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After a recent rant concerning the poor quality of many images on wine merchant shopping sites here are some hints and tips covering How To Photograph Wine Bottles:
Champagne Cork

Merchants just do not spend enough time or thought on presenting their products in the best possible light. A blurry, poorly lit picture of a bottle plonked on someones dining table is just not going to get me to buy. With some thought given to background, lighting and props the final image can impart so much (aspirational/cultural/lifestyle) and give a much needed professional feel to a website whether it is to sell wine or just to write about them.
Obviously I want merchants and webmasters banging on my door to provide the images for them… but here are a few tips for taking photographs of wine and other drinks in and out of bottle:

  1. Lighting – natural light is always best. Don’t use on-board flash as the reflected burn will dominate and look crap. Shadows and dramatic lighting are good but shouldn’t take the emphasis away from the label. [example 1 example 2]. If you are are in need of the light ‘strip’ to give the bottle form a Lowel Ego Light is recommended.
  2. Angle – straight on full bottle shots are dull, dull, dull. Go high, go low, go overhead, straight on is fine, as long as you do try not to include the whole bottle in the shot. [example]
  3. Reflections – watch for reflections of the camera. I’ve seen images that clearly showed the tripod, the photographer and the rooms light fittings. All very distracting.
  4. Props – complementary props, either by colour or by national association (i.e. Something ‘French’ next to a French wine), can lend a unique feel to an image. Corks, corkscrews, various wine glasses and other paraphernalia can all enhance a picture. Keep an eye out for second-hand/junk items such as branded glasses, water jugs and the like. There are Pernod Water jugs, branded Champagne flutes and beer mats in my growing prop box.
  5. Background – get in close, filling the frame seems to work best for me and removes the worry of distracting backgrounds. Poorly lit walls, shadows, clutter should be avoided. [example 1 example 2]
  6. Focus – use of a macro lens and low apertures (I use aperture priority exclusively on my SLR for all my wine bottle images and all still life images come to that) allow for selective focus. This should concentrate on the producer or wine name on the label, if your aim is to ‘sell’ the wine, or on the bottle or prop for atmospheric general ‘wine’ shots. [example]
  7. Highlights – you need to make the image 3-dimensional. Flat and lifeless images do little but using reflectors (pieces of white paper or free-standing slabs of polystyrene) can bounce light back onto the bottle or glass adding lively highlights and reflections. Highlights and/or a few bubbles in a glass of wine adds texture and life. [example]
  8. Colour and Tone – experiment with reducing colour saturation or even go black and white but remember the customer likes to see exactly what they are buying. For ‘arty’ or illustrative/abstract images correct colour rendition is less important. [example 1 example 2]
  9. Food and Wine – adding food to an image can add atmosphere but has a tendency to take the focus away from the bottle. The world of food photography is a whole subject in itself! [example 1 example 2]
  10. Think Outside The (Wine) Box – if a more ‘arty’ image is required, rather than a product image you have to approach the image a little differently; think outside the box. Angles, colours, repetition, textures all have a part to play. [example]

Wine Bottle - Dynamic Angle

This image above has had a little text on the neck removed in photoshop while the label itself is abstract enough to remain anonymous. This image was selected to be used as a website banner for a soon to be launched wine blog. Before use it will be rotated and cropped a little to make full use of the dynamic ‘popping out of the screen’ effect.

22 Comments »

  1. Dr. Biggles says:

    Hey,
    Most excellent, thought I might have something to add. Had to shoot glossy bottles in the past for a few brochures and it made me crazy at the reflection those darned glass things have. Sure we can use polorizing filters and whatever else we can find.
    What I found free was to chill the bottles in the fridge for a while. Then, when you bring them out to shoot, condensation forms and the shiny glass goes away!
    Although, for your public, showing a chilled red may not be what’s needed. Cheap and easy is the way …
    Biggles

  2. Cru Master says:

    Hi there
    Thanks for this fantastic link to tips on photography of wine bottles!
    I must admit, I have only recently received my first SLR, a Nikon D40 and it is a lot more difficult than I anticipated!
    My first attempts are on my site, but I am satill shooting in pre set modes and slowly moving to manual settings.
    Its not so much the composition that I struggle with, more the settings – but I sauppose the more u practice and play around the better u become.
    I also find it difficult to get the lighting around the bottle right! But I am determinded and hopefully soon, I”ll be able to share some fantastic snaps with you!
    Would be great to get some feedback on the two at this link:
    http://thecrusa.blogspot.com/2007/02/debut-pics-from-cru-master.html
    thanks once again!

  3. Ryan says:

    Great post! i agree that there needs to be better bottle shots. For me it’s laziness when I just don’t have the energy to do it. THat needs to change. BTW it would be neat to see the side by side on a few of your shots from pre and post touch up. It’s fun to see what people do to the pictures.
    My favorite trick that helps a ton, is simply warming up the photo a bit. It makes it more intimate, i think.
    cheers

  4. Román TM says:

    Thanks for your excellent tips, i´ll shot tomorrow a lot of wine bottles pictures and your advices are great!
    thanks again from Mexico City!

  5. Bob says:

    Hello Cru,
    I looked at the images and you are doing well. I only saw one thing that seemed “wrong” to me. The taller image seems to have some barrel distortion which can be easily in photoshop.
    More importantly, congradulations on getting a SLR! I encourage you to use it manually especially in studio. Computers are dumb and their benefit is that they work fast. In the studio you don’t need fast. You need to control exposure, focus point and depth of field.
    It’s very simple to learn the f-stop, shutter speed, iso relationship and you should start asap. With digital it’s easier than ever because you get instant feedback with every click. And be sure to use a tripod for consistency of framing and focus point among other reasons.
    Best of luck!

  6. gary says:

    Hi,
    I am trying to take pictures of wine bottles with a 10mp canon digital camera. I have a white light tent. I put a photolamp above the light tent, but there always seems to be a reflection from the light. I can also sometimes see the trip and other objects reflecting off the front of the bottle. I am not using the flash on the camera. Any suggestions?
    Thanks,

  7. Andrew says:

    Ummm, natural light is the way to go. Is the light above direct or diffused? The latter is best. I occassionally have a few reflections (normally of the reflector) and either cover via photoshop or change the angle of the camera.
    Any examples (on flickr?) so we can go looksee; it might help.

  8. Hi Bob, try some diffusion for your top light. This could be something as simple as tracing paper (rolls work best) or you can get fancy and use white perspex sheets, which works great for hiding and softening light sources. Top lighting is a bit unusual for bottles unless the capsule or necklabel are important.

  9. Oops, sorry Bob, it was meant for Gary.
    Some more quick tips which will make your life much easier. If you use photoshop, shooting wine will be much simpler. Shoot the labels and capsules (tops) seperately from the bottle and combine the pictures in photoshop. Use a tripod and shoot all pictures from the same position without moving the bottle. Remember bottles will reflect almost everything in the room, so starting with a dark room will leave you with less reflections to worry about and make it easier to control your light source.
    For all wine photography go to
    Wine Photography

  10. Don’t quite agree with the natural light comment. Good if it works, but you can’t manipulate it for best affect. Back lighting through a diffused sheet will work good for white wines (remembering to expose the labels seperately) and red will look good when your light source is soft and elliminate most of the reflected areas in the room (black velvet works best)

  11. Mat says:

    Natural light is not necessarily the way to go. Also, straight-on shots of bottles are absolutely fine if done well; actually they can be the most revealing and factual when it comes to colour. Also, you are seeing what you see on the shelf, which is key to getting people to buy the wine. Lighting is the key, but you fail to have noted that a wine bottle is possibly the most difficult object to light and photograph. Sadly, none of your ten tips told the reader how to do it…

  12. Regina says:

    Thanks for sharing the tips & tricks. The examples really helps to illustrate the information.

  13. Jenny Hill says:

    Hi, thanks for the tips. As a wine producer and a very new photographer the help in taking photos is great. I am also loading a new website for our wines New Zealand Locharburn Wines and agree photos are so important.

  14. webjump says:

    Forget everything you know about the bottle photography tips.
    I used Canon 450D with 105mm lens to prevent warping. I shot at F7.8 ISO 100.
    I created a set, using 2 artwork lightboxes (lit by tubes) at the rear to provide a perfect matte and cut out glare, and at the base to allow the light to fill the bottle. I used a small reflector to light the top of the bottle. I also used two white boards (paper is fine) at each side of the bottle to prevent external refections.
    This seems to works a treat for bottles, glass and jewellry. For shines and glass effects, you will need to airbrush them in later. This is how the pros do it – trust me, I’ve checked out their work, and every bottle is lit and retouched this way.
    Checkout the work at http://www.macdonaldwhisky.com

  15. Zeke says:

    I need you to locate a camera that can take a picture of a label on a bottle – remember bottles are curved. The only thing I want is a picture of the front label and the back label. Can you fine me a camera that will do this the best way as the label cannot be removed from the bottle and I need the highest resolution possible.

  16. JC says:

    hello,
    i was in a need of improving a lille bit of my companies pictures, specially wine bottles!
    i took the advice u gave back there about using natural light and chose quite a nice place with a contratant background, macro lens, Bayonete lens hood… all of them ended up quite nice, altho i had a lille issue..
    Reflections… me, myself, sometimes, can be distinguished, in the picture, altho i found pretty hard not to show on them, using the label to cover my body… but i supose there might be a technique to do it. I am not a pro at all in the matter of pictures so i might be missing something…? some white background layer could help?
    Also, we do have a nice white Box, with bottom and side walls all white and 3 lights in the top… big issue… we get the pictures too bright or they end up too yellow… i supose it is a problem related with the light bolbs, which should be white and not “yellowish” !
    thanks for your guide, it is pretty helpfull !
    best regards

  17. Usefull post! Still the only way to achieve perfection in bottle photography is by trial and error. I once spent more than 2 hour lighting a rose wine bottle and I’m still no satisfied. Check it out: http://www.exauro.com/en/quinta-da-romaneira-rose-2009.html it’s really hard to find the right tone.

  18. Turismo in says:

    How to add a trasparent wine image?

  19. […] Have you ever thought about – or actually tried – to take amazing pictures of wine bottles?  Okay, well have you always secretly wanted to?  That’s good enough for us!  So on this Camera Day our gift to you are these 10 tips on how to photograph wine bottles: http://www.spittoon.biz/how_to_photograph_wine_bottles/. […]

  20. Matt says:

    Though front shots are boring, 90% of bottle shots I do are frontal, as that’s what most wineries want.
    All beauty bottle shots I do are done in a studio with controlled strobes, as it’s the only way to get clean unreflected lighting.

    Remember when shooting white or rose wines, REMOVE back label.

    One way of shooting bottles is make three images, label, bottle and capsule. All lit perfectly, then join in an post production program.

    You could try smashing bottles, or getting subject to punch bottles or even head butt them.( I have done all of those).

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