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How to photograph glass – Aftershave Bottle: Tabletop Photography Lesson

How to photograph glass: A Tabletop Photography Lesson

This is a behind the scene which will give you a good idea of how to photograph glass. The technique shown here will work for any subject with clear glass or plastic.


Hi guys, my name is Paul Whittingham and this is a brief tutorial on an aftershave bottle image that I recently shot.

paul-whittingham

 

About the Author

I’m a forty year old soon to be married (officially) father of one, hailing from a small market town in the West Midlands, UK. I’ve been shooting in various genres of photography for around six years as a hobbyist, and in more recent times have began to think about doing this as a profession. I currently work for a micro brewery, which btw makes some cracking beer! :-)

 

 

 

Glass Aftershave Bottle Final Image

how to photograph glass, a photography lesson

 

Ok, first off I should apologize for the quality of the set up shots. Had I known this would turn into a photography tutorial I would of made sure of taking some better images and not via a phone. I’d have also probably made an effort to remove all the baby bibs from the scene!……as you will see, I haven’t a studio so everything I shoot has to be done in my tiny back room or taken to work where I have a little more space to play with. Additionally, I don’t have the step by step layer stack in Photoshop recorder to show precisely every step of photo editing, so I’ve given an overview of the process of how to photograph glass to the best of my ability.

 

Ok, The Setup Shots

how to photograph glass, a photography lesson

 

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After watching some of Alex’s recent photography tutorials videos, I knew the small aftershave bottle was going to need shooting from a low angle, and with a wide angle lens to try and introduce as much perspective distortion as possible for a more dramatic look. With the bottle arranged on a small piece of black plexiglass, I had the edge of the lens literally resting on it. The shooting angle was from as low an angle as possible without cutting off too much of the bottles reflection on the plexi.

For the background, you can see I’ve just used a sheet of white foamcore (carefully balanced on a radiator). :-) One light in a small stripbox on the floor is angled back up towards the foamcore to produce a linear gradient up it.

On the right of camera, I’ve used a home made diffuser made from a piece of cardboard and some Savage Translum taped to it. This is held in place by a Manfrotto adjustable arm on a stand with a clamp. A second light with a reflector and barn doors attachment was used through the diffuser to try and create a gentle gradient on the right hand side of the bottle.

The third light (camera left) had a reflector and a 10 degree grid. This was aimed through a small piece of thin white plexi to produce a gradient across the front side of the bottles lid.

 

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I only kept a few of the shots from this session, but I hope the above shows some of the progression of getting the front side of the bottle lid lit properly by adjusting the power and position of the light and the diffuser/plexi on camera left.

 

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Above is the shot I used for editing (greasy fingerprints included) :-)

Problems Encountered

To start with, I knew quite a lot of post production was going to be needed. Using a wide lens meant that I needed a much larger background to start with, but that wasn’t available so it was all going to be fixed later. Also the low shooting angle would create the converging verticals that you see both on the bottle and the background.

 

A big surprise was the difference in colour temperature between the background and front lights. You can see the yellow cast on the right side of the bottle compared to the background colour, the same light is reflecting on the inside left hand side of the bottle also. All three Einsteins were set to constant colour mode, so that shouldn’t of been the issue. Both the diffuser and the plexi should be neutral in colour balance also. I’m guessing it was the ageing Bowens reflectors that I rigged onto the lights. I remembered a while back during a live hangout, that Alex experienced the same issue with two different reflectors from Paul C Buff. One had a matte silver finish inside, and the other a polished chrome finish. Same problem with the reflectors I was using perhaps, both are second hand and probably very old.

Finally, I had issues getting the facets on the front of the bottle lit. In particular I wanted some light on the top one to reduce that dark area between the lid and the bottle. As you can see, I managed to get a partial reflection on it, but this was done by hand holding the light and diffuser at a slightly higher position, a real juggling act because the reflector kept falling off! Not ideal, a much larger piece of plexi would of solved my troubles here :-)

 

Post Production Steps

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I’ve taken the image from Lightroom into Photoshop as a fully editable Smart Object. Access to the original RAW data comes in handy.

I tend to work on separate layers as much as possible, so when I start changing my mind about something (I nearly always do) I can go back and make adjustments without starting from scratch. Only when I’m certain I’m happy with edits, I’ll start merging down layers and flattening in an attempt to keep the file size workable. Anything much over 800Mb on my machine and it starts to get a bit slow!

In the above shot I’ve already done a significant amount of cleaning to the bottle and background with the clone stamp/healing brush/spot healing tools (all done on separate layers). I’ve used the pen tool to create selection paths for the upper/lower background, the bottle, each side of the lid and each facet on the front of the bottle.

The background has been copied onto separate layers and stretched both horizontally and vertically to fill in the gaps via the Transform Selection Command. The selection for the upper background is visible as marching ants in the shot above.

The nozzle in the lid was copied and placed from a separate RAW conversion of the same file, adjustments were made to shadow details to reveal more of it.

 

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The top and left facets on the bottle front were touched up and brightened, along with the front and right sides of the lid. I ran the Median blur/Gaussian blur and noise method across the lid surfaces to clean them up.

Copying and pasting a selection of the lid onto a new layer, I used the Transform/Perspective Command to correct the verticals with the help of ruler guides (as seen above). More post work on the lower half of the background was done, again – selected and stretched to fill the frame.

 

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More Cleaning!

I use Genia’s crazy S-curve curves adjustment layer to show up more editing imperfections and dust spots that I missed on earlier steps. Thank you Genia for this tip, it works just great! :-) The shot above is from an earlier point in the edit, I use the method repeatedly to stop adjustments getting out of hand and causing unwanted artifacts into the shot.

Finally I removed the little tube from inside the bottle via the clone stamp tool, (Curtis you were right it looks much better). To finish up, I ran Topaz Labs Clean filter, it does a great job on surfaces and edges if used sparingly. Then the usual sharpening after re-sizing the image for web was applied.

Ok guys that’s it. I hope this was helpful, and I think its another example of how something simple can be done in less than ideal surroundings by an amateur photographer.

   In the Gearbox

  • Canon 5D Classic (getting a bit old now)
  • Canon 17-40L
  • 3 x PCB Einstein E640′s
  • 1x 90cmx20cm stripbox
  • 1 x 7″ Bowens reflector with 10° grid
  • 1x Bowens 7″ reflector with barn doors attachment
  • Home made diffuser
  • White plexi
  • Black plexi
  • White A1 size foamcore sheet
  • Light stands
  • Manfrotto flexible arm & clamp


 

19 Responses on How to photograph glass – Aftershave Bottle: Tabletop Photography Lesson"

  1. Elliot says:

    Nice tutorial Paul

    I’ve yet to perfect a single product shot. :( At the moment I’m trying to photograph some local whiskey, but I am having major issues lighting the reflective brand name on the label that just so happens to wrap around the bottle. I’ve never tried anything square/rectangle so thanks to this i’ll give that a go.

    Regardless of the above

    WHERE DID YOU GET FOAMCORE/BOARD IN THE UK?!?!?!?!??!?!?!??!?!!?

    I’d love to hear back from you.

    • Paul Whittingham says:

      Thanks Elliot
      Reflective text can be a challenge, especially on cylindrical objects – sometimes a composite is the easiest method but both camera angle and focal length can be your best friend in these circumstances. Unless you shoot a square object ‘face on’ to the camera you should find it a lot easier to place gradients where needed.
      If you mean the foamcore sheet I used as a background, then these are widely available in craft and stationary stores – also try looking in both ‘The Range’ and ‘Dunhelm’ or possibly ‘John Lewis’. I usually buy a dozen or so black and white A1 sheets off Ebay at a time, you can’t have too many of these – useful for lots of things.
      Hope this helps.

  2. Paul

    Really good photo. Congratulations.
    Could you explain the “Median blur/Gaussian blur and noise” you used to clean the cap? I know how to use the Median blur but not combined with Gaussian blur and noise.

    Thank you

    Fernando

    • Paul Whittingham says:

      Thanks Fernando
      The write-up of Median and Gaussian blur for cleaning surfaces is here:
      http://www.photigy.com/product-photography-tip-the-fast-and-easy-way-to-clean-dust/

      Essentially your blurring a surface to remove wrinkles and small imperfections etc etc. Using blur on its own usually results in too ‘clean’ a result that looks plasticy or fake. It can also introduce tonal banding issues across larger areas. By running a few noise filters at a very low strength, a fine texture or grain can be re – introduced which usually fixes the problem.
      Hope that helps.

      Paul

  3. kai liu says:

    how wide is the focal length you use? 35mm? 28mm?

  4. Frank McIlwee says:

    Thanks for this Paul and also the reference to the Topaz Labs Clean Filter. I’ve trialled this today and worked well with a silver jewellery shot I was tweaking. But as you say, should be used sparingly…

    • Paul Whittingham says:

      No problem frank, I picked up the tip from Genia about Topaz filters. I’ve never been too keen on using filters but it does a great job on some shots :)

  5. charles sweigart says:

    Paul,
    It looks like your ready to stop making beer and start making photos for pay.
    The only real regrets in life are the things you did not do.

    • Paul Whittingham says:

      Charles I’ve a lot to learn yet, much improvement needed. But I know a thing or two about regrets and missed opportunities, I have far too many in recollection. Rest assured when/if the time comes- I’ll take that step without looking over my shoulder.
      Regards
      Paul

  6. maxim dupliy says:

    Hi Paul
    Great image.
    I have one question
    How it’s possible to left strobe to pass through plexiglass- it’s not transparent? (to create gradient on the left side of the bottle) Even if it was possible, the left light not pointing to the bottle at all as seen from image. Can you explain my misunderstanding?
    Thanks

    • Paul Whittingham says:

      Hi Maxim
      Thanks, the plexi is only about 3-4mm thick so its semi opaque. Its transparent enough to place a gradient across it when the light was pushed up close and angled across it. That was reflecting across the front of the lid, and partially lighting the upper facet on the bottle. I want to get some 2mm thick large plexi sheets, the light diffusion through them is far more even than material diffusers. Only problem is they soak up a lot of power, the left hand light was up to around 400Ws I think.
      Hope that helps :-)
      Paul

  7. Tomas says:

    nice job and a great teaser for the upcoming webinar :)

  8. Matt Halic says:

    Awesome tutorial! Let us see more of these with the post-production piece too! :D

    • Paul Whittingham says:

      Thanks Matt! I’ll be doing more short tutorials and I’ll try to make sure that more accurate post production steps are included.
      Cheers
      Paul

  9. Yitzy Russek says:

    Nice Tutorial
    Thank you

    How do you connect a Bowens reflector to the Einstein?

    I’m thinking to get a Einstein, and have some Bowens reflectors

    • Paul Whittingham says:

      Thank you Yitzy :)
      I just propped mine up against the Einsteins, the reflectors were just resting on the table (not advisable because they fall off).
      PCB modifiers have a small flange on the inside rim that the three locking prongs on the light will fit through when pulled in by the locking mechanism. When let go of, the mechanism lets the prongs move outwards against the inside of the modifier/reflector. The flange prevents the reflector from any outward movement.
      Bowens reflectors obviously have no flange, so you’d need to make one. Additionally, the inside diameter of Bowens reflectors are smaller than that of PCB gear. You might have enough room to solder a small flange to the inside of one, but I know the locking prongs won’t fully extend to a locked position within the reflector. It won’t be very secure, but might be ok for just a reflector and grid.
      FYI if your looking to use Bowens softboxes etc, then you’ll want an SP Systems Balcar insert and a Bowens Quickring.
      Hope that helps :-)

      Paul

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