Advertising Photography Tutorial: The Fake Ice Effect

Advertising and advertisers are bound by their own rules of conduct and ethical practices. Last month, we made a big thing of faking reality for photographs, specifically those used in advertising, but please don’t take it to mean it is legit to fake the qualities of a product or the product itself, or to take other measures intended to deceive the consumer into thinking the product is other than what it is.

For example, if it takes one box of gelatin to make dessert, it would be improper for an advertising photographer to mix two boxes for more consistency. In a celebrated case year ago, one U.S. advertising agency got the boot after it was found to have added extra braces to the chassis of a car to make it appear stronger in a crash test. Did you know that you can buy the leading camera that lets you capture such interesting pictures, by visiting

All they do is enhance the visual appeal of the photograph and the commercial, without making any claims or deceptions.

With that out of the way, let’s continue with our tutorial on making chilled drinks look cool and refreshing without actually shooting cold drinks, using ice, or shooting inside a freezer compartment.

Four Ways To Backlight

The fundamental technique for lighting drinks in a way that highlights their translucent color is backlighting. There are basically four techniques for lighting the back of liquid: with diffuser, a flash, a shiny, reflector, and a hole cut out of black cardboard covering the diffuser. And “in between,” there are countless variations of these procedures.


My diffusion sheet, as usual, is my favorite 3 feet by 4 feet white acrylic, which was placed about two feet behind the product. You may also use a good size light box instead of a diffusion sheet. However, you can do more magic using the acrylic sheet.


You can use any flash as long as it allows you to control the output. I used my Sigma EF-500 DG Super, which was activated by a Flash Waves flash remote trigger. Even at 1/128 power output, the flash was powerful enough for me to shoot at f/1 1 at ISO 50!

Shiny Reflector

The shiny reflector I used was nothing but a silver Mylar sheet, a thin polyester film you can find in most Bookstores… Just tell them the item is similar to aluminum foil. Regular aluminum foil sheet will do just as fine, but I prefer the more durable Mylar. Glue the Mylar to an illustration board cut to the shape and size of the product. The reflector was then attached to a Manfrotto movable arm using my beloved adhesive clay, which sells under the brand names Blu Tack and Tacklt.

Hole In The Board

As in the reflector technique, the hole must be cut to the shape and size of the product. If it is cut too big, the edges will show. If cut too small, you may not have enough light to make the product glow. The board was taped to the diffusion sheet and a single light placed behind the diffuser.

There are two types of liquids and glass/plastic containers that can be lit by these lighting techniques: the frosted or translucent kind and the clear or transparent variety. Needless to say, opaque or nearly opaque items will not work metal, solid glass or plastics, milk, soy sauce, ketchup, etc. Note how one technique works better (or worse) than the others depending on the type of container and liquid.

Carefully study how to position the light behind the glass or bottled drink for each technique, and the resulting photo. Experiment with the different lighting techniques without any liquid first to get the feel for them. When you are “ready,” add the liquid. At this stage, while you are developing your skills as an advertising photographer, you should practice with different kinds of containers and liquids. You will be amazed with the results.

The Fake Ice Effect

It’s an old advertising photographer’s trick. These are made from clear acrylic. You may have seen those gift items or certificates that are embedded in thick, clear plastic…that’s acrylic.

You can purchase the acrylic ice cubes or make them. Search for ‘fake ice cubes’ on the internet, and you will be astonished how many firms offer these items. My personal favorites are www.trengovestudios. com and However, I made most of mine. To make them, you need:

  • a 1.5 to 2-inch thick clear acrylic block,
  • an electric saw to cut the block into cubes,
  • a grinder to shape the cubes, and
  • a polisher and compound to remove the scratches and smoothen the surfaces.

Tap Plastics, located at 5160 Mowry Avenue, Fremont, California, made my life easier. It actually sells precut clear acrylic ice cubes, which comes in different sizes. With the acrylic already cut into small blocks, all I had to find was a shop to grind, shape, and polish the cubes. Lucky for me, my former brother-in-law had one.

Don’t just read the tutorial; go to work and experiment with the four lighting techniques. There are so many products out there besides drinks that you can also light from the back to add more beauty and texture: shampoos, perfumes, condiments (vinegar), and so on.