1 beer bottle, 5 flash positions

Golden Sheep Ale, beer, Black Sheep brewery

There are numerous tutorials on the internet explaining how to photograph bottles of beer, wine, vodka (insert tipple of your choice). However, they all consist of multiple light set-ups, many of which would be very expensive to replicate in your own home. I decided to see if I could recreate a similar image using a single Yongnuo speedlight. Here is how I did it.

Because I was going to have to re-position the speedlight several times during the shoot I locked the camera onto a tripod. I was attempting this in my lounge, mid-afternoon so I dialed in settings similar to those used to create low key images (ie. shutter speed 1/200 & aperture f/16 to give a completely black image). After focusing on the bottle I switched to manual to stop the camera hunting between images. I also had the 10 second shutter delay function active as I didn’t have my remote switch handy.

I placed the speedlight as follows:

  1. Directly behind the bottle (power 1/128). This would give the glow inside.
  2. Facing down onto the bottle with the pop down diffuser on the flash.
  3. From the side & slightly behind the bottle (power 1/32), still diffused. This would highlight the edges (see below). Repeat for the other side.
  4. In front of the bottle, angled 45 degrees downwards (1/2 power), diffused. This is to illuminate the label.

Side lit beer bottle

Once I had my images it was simply a case of uploading them to Photoshop Elements, dragging each one in turn onto one another, checking their alignment (very important just in case the camera had moved slightly), adding a layer mask Alt + Add Layer Mask & revealing the parts of that image I required using a soft edged brush.



Explaining aperture

In simple terms, the aperture is a hole which can be opened or closed to control the amount of light reaching the camera sensor. The wider the hole, the more light is let in (helping compensate for darker conditions, for example). Remember, the smaller the f/number, the wider the aperture.

Every lens performs better at some f/numbers than others. Generally, you will see the image resolution & contrast deteriorate at the end of the f/number spectrum. To determine the optimum aperture for the lens you own, find a piece of paper with fine printed type (eg. the financial pages or a Bible). Set up your camera to photograph the page straight on & frame it to fill the viewfinder. Now set the camera to AV mode & take pictures working your way through the apertures. Load the images onto your computer & view them at high magnification. You should see a gain in resolution & contrast as you close the aperture down from maximum & then a drop as you approach the smallest apertures.

On the lens I have which came with the camera (a Canon EF-S18-55mm) f/13 appeared to give the best results.


f/13 aperture

Depth of field

The ability to have some parts of a picture in focus while others parts are blurred was probably one of my main reasons for buying an SLR camera. One way to determine how much of a picture is sharp (known as ‘depth of field’) is by altering the aperture.


The narrower the aperture (large f/number eg. f/22), the greater the depth of field (ie. most of the shot in focus).

The wider the aperture (smaller f/number eg. f/4), equals a shallow depth of field.

Two other factors effect depth of field. Firstly, focal length. As you zoom into a subject, the amount of depth of field reduces. Think of how wide-angles lenses (used for landscapes) keep everything in focus while telephoto ones (sports events, close-up wildlife) tend to blur the background.

Secondly, the distance between you to your subject. The closer your lens is focused, the less depth of field you’ll capture.

So to summarize, if you want to maximise the amount of depth of field, use a wide focal length, narrow aperture & don’t focus on anything too close to the camera.

Tatton Park