Long-time PixSylarians know that I’ve taken on some outrageous photo projects. I have to confess, though, that the most difficult photography I do on a regular basis are bottle shots for the winemakers in my hometown of Paso Robles. Why is this so difficult? A wine bottle is a glass cylinder that sees all and knows all. There is no forgiveness. There is no place to hide.

Wine photography requires a special time or place. Do it at night or in a room with no windows. Seriously. The only light you’ll want to see is the light illuminating the bottle. Any other light in the room will show up as a reflection in the glass. For group above, the sole light was a large softbox a 9 o’clock. A white fill card at 3 o’clock was used to create the subtle shoulder highlight on the right.

It’s likely that you’ll need to composite two or three shots together. After the glass is shot, you’ll need to photograph the capsule if there’s a logo that needs to show (it seldom lines up perfectly with the label). You’ll also need to photograph the label in a separate shot—using a second light or a shiny reflector to minimize the shadow. Tether your camera into a computer so that you can zoom in and check for defects and focus issues. You should lock down your camera on a sturdy tripod. Hang a sandbag from the center column if you can for additional ballast. When you rotate the bottle for the capsule shot, make sure it does not wander on the table.

Choose your bottle carefully. Every defect in the bottle will be magnified by the lens. Make sure that the label is straight and not torn. Avoid bottles that have a seam running under the label. Also avoid bottles that have dents in the capsule. If you look closely, you’ll even find bubbles in the glass. Go through a case (or two or three) to find a hero bottle that has minimal defects. Otherwise, plan on spending a lot of time with Photoshop’s clone stamp tool later.

The shots above were done for Edward Sellers Wines—one of the best producers of Rhone-style wines in California. Click on the pic above if you want to see the photo up close. Click here if you want to see more of my wine photogrpahy.


6 Responses to Wine Photography Quickie

  1. Hey I noticed your backgrounds are a very pure white. Are you using a background light or spill or post production?

  2. eric says:

    I can only say that it is so true. I just went through the exercise with a whisky bottle of mine for a University photo project. I blended 4 pictures (1 blurry background because white surface was scratched, the bottle, the tiny reflective label and the top) all used different lights. I have to go back to my camera book to be able to use it with the computer the way I expect but I had the exact same problem and process as you did. 1 light from bottom/behind for bottle and background, 1 front light from softbox for label and capsule. I only wish i have 2 or 3 cases of bottle…

    picture on flickr here:

  3. I have read a book on lighting and it shows how to understand the physics of light and the way it reacts with different material, including wine bottles. I think it's the best book out there:

    Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

  4. Ron says:

    Syl, What do you mean by the above statement "CLIPPING PATH on reds"?


  5. marco says:

    I did the same kind of job early this year (, but I wanted to solve every lighting problem with a single shoot, so I had to use a number of gobos and a snooted light only for the label.


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