Photographing a bottle with a single flash

Whenever my mates or I have our birthday, there is really one gift you can expect: whisky. We love to sit down, nose our glass and taste the whisky. We even organize our own tastings every now and then. This year my wonderful friends gave me a 18 year Highland Park. I was only 10 years old when the distillery in Kirkwall poured this whisky in a barrel to age it for the next 18 years. This is what makes this drink so special!

Photographing whisky- or wine bottles is a challenge. In this article I will discuss how to photograph a bottle using one flash and describe how I took the picture below.

Highland Park 18 years

A nice Highland Park given to me by my mates.

The first step is to clean the bottle thoroughly to avoid dust and fingerprints in your shot, I made the mistake of not doing that, which resulted in more post-processing.

For this bottle I wanted a dark scene. Therefore my second step was to create a photo which was completely black (without flash). In order to create a completely black image in the conditions in which I took this photo, I needed to set my aperture to f8, ISO to 100, and my shutter speed to 1/250th of a second. I used a Pixel Pawn TF-361 trigger set to fire my flash off-camera. This trigger sets supports a shutter speed that fast, while others support up to 1/200th of a second.

In order to get the effect seen in this photo I chose to place the flash inside a rectangular softbox on the right side of the bottle. This way you create nice “stripes”. Because I wanted my bottle to be lit on the left side too, I placed the bottle close to a white wall (20 centimeters from the wall). The wall reflects light back on the other side of the bottle. If you own a reflector this is even better since you can control the light directions.

The flash also was placed close to the bottle (about 30 centimeters). Since I took this picture in a small room I wanted to limit the power of my Nikon SB-700 flash: The further the flash is away from the bottle, the more power you need for the same result, and since the light has to travel farther the environment of the small room would be visible. The thought behind setup are these three rules:

  1. The aperture controls the power of your flash
  2. The shutter speed controls the ambient light (the environment) and not your flash light
  3. The power of light halves with every meter

The next step is playing around with your flash settings (use manual settings). Go for the lowest power and if you need more: increase the power of your flash or set a larger aperture (lower f-number). Change the position of your flash or bottle until you are pleased with your shot.

In order to make sure the whisky inside the bottle was visible, I placed the bottle on a glass plate and raised this plate 10 centimeters above the table, using two small boxes as “table legs”. This way the light of the flash reaches underneath the bottle and lights up a bit of the whisky in the bottle too.

After I took a few shots I selected the best photo and post-processed it in LR:

  • I darkened the background with a selective tool
  • I made the shadows drastically brighter
  • I made the lights brighter
  • Increased clarity and vibrance
  • Removed a few dust spots

This resulted in the picture above. My final tip for you: take small steps! Don’t try to take the picture at once. Get to know your camera and flash, take a photo with flash and without flash and see how it influences the photo. Try to avoid reflections on the bottle by lightning both sides of the bottle!

Whisky bottle setup

1. Bottle on lifted glass plate; 2. Flash in softbox; 3. White wall to bounce light; 4/ Camera

Kind regards,



    • Thank you very much 🙂 It is a nice whisky, I am actually enjoying a glass now! I have read the idea somewhere on Flickr where someone put a little aluminium foil underneath the bottle as a reflector. That didn’t work for me, so raising the bottle and put it on a glass plate worked better. However a second flash underneath the bottle would have been better, but I only have one flash.

      Kind regards,

  1. Great photo and a great whisky. Myself and m’colleague Ted have always struggled with photographing our bottles! It’s great to read about the processes that someone (who actually knows what they’re doing) goes through.
    Fantastic article!
    Keep on waffling,

    • Thank you very much for your reply! It is quite difficult isn’t it!? I hope to share some more photographs soon (January 2015).

      Do you own a reflector and flash? A reflector is very helpful if you use a single flash.

      Kind regards,

  2. Pingback: Visiting the Isle of Skye: Fairy Pools - Luvo Photography

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