The Art of Drink Photography: One Bourbon, One Shot and One Beer

by in Articles on 24th Nov 2010 · Comments

If you ever looked at ads for beer or liquor and wondered how do they do that, you are not alone. There have been countless photo enthusiasts who have tried, some successful many not so successful, to photograph a drink like the pros.

What’s important to understand is that there is more than one way to shoot a drink. In order to capture the beauty of liquid there are some tricks of the trade which can make or break your next attempt.

The Art of Drink Photography: One Bourbon, One Shot and One Beer
Image credit: *Evelina*


There are decisions to be made regarding what you want to accomplish. Do you want to shoot a beer with a frosty head or are you looking to capture single malt on the rocks? Is the shot masculine or feminine? Is there going to be an action? Is the drink in a studio environment or in a real world setting? These decisions will dictate how you approach the assignment.

Let’s Start Slow

Assuming you don’t have a studio and studio lighting, we will attempt to shoot a drink in a real world situation. For purposes of discussion we will be shooting a classic martini with and without the bottle.

Duggans Dew Final Flagged

A good reason for choosing this example is that it does not require any special styling other that sweating the glass and placing olives in an arrangement that you like.

How’s It Done

For those of you thinking of shooting chilled water to save a few bucks be warned that water does not react the same as alcohol when chilled and does not look authentic. If you want to achieve proper results then use real liquor. Top shelf does not look any better so you can use the cheap stuff.

You will need a bottle of vodka or gin, a martini glass, a shaker, ice and olives. For this experiment choose a bottle with a see through label. We chose Belvedere which has an etched label. The bottle is pretty and easier to photograph than a bottle with a traditional label.

Find an appropriate surface to set the shot up on. What’s nice about shooting a martini is that the liquid is clear so it does not require a sophisticated lighting set up to pull off great results. You can also apply this lighting technique with either natural or artificial light.

This example we will use natural light.

Belve Martini

Position the martini glass either behind or to the side of a window that gets good light but is not in harsh direct sun. We are going for subtle beautiful light not stark direct light. If the sun is too harsh you can use the simple diffusion technique of using either a white sheet or sheers. You want to soften the light.

A tripod is necessary because you will be dealing with longer exposures and hand holding the camera is really not a good idea. Something has to be in focus or at least should be.

For lighting, you will also need a small mirror which can be purchased at any drug store. A few white bounce cards. If you own a macro lens then that should be your choice here. If you do not have a long lens that can be zoomed at a distance. If you plan on shooting food regularly invest in a macro lens. For 35mm digital SLR’s a 105mm macro works beautifully.

With the subject oriented with the light coming from behind or slightly side lit from behind place the martini glass empty where you want to frame it. Take a meter reading and pop off a few shots until you get the proper exposure and composition. Mark where the glass is with post it notes and removes the glass.

Chill the vodka in a metal shaker for about 5 minutes. Clean the glass well. Pro food stylists use Windex and coffee filters to dry. The filters leave no lint which saves retouching out annoying dust in post. Place the glass back into the frame and put olives in the glass. If you recall we already did an exposure and composition with the empty glass so you should be on the money.

Here’s The Trick

The shot needs a focal point, something of interest to the viewer.

  • Instead of shooting the entire glass get up close and personal.
  • Focus on the olives and the sweat in the glass.
  • Crop in tight for dramatic effect. The olives will be darker since the glass is back lit. Use your mirror to pop light from the window into the olives and boom.
  • You will have to move quickly. The glass will naturally sweat, have beautiful water drops. It will last for a few minutes so use the time to take many images.
  • Manipulate the olives with a toothpick until you get a nice still life.
  • Lastly, have fun and make it sexy!

Another Drink Shot

The next example was lit and composed in a similar fashion. Notice that the entire bottle does not have to be in the shot. In fact that’s boring. The image is monochromatic except for the orange label. It works very well and takes a subject that could be very bland and makes it exciting. The only lighting difference here is instead of mirrors, use white bounce cards to pop light onto the drink label.

Belvedere

Since it’s orange vodka, a garnish was omitted. A twist would have worked as well as an orange slice but it would change where you focus on the shot. Now your eye goes right to the label because nothing competes.

Examples of Beautiful Drinks Shot Advertisements

Ttuborg Bachelor Party
Ttuborg Bachelor Party

Smirnoff
Smirnoff

Martini Rosato
Martini Rosato

Martini Asti
Martini Asti

Guinness
Guinness

Collection
Collection

Boxer La Forte
Boxer La Forte

Bottomsch
Bottomsch

Amstel
Amstel

Example of Picturesque Alcohol Websites

Tullamore Dew
Tullamore

Jose Cuervo
Jose Cuervo

Guinness Beer
Guinness Beer

Bacardi
Bacardi

Captain Morgan
Captain Morgan

Conclusion

When trying to replicate professional drink images start off slow. Learn the lighting and composition techniques before you move onto more challenging subjects. Remember to use back or side light and bounce light into the front of the subject. Before you know it, you will be successful.

Let’s see what you can do.

Bill Brady is a food photographer. What makes him great at what he does is his love of food, his appreciation for how a meal is prepared and the absolute joy it brings him to experience it. To be able to translate that into a photograph is art.