Photographing drinks and bottles is surprisingly complex and can often confuse photographers. Not only do you have to deal with reflections from the glass but you also need to illuminate the liquid and effectively light the label. And, that’s without even trying to give the bottle a “frosted” or “wet” appearance. In this article, I’ll be covering the preparation of bottles for still life photography; how and why we prepare them.
DRINKS PHOTOGRAPHY TIP 1 | THE REVERSE LABEL
I cannot emphasize enough how crucial this step is. I see so many packshots of bottles with the reverse label not removed and it looks terrible. One of the most important parts for drinks photography is illuminating the liquid. Nothing looks worse or more amateurish than having your beautiful backlight interrupted by a label. Instead of seeing a nice even glow coming through the bottle, you see the black outline of the reverse label. Remove those labels!
How to remove the label may, at first, sound easy, and it is, if you have the right tools. I use a label remover called “Sticky Stuff Remover”, you can find it here. There are lots of different products that do the same thing but I’ve never had trouble with this so I’ve not done much experimentation here. All you do is apply the spray and leave it for 5-7 minutes. After that, I use a plastic scraping tool to remove the label.
SIDE NOTE – make sure you protect the front label! If you get any of this stuff on that label it will damage it. You’ve been warned.
DRINKS PHOTOGRAPHY TIP 2 | PREPARING THE BOTTLES
Aside from the obvious cleaning, there are a few essential steps any still life photographer must take to create appealing images of bottles; depending on the look one is attempting to achieve. In the image above you can see three distinct final looks for the same bottle; untreated, frosted and wet. Each version has its own process which I’ll explain now.
The untreated version is pretty self-explanatory. The reverse label is removed and the bottle is cleaned, that’s it. For the Frosted look, I then proceed to add three coats of Matt Protective Lacquer Spray to the back and a further three coats of Gloss spray to the front. I’ll show you a close up for this VS the other looks in a moment.
Having treated the bottle with the spray, we’re then ready to apply some water for the Wet look. The spray has not only made the bottle appear frosted, but it has also protected the label meaning water can be applied without ruining it.
In the image above, you can see a close up of the bottles; Untreated, Frosted and Wet. Looking closely, we can see that the hard-edged lights, seen in the untreated version, have become soft and diffused on the Frosted bottle. In addition, look closely at the rounded shape of the water droplets on the Wet look. I’ll explain how that was accomplished in the next section.
DRINKS PHOTOGRAPHY TIP 3 | WATER IS NOT WATER
I think most people know that still life photographers, food stylists, and drinks stylists have some magic techniques up their sleeves to allow them to create mouth-watering images. Anything from using fake ice, to replacing milk with glue in a bowl of cereal. Mercifully, we won’t be doing anything that extreme.
If you were to apply water alone, the droplets wouldn’t have a nice rounded shape nor will they cling to the bottle. Instead, you’ll find that the water runs off and it’s difficult to achieve an appealing spread and shape to the drops. Thankfully, the solution is fairly straightforward. Firstly, you need to add Glycerine to your water mix. Some will say a 50/50 mix is good, others might say 70/30. In my experience, it depends where you’ve got your Glycerine from and the hardness of the water in your particular location. Experiment with different mixes and you’ll find one which works for you. Secondly, the applicator, or spray bottle, is key to achieving the desired spread and shape. Again, the only thing you can do here is experiment. Get applicators which apply a gentle mist and ones which are a little heavier handed until you find one that works for your photograph.
So, that’s it, three simple but essential tips to help you create amazing drinks photography. There are of course a huge number of other steps, from light placement to focus stacking, which must be mastered and skilfully applied for you to produce outstanding results. In terms of focus stacking, be sure to check out my review of Helicon Focus which also includes a nice 20% discount!
I suppose the most important takeaway here is to recognise that even seemingly simple photography like this requires a great deal of time and preparation. I tend to find time is the most important factor when your aim is to create high-quality still life photography.