Have you ever thought about the work that goes into the product shot images that flood your local supermarket, magazines, and nearly every free space your eyes may come across?
Commercial photography is a gigantic industry and clients pay big bucks to make sure their products are captured and presented in perfect fashion. For photographers, it can be one of the most overwhelming fields to attempt, given the precision and effort that goes into a single image. Two situations that photographers often struggle with, is capturing items that are transparent and reflective. These products can be so difficult, that there are studios that specifically deal with such items; such as jewelry, bottles, beverages, and glassware. I’ve decided to show a quick set up for photographing a product that presents some challenges, and explain the ideas behind it.
I chose a bottle of whiskey as it presented multiple challenges; an exterior that is both reflective and transparent, contents that are semi-transparent, yet also react to light, and to top it off a label that is matte.
The basic setup was the bottle set over a piece of gallery glass, which was atop a black matte board. The reason I chose a matte board instead of glossy is because if you put two reflective surfaces under an object, you will get multiple reflections and it will have a hazy look to it. The key light was a large rectangle softbox. It was positioned subject left, very closely to provide even light across the entire front of the bottle. The purpose of this light is to provide an even base coverage, and give shape to the left edges of the bottle (where the highlight will show the most). The fill light is a strip softbox, positioned to the right to even out and show shape on the opposite side of the bottle. This light had the highest power output, but given its concentrated shape it only strongly affects the area where it is reflecting. At this point the front is well illuminated, yet we are shooting right through the liquid into an unlit background. This causes the liquid to look extremely dark in comparison to the rest of the bottle.
To combat this, I created a fill card to be placed behind the bottle. Now we add a second strip softbox, firing directly behind the bottle, with the bounce card at a 45 degree angle to send light back through the liquid. By sending light through both sides, we have essentially trapped it during the exposure. You can control the brightness of the liquid on the inside by adjusting the power of the strip softbox firing at it. Now we have a bottle with a well lit label, smooth highlights, and rich contents. The only issue we are left with is a black top/cap on a black background. A final light was added as a rim light, behind the subject on the left side. This provides a more defined edge so that nothing gets lost in the background.
When you are working with a product with reflective and transparent properties, its best to leave your modeling lamps on. This allows you to see the effect of your lighting before ever firing a shot (and wasting time). Pay really close attention to how the light shifts on your subject as you move it around to get the desired results. Learning where to place light to achieve a result is the key skill of photography, and training your eye to see the minor impacts can help your photography in all applications. Play around with various products and different lighting and see the effects you can achieve!
Robert Hall is a freelance photographer in Southeast Michigan. His work primarily consists of weddings, commercial and editorial. He is constantly improving his skills through trading of techniques and critique with fellow photographers. Robert is always looking for new connections on social networks!
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