When marketing bottled beverages, clean and clear bottle shots are a crucial element. But photographing a bottle is extremely challenging, whether the shot is intended for a white background on a website, or as part of a lifestyle image for social media. It can also be difficult to maintain consistency across an entire product line—or from one vintage of wine to another.
“In this day and age, visual content is the perfect gateway to your product,” says Laurie Millotte, a designer who founded Outshinery, an innovative web-based photo and video business in Vancouver, British Columbia. “It’s the closest thing people will get to before having the physical product in their hands.”
SevenFifty Daily spoke with Millotte, as well as a drinks industry photographer and a marketing executive, to find the best strategies for creating the perfect shot.
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Hire a Professional
Any professional photographer will tell you that the only way to get the best shot is to hire an expert. “The reason we offer bottle shot photography is that we realized it’s really difficult,” says Jeremy Ball, a photographer who, with his wife, Michelle Ball, founded Bottle Branding in Santa Barbara County, California. “Wine bottles are one of the toughest things to photograph because every bit of the bottle’s curvature reflects what’s around it,” he says, noting that a bottle is like a circular mirror.
To get the most from your experience with a professional, Ball says, good communication is imperative. He says that he and Michelle came from the high-end hospitality industry and that that experience prepared them for this aspect of the business. It’s about “having communication, making sure you understand what’s in between the lines,” Ball says. “We work really hard to make sure there’s no uncertainty.” He also says that clients shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions: “It’s not black and white all the time. A quality photographer should be willing to make you comfortable with the process.”
Set Up Your Own Studio
When Terry Lozoff took on the job of vice president of marketing at Latitude Beverage in Boston, one of the first things he wanted to do was to have new bottle shots taken of the company’s more than 60 SKUs across multiple brands. He hired several professional photographers, but none did the job efficiently or got the shots just right. “I had a vision in my head,” says Lozoff, “and for us to best execute that plan, we took things into our own hands.”
The ideal, he says, is to build a small studio in your office. “I don’t think you need a highly expensive photography setup,” Lozoff says. But he does suggest acquiring “good lighting equipment, a professional white backdrop, a high-quality camera/lens setup, and software for postproduction.” He estimates these necessities might cost around $2,500.
“I think for wine brands and retailers who have a constant stream of new products, you need easy access to a high-quality setup,” Lozoff says, noting that “consistency is key” for effectively marketing bottles online. Once you have the process down, some bottles are more difficult than others, he warns. “Wine bottles are not the easiest objects to shoot,” he says, “because they’re different shapes and sizes, different colors, and the way the light interacts with those things can be challenging to keep consistent. Even if you have a process down, a new bottle or can type could react to the light differently.”
Millotte’s Outshinery combines 3-D technology and computer-generated imagery (CGI) and applies the result to the beverage business. “I took the technology of Hollywood,” she says, “and really tailored it to the alcohol industry.”
By creating a virtual photo studio and using accurate specifications and measurements (even including the level of carbonation in a beer bottle), Millotte says she can “guarantee picture-perfect results” and consistency across all of a client’s images.
Wineries, breweries, and other clients fill out a form detailing everything about their bottles, from glass color and shape to the paper texture of the label. After a client submits a digital version of the label, Millotte can then re-create the bottle virtually.
With this process, she says, clients can even have their images before the physical bottle comes off the production line. Also, Outshinery can easily and quickly work with anyone around the world, since bottles don’t need to be shipped across international borders to the business’s location.
“You don’t need a crazy budget to have proper visual representation,” says Millotte. “At the end of day, you’re judged on the liquid inside the bottle, but how do you get [people to try it]?”
Three Tips for Making Your Own Images
- Don’t use a camera phone. Ball says that while its wide lens is ideal for selfies, this wider perspective doesn’t always work well when zooming in on close-up shots. Millotte agrees. “It doesn’t matter if the iPhone 25 comes out tomorrow,” she says. “You can still try taking a picture of a bottle with it, and it’ll look terrible.”
- For what Ball calls beauty shots—and others refer to as lifestyle images—he suggests having a piece of white paper or cardboard with you. “If you use it on the opposite side of your light source,” he says, “it’ll help create the long white strip of light that reflects on the bottle and takes care of any harsh shadows on the label.”
- To add a little dynamic element, try taking photographs from a lower angle. Ball recommends thinking about bottle beauty shots the same way you would when taking pictures of food or kids. “Just get below the level of the label and shoot up,” he says. “Make the image larger than life. In the end, we’re trying to create an image to make people stop scrolling.”
Alicia Cypress is following her passion for wine after spending more than 20 years as a journalist at National Public Radio and the Washington Post. She’s currently a managing editor at Reviewed.com, a part of the USA Today Network, and she writes a wine blog, itswinebyme.com. She’s received the WSET 2 certification (with distinction) and hopes to continue her studies. Talk about wine with her on Twitter or Instagram.