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.



Daytime low key photographs

My previous attempts at low key images had either been taken on a darkened theatre stage or, long after the sun had dipped below the horizon. Both situations providing an almost pitch black environment making it relatively easy for me to create the desired lighting effect. This time I was shooting around 1 o’clock on a bright summer’s day & so I needed to re-think my methods.

I selected ISO 100 & set the shutter speed to 1/200 which is my maximum flash sync speed. With the speedlight turned off (mounted on a stand & firing through a white flash umbrella), I took a shot with aperture f/11. However, the resulting image wasn’t completely black. I couldn’t increase my shutter speed to make the image darker because I was already at my maximum sync speed, so I would have to reduce the aperture size (f/16 did the trick). Now I could take shots knowing the only thing illuminating the object, in this case a cymbal, was the light from my flash.

Once I had the the image loaded onto my computer the only things to do were a black & white conversion, apply minimal sharpening & that was it. Well, that was going to be it but as I continued to play around with the image I discovered I really liked this pin hole camera style effect achieved by adding a vignette.

Shutter speed

When I think of shutter speed, the first thing that comes to mind is its use in controlling the amount of blur (or lack of it) in a picture containing moving objects. If you want a moving object to appear sharp in a shot then you require a faster shutter speed than if you were taking a stationery object. When deciding what the speed should be you will need to take into account the speed of the object, direction of movement & how big it appears in the frame (eg. objects moving across your line of sight will need higher shutter speeds than those coming towards you; ones that fill your viewfinder require faster shutters speeds than those which are smaller). You may of course, not want everything moving to be perfectly sharp, instead opting for a more artistic blur to emphasize their motion. This latter idea really comes into it’s own when photographing moving water (eg. rivers, waterfalls etc.) to create a more dream like picture.

Another use of shutter speed, even when taking pictures of stationery objects, is to counter the effects of ‘camera shake’. If the shutter speed is fast enough it will compensate for the slightest movement of your body producing blurred images. How fast the shutter speed needs to be depends upon a number of factors such as, if you’re using an image-stabilised lens, how windy it is but the most important factor is the focal length of the lens. The more you zoom in, the harder it is to keep your body sufficiently still to obtain a sharp image.


The minimum shutter speed should be ‘one over’ the focal length eg. with a 50mm lens use 1/50sec or faster.

Naturally, all this ‘camera shake’ compensation is mute if you use a tripod.

All the photos below were taken using Tv mode.

Shutter speed 1/160, f/5
Shutter speed 1/160, f/5
Shutter speed 1/20, f/10
Shutter speed 1/20, f/10
Shutter speed 1/2, f/29
Shutter speed 1/2, f/29