Drinks photography is a subset of food photography where you photograph beverages in the most appealing fashion possible to make the viewer enticed enough to wish that they had the drink in their hands.
By using these tips on how to photograph drinks you can step up your game and use secrets that make your photos look much better!
1. Make Your Subject Glow By Using Backlighting
When doing drinks photography, lighting can be difficult to manage especially due to the highly reflective glassware and bottles.
We want to avoid having overblown bright reflections and glare. Backlighting will help to do this as the light won’t be reflecting straight into the lens.
If you are unsure of what backlighting is, it is simply when the main light is behind the subject is so the subject is between the light and the camera.
Backlighting will also give your subject a slight rim of light which helps to separate it from the background.
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It can also make the liquid seem brighter as the light shines through for a nice effect.
To avoid an overexposed background try to use a reflector to bounce some back into light into the front of your subject.
In general, if you move your light behind the subject rather than in front of the subject then you can avoid having the light reflecting from the subject straight into the lens.
You can try adjusting the distance of the light from the subject to see what has the best effect.
2. Get Crisp Edges Using A Piece Of Black Card
When making use of backlighting, the edges of your bottle or glassware can look soft and blown out instead of clean and sharp.
By carefully placing a black piece of card between the light and the subject the edges of the subject appear more clear as less light reaches the outer rim.
This is important because you don’t want the subject to just blend in to the background.
Don’t forget that you still want light reaching your glass or bottle to illuminate the inside and give it a slight glow.
Experiment with the positioning of the card and see what works best with your particular subject. The following video shows a quick example of it starting at about 3:28
3. Use Fake Ice So You Are Not Against The Clock
When you create the perfect set up for an elegant cocktail you don’t want to be rushing around because you are scared that the ice in the glass is going to melt and look underwhelming.
You want the ice cubes to look prominent and substantial to make that drink look like it’s JUST been poured.
Ice can melt fast so professional food & beverage photographers will often use fake ice as a stand in to keep consistency in their pictures.
One thing to note is that fake ice can range from fairly to cheap to downright bank breaking so there will be an option for every budget.
Depending on the level of shoot you are doing and the scale of the project you will want to decide what fake ice is suitable for you.
Acrylic ice cubes will be more readily available and affordable whereas plexiglass ice cubes will be a lot more expensive!
Plexiglass is cell cast acrylic which has higher manufacturing costs but also has far fewer impurities which makes it clearer.
Similar to fake ice, this trick helps you to create that freshly poured ice-cold look.
Condensation on the glass happens when the water vapour in the air comes into contact with a cold glass so recreating this effect mimics a cold glass due to a freshly poured cool drink.
You’ll need a mixture of glycerin and water as well as a spray bottle to spray the mixture. Going for a 50-50 mix of the two tends to do the trick.
By using a mixture of glycerin and water to spray the bottle or glass, you can create fake condensation droplets which will stay for the whole shoot.
This is a great trick because it gives you consistency between shot unlike natural condensation which can fade or change quite quickly.
This helps with condensation in a different way. Using a matte finishing spray creates a frosty effect and also helps in reducing harsh reflections too.
Matte finishing spray will be available in most art supply stores and Amazon too.
Sometimes using matte spray for the chilled effect is enough and you might not even want the glycerin and water trick for extra droplets.
Remember to do this safely somewhere ventilated and always follow the instructions on the sprays!
6. Remove Those Reverse Labels For the Perfect Glow
If you are shooting something like a beer bottle or wine bottle then you should remove the reverse label!
By removing the reverse label you allow more light into the bottle to illuminate the liquid for a more professional look.
Get yourself some adhesive remover and a plastic scraper to help in removing the label easily and cleanly.
Just be careful not to get any on the front label where most of the important branding will be!
7. Put Some Gloves On To Avoid Finger Prints
When doing drinks photography, your subject is going to be prominent in the picture and you do not want any finger prints or specs of dust to take away from the final image.
Any slight adjustments need to be made carefully and using a pair of gloves will help keep those pesky smudges away.
Try using nitrile exam gloves instead of latex as nitrile is thicker (less chance of fingerprints) and it also reduces the chance of any nasty surprises since some people have latex allergies!
8. Use Canned Air To Blow Away Dust
Canned air is another useful tool to use to blow away any crumbs or dust that you find on your set or on your subject.
Using canned air means you don’t have to touch anything on your set and risk ruining things.
9. Funnel Your Liquid To Avoid Splashing
If you’ve set up the perfect composition and lighting you don’t want to ruin your shot by pouring your drink and getting messy splashes on your glass (unless you’re doing splash photography).
Buy yourself a small funnel that you can use to pour your drink into the bottom of the glass.
10. Shock Your Garnishes To Keep Them Fresh
If you are using garnishes for your drinks, keep them in a cold water bath before using them to shock them and keep them fresher for longer on set. You can use ice in your water bath to keep it colder.
After all you don’t want a cool and refreshing drink topped with a pathetic, wilting piece of garnish.
11. Use A Microfibre Cloth To Clean Bottles Or Glasses On Set
This is fairly self explanatory. You want to keep your set clean and free of imperfections or at least free of unplanned imperfections.
Microfibre cloths are good because they avoid scratching and are lint free. They’re also fairly cheap to pick up too.
12. Get Punchy Images Using Complementary Colours
When shooting drinks photography you can use complementary colours to add contrast and interest to an image.
Complementary colours are those that are opposite each other on a colour wheel e.g. green and red.
As humans we are naturally drawn to complementary colours due to the contrasting effect that they have and it is a colour theory technique you can use in any type of photography.
For example try using green garnishes with reddish drinks. It doesn’t always have to be garnishes either, it could simply be a prop or utensil that adds a pop of colour to the image.
13. Add More Context With Ingredients
You can include the ingredients of the drinks as part of your image to add more context.
For example, if it is a yellow drink it could be anything from pineapple, passion fruit or lemon (or all of the above). Without any context the viewer has to use their imagination to decide what that drink would taste like.
By including a slice of lemon or pineapple you can give the viewer an idea of what kind of drink it is and they can imagine the flavour of it more.
14. Give That Beer A Foamy Head With These Tips
When shooting beer in a glass, you want a thick foamy head to make it look like it’s just been prepared for you.
If the beer goes flat you can restore that frothy head in two ways:
One way to do this is to add some salt to the beer and stir until you get a frothy head again.
The other way is to use a wooden stirrer like a cheap wooden chopstick or a bamboo stirrer. The wood reacts with the beer to make it foam up again.
15. Bounce Some Light Into That Drink With A Gold Card
This trick will most likely require you to do some compositing work in a post production software.
What you do is get a reflective card or paper to add some vibrance to your liquid. You want to use a colour which matches the drink to make it look more consistent so choose wisely.
For example, if you are using a brown liquid like whiskey you can use a gold card to add some golden highlight to the liquid.
You want to angle the card so it is reflecting light from a light source into the bottle or glass. Play around with the angles and take a few shots to see what you like best.
You’ll then want to go into a program like Photoshop and mask out the card and just keep the highlight in the liquid.
16. Put The Drink In A Scene
Beyond the drink itself you want to match the scene to the product as much as you can.
By doing this you can build up a scene and let the viewer imagine themselves in the scene with the drink.
If you’re shooting something like a whiskey you might want to use a wooden theme and lots of earthy tones.
But if you were shooting a fruity cocktail you might want a more bright and colourful setting for the scene.
Remember one of the biggest goals with food and drinks photography is to let the viewer be able to imagine themselves with the subject.
17. Get A Pair Of Tweezers For Garnishes
Garnishes can be fiddly and using tweezers is a good way to be precise and not mess up your set.
The last thing you want is to be smudging your glass because you were trying to move the garnish around.
18. Match The Glassware To The Drink
This one might seem obvious, but you want to match the drink to the glassware.
You don’t put beer in a mug and you don’t put coffee in a champagne flute.
Make sure you stick to glassware that makes sense for the drink so the viewer doesn’t feel uncomfortable looking at the image.
Everything should make sense so they can imagine drinking it themselves.
By keeping to what is familiar the viewer will be more likely to imagine themselves with the drink in hand.