Art, Photography and Writing

Archive for October, 2014

How to Light Complex Glass – Crystal Head Vodka

Last week I shot some beverages, including Crystal Head Vodka. There are two traditional ways to light glass, being black line and white line lighting, which make use of black cutouts. Since Crystal Head’s bottle is such a complex shape, I opted for a third technique.

For this shot I used a style of Bright Field lighting that involves placing the light directly behind a diffuse background. This method is sometimes done on a product table with translucent plexiglass or a similar type of surface, but in my case I used a scrim.

The benefit of this style of lighting is a complete lack of catchlights and hotspots in the image, with a very smooth gradient, which is valuable in photos of glassware. The drawback, however, is that this method is not possible with white on a black surface unless the image is inverted, which adds complication to subjects that have labels or other content requiring accurate colour rendering.

The Shoot

The first step is to set up the product on its base, lining it up with as much symmetry as possible. Adjust the subject’s position toward the front or back of the base according to what works best with your composition. Once the product is aligned, place a scrim directly behind it, as symmetrical as possible.


The next step is to align your light source directly behind the scrim, again aiming for symmetry. In this instance a striplight was used, since I liked the distinct vertical beam of light traveling down the shot and across the wood surface.


If you are shooting a subject that does not require any other details to be lit, like a label or other possible elements, you can move straight to post-processing. Otherwise, you can try compositing after the addition of another light source. Since Crystal Head has a cork and wood lid, and a “Vodka” print plastic cover, a spot light was added as fill to one side aiming just in front of the bottle. For a cleaner look, you could use another softbox and optional scrim.


Lastly, a gold reflective bounce card was used to catch the spotlight and reflect a warm glow into the label.



At the time of capture while tethered to Phocus, the Contrast was set to 25 and Highlight Recovery to 44 to add a slight punch while avoiding any washed out highlights.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 7.17.45 PM

Contrast: 25 — Recovery: 44

The next step is bringing the image into Photoshop. Since the label was being composited in this image, I opened both images and used layer masks to reveal the label in the photo using the reflector. Since perfect symmetry is also a bit of a challenge, I duplicated the base layer and flipped it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal). A layer mask was then added to reveal the best side.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 2.37.54 PM

50% Mask to show composite alignment.

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Composite aligned to centre of subject.

To create a cleaner background than the scrim in use, I used the gradient tool with a white-to-black transition, starting from the centre of the image to just outside the border. I then used the magic wand to do a basic selection of the original background, and placed a layer mask on the new gradient to hide it from the skull and table. The magic wand rarely gives clean results, but using the blur tool over any edges smoothed out the jagged selection and created a more believable look.

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It is common for the gradient tool to create banding in some sections, where the transition between shades is not rendered out smoothly. While this isn’t always as drastic as it appears, it can significantly hurt a print. A small workaround is to add a 50% grey layer, set it to overlay, and add noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise) at about 10%. In this case, mine is set to Gaussian, with monochromatic noise enabled. Once the noise is added, change the layer opacity until the banding is removed. This simulates the in-camera noise, making the background look more realistic, and depending on the severity of the banding that is occurring, can partially or completely remove it.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 9.37.42 AM

Grayscale banding apparent throughout the image.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 9.40.00 AM

10% Gaussian noise at a reduced opacity simulates natural in-camera noise.

A second copy of the gradient layer was created, with the contrast raised, to enhance the background gradient’s reflection on the wood surface. The mask was then altered to reveal only the changes to the wood.

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The image was retouched using the clone stamp and spot healing brush, and sharpened with a High Pass layer set to 3.0, and blending mode set to Overlay.