Oct 09

I’ve been working on a lot of shoots with glass lately. Glass is particularly difficult to shoot, especially curved glass surfaces like that of a bottle. It acts as a mirror, seeing everything around it, so it becomes an exercise in controlling light in every detail.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how I shot this bottle of Hennessy Cognac with a glass. This diagram shows an overhead view of the lighting setup – the Hennessy bottle is the circle with the star on it.

Hennessy Lighting Shooting glass   Hennessy

I used two light sources mounted behind a very large sheet of white plexi, sand-blasted on the side facing the set. The bottle of Hennessy was sitting on a large piece of oak. I wanted to completely back-light the bottle so the liquid would tend to glow and I wouldn’t show any reflections on the front of the bottle. I knew I was going to use a series of shots to create the final composited image.

The black gobos are used to cut the light coming from the large sheet of plexi – that allowed me to control exactly where the light was going to fall. The gobo behind the set in the frame of the shot was a section of black velvet – it’s still the best at absorbing light.

hennessy  0152 224x300 Shooting glass   HennessySo, here’s the first shot of the set – for the bottle details, the glass behind it, and the lighting along the left edge of the bottle.

The gobos make sure the thin strip of light down the left side of the bottle doesn’t migrate too far forward. If the left gobo were removed, you’d get a large, wide white strip down the left side of the bottle – resulting from the reflection of the white plexi behind the set.

The gobo to the right of the bottle cuts any light that may be reflecting around the room. Since it’s glass, it’ll see any light in the room that is strong enough. The gobo kills any of that ambient light.

Finally, the gobo beside the camera is cutting the light from hitting the lens. It is blocking the light from the plexi sheet coming from the strobe to the left, and it is also cutting the light from the strobe behind the plexi to the right. If that gobo were not there, I’d get lens flare.

hennessy  0153 224x300 Shooting glass   Hennessyhennessy  0159 224x300 Shooting glass   HennessyNext step is to light the labels.

That is done in two separate shots – one to light the main labels on the front of the bottle, and a second shot to light the cap.

To do that, I used a sheet of silver florentine and bounced the light back onto the front of the label. Silver florentine is just like a shiny piece of thin cardboard – great for reflecting light.

You have to be patient with positioning the card – you want the light to bounce from above and down, so you don’t get shiny reflections on the label. You also want to make sure the light is bouncing along the labels in the same location, otherwise it would look like the labels were each shot separately.

hennessy  0162 224x300 Shooting glass   HennessyIn the last shot, I placed a large sheet of silver florentine behind the bottle and positioned it so it would reflect the light from the white plexi toward the camera.

This shot will be used to illuminate the liquid in the final composite.

It’s important to fill the entire width of the bottle with light so all the liquid is lit up, being careful not to leave black gaps along either side of the bottle.

It’s also important to make sure the silver florentine card isn’t moved too far forward on the right side of the bottle, otherwise it will reflect on the front of the bottle and ruin the overall shot.

Remember not to adjust any of the settings on the camera – you don’t want to alter the aperture, otherwise it will make compositing the shots later virtually impossible. Keep everything the same from shot to shot, and be careful not to move the bottle.

Once all the pieces are shot and ready, you then composite them together to create one final shot. Here is the result.

hennessy  01521 Shooting glass   Hennessy

11 Responses to “Shooting glass – Hennessy”

  1. Hi Derek,

    Question…. those ‘gobos’…… I’ve been thinking of trying some of this, so thanks for the tips. However…. those ‘gobos’…… excuse my ignorance but how do they stand up? I was looking in Staples for something to do the job of holding a black card (like a menu holder) but is it yet another ‘specialist’ item that costs lots of money for something that should essentially be simple and cheap?

    Also, when you mention ‘compositing’ the images – are we talking about stacking layers of the individual shots and using Layer Masks to remove the bits we don’t need?

    And one more….. in some of your Flickr pictures, where the camera is identified, it says, “Hasselblad/Imacon Ixpress 384 – Contax 645″……. so, er, what does that mean?

    Geoff Chalcraft

    • derek says:

      Hey Geoff,

      Great questions. Gobos are basically anything that go between to things, like a camera and a light source, or a light source and the subject you are shooting. They are typically used to control where the light goes. They are held up by any number of means – I tend to use AutoPoles with Magic Arms, by Manfrotto / Avenger. Or use a light stand and tape the gobos to the stands. Obviously, the more accuracy you can have when placing them, the quicker you’ll get to your desired lighting.

      When I talk about compositing, what we’re doing is using multiple shots, each lit for a different area, and then use those shots assembled to create the final image. In this case, you can see how we took separate shots to achieve specific effects on the bottle.

      Finally, the Hasselblad / Imacon Ixpress 384 – Contax 645 is just providing the details on what equipment was used for a shot. That is an old system that I used to use a few years ago. The Hasselblad / Imacon Ixpress 384 is the medium format digital camera back that was affixed to the Contax 645 camera. As you know, in medium format, the film backs could be removed, and we’d replace them with digital camera backs. Today, we’re using a Hasselblad H3DII-39MS camera – it’s basically a medium format camera with a 39 megapixel back attached. The MS designation means it’s a multi-shot version of the back. Since digital cameras do not see in colour, the best way to overcome the problem of colour noise and sharpness is to allow the camera to take pictures in each of the three colour spectrums – Red, Green, and Blue. So, when we’re ready to take the final shot, we tell the computer to take a “Multi-Shot” of the set – the camera then assigns the entire sensor to respond to the red wavelength of light, takes a shot, then the blue wavelength, takes a shot, then the green wavelength, takes a shot. The shots are then composited by the software that controls the camera to create one hyper-accurate hyper-clean image. Cool, eh?

      Hope that helps Geoff!

      • Ah thanks, Derek.

        I’ll see what else I can find to hold the Gobo(s) – the mention of Manfrotto usually suggests a fairly high price (hey, I can’t write it off for tax!) so I’ll have to get inventive.

        Compositing….. ok, with you so far but, in Photoshop, you’re dealing with each image as a layer? So therefore you’re either adding ‘bits’ of each image to the whole? Or are you adding them all and removing what you don’t want with Layer Masks?

        I see what you mean with the combination of camera and different back – I didn’t realise that would go in the exif (unless you manually add it, like with your tags). I understood about “digital cameras do not see in colour” but I’d have thought that it would be fair to say that it was “effectively” (because of the R, G and B filters on each pixel cavity) recording in colour. But the three shot thing – one for each colour – has taken me by surprise! Good grief, now I realise I’m just using a “toy” camera!!! (and goes some way to explaining the price of a Hasselblad!)

        Thanks again,


        • derek says:

          Well, Manfrotto gear is of high quality, and well worth the investment IMHO.

          Compositing – that is correct, the various photos are on layers in one image and either adding information from various layers or taking it away.

          And regarding the Hassey shooting 3 shots – just to be confusing, it’s four – twice in the green spectrum. But that is not all, between each shot, the sensor actually physically moves diagonally a fraction of a micron. The results are simply spectacular.

          But don’t get too hung up on the gear – any camera can do the job, it’s lighting and creativity that makes or breaks a shot. That is what I’d focus on.

          • Thanks Derek!
            No, I won’t be too worried about the Hassie – it’s way out of my league! Wouldn’t mind an older Medium Format film camera if one came up for sale, just for those special landscapes etc., but otherwise my money will one day go to a “full-format” pro spec DSLR. Really, though, I’m happy with my kit and just want to expand the possibilities by picking up on creative ideas.

  2. Luigi Fulk says:

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  3. Chuck Carver says:

    Hi Derek,
    I like your blog. This shot reminds me of stuff I used to shoot inthe old days.
    Sometimes we would use a dull gold matte board trimmed to fit behind the bottle to give a nice rich tone to the liquid.
    Good luck with the blog.
    Chuck Carver

    • derek says:

      Hi Chuck,

      Truly appreciate it.

      Gold matte boards trimmed – you know, for whatever reason, I never seemed to latch onto that concept. I tend to use a reflective board, and then use black tin and snip it to the bottle – I find that allows me to have much better control over the shadow area and how the light falls off. You can also space the tin forward of the reflective board, allowing you to control the blackness in the liquid on the far side of the bottle. Make sense?

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