Sometimes the simplest looking photographs can be really quite tricky to pull off. Yesterday I photographed what looks like a fairly straightforward 'pack shot' of a bottle of wine for the Goring family, who produce the award-winning 'Wiston' label.
According to Wikipedia, a packshot is 'a still or moving image of a product, usually including its packaging and labeling, used to portray the product's reputation in advertising or other media. It is an important stimulus to sales, with the goal of triggering in-store, on-shelf product recognition.'
I didn't have access to a studio, so the challenge was to achieve a photograph of a perfectly lit glass bottle, in my spare bedroom. Here's how I did it. . . .
1. Set up a light tent. A light tent is a wire framed cube of white nylon, designed to defuse light and minimise hard shadows. I bought mine (a 90cm cube) a few years back for around £20 from Amazon. The only really interesting thing about light tents is the ingenious way they are folded flat into their impossibly small carry bag - you have to perfect a twisting and pushing motion to the sides to get them back in again - this can be tricky! I put my tent on a level, stable surface at above waist height - this means you don't have to bend over quite so much while composing the shot.
2. Set up the lights. I used a very simple kit which is still obtainable from Amazon for under £40 (search for 'Continuous Dual Lighting Kit'). There are various types available but mine consists of two E27 daylight (5500k) energy saver bulbs fitted to two 2m high adjustable light stands via simple lamp holders. The colour temperature of the lights is important for correctly recording the colour of the wine, although I also made some adjustments at the processing stage (see below).
My lighting kit was supplied with two white nylon and two black, silvered brollies. I set up the two lamps on either side of the light cube and used the white brollies to further diffuse the light before it hit the sides. I also used a third lamp with brolly, set low down in front of the cube, pointing directly towards the wine label and away from the camera position - more on this later.
3. Set up the bottle. I put the bottle on a piece of white perspex on the floor of the cube, and towards the front. The perspex created the reflection you can see in the shot above. I set up the bottle so the label was balanced perfectly in the centre of the bottle, not twisted left or right.
4. Set up the camera on a tripod. I used a Sony A7rii with a 105mm macro lens, set to F7.1, 1/13th second at 100 ISO. The f7.1 aperture ensured the bottle was perfectly sharp front to back, but the depth of field was still narrow enough to keep the back of the light tent out of focus. The low ISO created an image with the least possible grain and greatest detail. This resulted in a slow shutter speed, so a tripod was essential.
Although it's designed for outdoor work, I really like the Gitzo Explorer gt2531ex tripod because it is so infinitely adjustable and very stable. I've paired it up with a Feisol center column - the carbon fibre is less stable than the Gitzo but it has a narrower neck at the the ball head end, which gives even greater maneuverability when paired with the Gitzo GH3750 Series 3 Off Centre Ball Head. This combination works almost like my old Benbo, only packs down smaller and is much, much lighter.
5. Take the shot. I positioned the camera so that it was exactly level in both planes and directly in front of the bottle, centred on the label. This takes a bit of time to get exactly right. Then I used a remote release to take the shot, to avoid any risk of camera shake. Here's what the original RAW file looked like, before any processing:
6. Take another shot. You'll see there's a nasty, dark shadow over the middle of the Wiston label in the photo above. This proved hard to tackle with my lighting kit so eventually I moved the lights to focus more directly onto the label and took a second shot:
7. Processing. I use Capture One Pro for Sony which is amazingly good value at just over £50. I edited the first photo using the following steps:
a. White balance using the eye-dropper tool against the white nylon background, to ensure the colours are rendered exactly right.
b. Minor contrast and exposure changes, plus some increased clarity and structure.
c. Minor sharpening.
I then copied these adjustments and applied them to the second photograph and exported both as TIFF files into Affinity Photo, which is just as good as Photoshop, but at under £50 (one off payment), hugely better value.
In Affinity Photo, I combined the wine label from the second shot with the bottle from the first. I used the Healing Brush Tool to further smooth some of the light on the neck of the bottle. I also did some minor dodging and burning and then cut and pasted the combined image onto a white, square background before importing the image back into Capture One Pro to file and generate the JPEG - finito!
There are probably much easier ways of doing this - I'd welcome any feedback. Anyway this method worked for me and the client seemed happy!