Side of the Bottle
I start my lighting setup with a strip box on one side of the bottle. This light modifier is similar to a regular softbox except it is long and narrow. The strip box is lined in silver foil and has two diffusers.
The stripbox keeps the light long and narrow and stops it spreading out like a large softbox. Some stripboxes have edges that extend past the diffuser, by a couple of inches. These edges further restrict the light, keep it narrowly focused and stop it spilling out the sides.
The light from the strip box is going to give a reflection on the side of the bottle.
Although the light from the stripbox is soft, without further diffusion it would leave a reflection with hard edges. I prefer a reflection on the side of the bottle with softer edges. I put a sheet of diffusion paper between the stripbox and the wine bottle to further soften the light and achieve this soft reflection.
Use Diffusion Paper to Soften the Light
I prefer to use a roll of Lee 216 white diffusion paper. It’s a quality product that is easy to work with. Simply set up a C-stand and hang the roll in front of your strip box.
A sheet of white semi-translucent acrylic (Perspex) will also work too.
Pop-up diffusers could be used but they aren’t as good as diffusion paper or acrylic. The reason is that the diffusion paper and acrylic is perfectly smooth and wrinkle free – popup diffusers are not and the wrinkle lines will show on your bottle as reflections.
The diffusion paper or acrylic should be placed about 2 feet from the wine bottle on the side of it. Position the strip box about 1-2 feet behind the diffusion paper.
How to Light Wine Bottle Labels
Like with anything, there are multiple ways to achieve a similar result. The simplest way I’ve found to light the label of a wine bottle is to use a studio strobe with a small softbox.
I position the light slightly in front and high above the bottle. Using a grid on the softbox will stop light from spilling too much onto the diffusion paper.
You could also use a beauty dish or a bare reflector, but I find the light a bit harsh.
I use a small softbox over a large one because the softbox will leave a reflection on the bottle. I want the reflection to be as small as possible to make it easy to photoshop out later. A large softbox will leave a much larger reflection which takes longer to retouch.
If you do it right, this reflection is easy to retouch because there is not really any texture to work around. You’re just retouching the smooth glass.
Another method to light a wine bottle label is to use a polarizer on your strobe and on your lens. This is called cross polarization. Using this method means there would be no reflection to retouch later. This is a more advanced and expensive way to light the front of your bottle.
Cross polarization is overkill for most people and you’ll be fine if you use a small softbox.
Setting up the Background for Wine Bottle Photography
Finally, in relation to lighting, I have a special set up for the background.
I use an old canvas painting frame which I’ve modified. I removed the canvas from it and replaced it with a translum. Translum is a stiff diffusion material. This allows me to shine a light behind the background if I need to light the contents of the bottle.
You only need to use a diffuser for the background if you’re photographing white wine bottles or bottles that are not see through. You can use foam core board or white paper for the background if you’re photographing red wine bottles.
Either way, you’ll need to add two pieces of black cardboard to either side so you’re left with a 12 inch window showing the white background.
These black pieces are important to control light reflections on the sides of the bottle. The black pieces make nice, dark edges and they will help define the sides.
For white wine bottles, I would use very narrow black cardboard on the sides and also add another strobe. The strobe will light the contents of the bottle and give a nice glow. The thin strips of black cardboard will leave a nice thin black line on the side of the bottle – wide pieces of cardboard will show on the inside of the bottle (avoid this).
Camera Setup for Photographing Wine Bottles
When using studio strobes or external flashes, you’ll need to shoot in manual. I shoot in raw so I can easily fix the white balance later. It also gives much more flexibility to reduce highlights or recover shadows in post production.
Best Aperture for Photographing Wine Bottles
A small aperture like f/16 with a 100 mm macro lens is ideal. With the distance I am from the bottle (4-5 feet), if I shoot using a shallower depth of field, f/9 for example, the label will be in focus but the top around the lid will be slightly soft and out of focus.
I have a whole article on the best lenses for product photography.
Best Shutter Speed for Photographing Wine Bottles
I set the shutter speed to 1/125th of a second. Most flash triggers have a synchronization speed limit (around 1/200th of a second).
Tweaking Your Wine Bottle Lighting Setup
Adjusting the location and angle of your lights will really help you control the reflections and put the light exactly where you want it. This is a process of trial and error.
Moving the strip box or changing the power will give different reflections across the side of the bottle and will change how bright the spread is and how far it spreads. Positioning the strip box behind the bottle will bring the reflection further around the bottle.
Moving the product position closer or further away from your background will also change the look of your final photo.
It is all a matter of playing with your setup. Move the strip box around, move your lights around, tweak the power of the lights, move the diffusing paper closer or further, etc.
Keep experimenting to get the results you like.
In the end, taking the perfect wine bottle photo all comes down to a little bit of knowledge and your personal preference and vision as a photographer. There is no right or wrong way to position your equipment.
So, unless you want a consistent set up every time, there is no reason to measure distances between the lights or record lighting power.
Start by putting your gear where you think it should go, take some test shots to use as a baseline and move things around until you achieve the results you’ve envisioned. With practice you’ll soon know how to photograph wine bottles like a pro!