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Home photography ideas: Take a still life shot featuring your favorite tipple

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Taking a stunning still life shot is one of the great pleasures of photography – and a great way to squeeze every pixel of detail out of your camera and lenses. However, many people find it hard to find a suitable subject.

It's not often that alcohol is the answer, but in this case the ideal still life subject is sitting in your drinks cabinet, as a well-lit beautiful booze bottle can produce amazing results. 

It's also a good challenge for your lighting skills, as glass provides opportunities for striking reflections (whether you want them or not!) so controlling the light is key. We used a bottle and a glass of whiskey to create a classic still-life shot that radiates timeless style – and it’s very easy to set up and shoot images like this at home. 

You don’t need any special equipment, just a couple of lights (which could even be home desk lamps, rather than photography studio  lights) and some diffusion (which you can also create and enhance using affordable household objects). 

We’ve also used a slate tile as an attractive base to pop our product onto, to make it look even more desirable – and we also have one or two tips that other people just won’t tell you about, such as using reflective silver or gold card. 

The result is a stunning still life that would look at home in the pages of a glossy magazine advert…

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Shooting a still life: Raise a glass!

01 Dress the scene

Set up your props in an attractive scene. We rested our props on a slate tile to create some texture, but wood would also work. We framed this in front of the wooden bar in an old whiskey shop, but you could use a fireplace, window or even a printed paper backdrop.

02 Use a tripod

Put your camera on a tripod, so that you can keep your hands free to adjust reflectors and fill up or empty the glass. Your lens choice isn’t that important; we shot at 82mm, so your kit lens or a 70-200mm would be ideal.

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03 Set up the lights

We placed two speed lights in softboxes to the left of the bottle to sidelight the curved edge. They cover a wide area, spreading the light across the whole left-hand side of the bottle. We then hung a white shower curtain in front of the lights for further diffusion.

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04 Shine a light 

Now that we have the light set up, we need to get some light bouncing through the bottle. Cut some silver or gold card into the shape of the bottle, with a folded arm to prop it up. Position the card opposite the light at 45 degrees, so that it bounces light back through the glass.

05 Drag the shutter

We set the light to ¼ power, then dialed in an aperture of f/6.3 on the camera to throw the background out of focus. At ISO100, we went from 1/200 sec shutter speed (sync speed) to 1/30 sec to lighten the backdrop. 

06 Lift the label

Now that the bottle and glass are starting to sing, the label needs a lift as well. Cut the leftover gold card into a rectangle a bit bigger than the length of the label and hold it opposite the light. Experiment with the placement until you’re happy.

07 Faking it

If you can’t afford the whiskey, or just don’t want to waste it for one shot, use some weak tea! It looks the same as whiskey in the photograph and it gives you the opportunity to keep the bottle full. We promise we won’t tell anyone… 

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