Smooth As Tennessee Whiskey

I chose to use the whiskey bottle as the subject for a couple reasons. First,  it is a local product. Second, it is a great product. Third, lighting a shiny object is a challenge. And the cigar, well, it just seemed to fit well in the scene. 

The Procurement Process: 

Bottle: Michael Gomez was off consuming liquor till he reached a certain physical statistic, and therefore the bottle was just lying in his office at the studio. 

Barrel: I found the barrel at the Fairgrounds Flea Market. I initially wanted to use the barrel as a prop in a wine bottle photograph. But while shooting the wine bottle, we realized the presence of the barrel screamed bourbon/whiskey. 

Cigar: Once again, thanks to Michael’s fitness regime, the cigar was lying around in his office. 

The Location: 

Westlight Studios: We have an amazing wall made of pallets in the east studio, which served as a great backdrop for this shoot. 

The Photography Session: 


  • I am not to great at sketching the lighting diagram. Hence if anyone wants to understand my lighting scheme, feel free to contact me. It's really simple and no trade secret.

  • We had two main sources of light. One was to the left-front of the barrel. The second one was on the right edge of the image, behind the wooden table. These two lights were used to light up the overall scene.

  • We had to use reflectors to light up the liquids in the bottle and glass. We placed plain white paper behind the glass, which reflected light and looked fine. John Murphy suggested that we use aluminum foil instead, which helped us get a brighter and more saturated color in the liquids.

  • We tried to keep the theme of the shoot as a cellar location. Some might feel the cigar is out of place, but it just adds another shade of brown to the overall color scheme.

Post Production: 

I am sharing just the important aspects of post-production here. Best to talk with me if you want to understand the details. 

  • I spent most of my time on the bottle and the glass. In all, I combined 4 different images for the bottle and 2 different images for the glass.

  • The barrel has more shine than I desired. Hence, I combined a couple different layers to minimize the shine.

Lessons Learned: 

Some days prior, we shot a few wine bottles (I will write about that later, as those are for a client). Below are the lessons learned during the two shoots. 

  • There is no substitute for teamwork. You can be incredibly good at what you do, but you are never good at each and everything.

  • A single fingerprint on a bottle (or anything made of glass, ceramic etc.) can potentially ruin the shot. Post processing to the rescue! Or see next point.

  • Vinegar is really good to clean glass. WD-40 and a sharp blade are useful in removing labels from bottles. Gloves are helpful too.

  • The time you spend sharpening the ax is invaluable. We lit the bottle (both wine and whiskey) in multiple different ways to understand the reflections, glass imperfections, color etc.

  • As is the case with several product photography assignments, this assignment also involved creating a composite from several layers to get the right light and color on the right parts of the bottle.

  • Iced tea is a good substitute to whiskey. In images…only in images.

In Conclusion: 

It was a fun product photography shoot! I am glad I had Jared Olson and Marcus Serrano helping me. I talked to them about the concept and they set everything up and all I did was minor tweaks.  And I am glad John Murphy showed up for coffee. Between Michael and John, I am fortunate to have a lifetime’s worth of knowledge of photography, lighting, and composition. And John did contribute his head to the shoot! 

We removed the plastic cover from the bottle for the shoot. That was motivation enough for Michael to take a break from his fitness regime. Last I heard the bottle is empty. But then again, no one can resist Smooth Tennessee Whiskey!

Disclaimer: This was a test shoot. All logos and trademarks belong to their respective owners. I mean, I don't even own the bottle and cigar, for crying out loud!


Mayur is a commercial photographer in Nashville Tennessee. You can see more of his advertising and product photography work on his website.