The perfect cocktail shot often proves elusive. There’s no standard angle—unlike the way we all take pictures of our plates from above—and lighting is challenging in dimly lit bars. How can you do better so that your Instagram isn’t littered with dark pictures where no one can tell what’s going on? We asked a couple of our favorite photographers for their tips.
Consider the opacity
“I do approach cocktails a bit differently than food,” says Liz Clayman. “The first thing I want to know about my subject is its opacity, or lack thereof. The basic way my brain breaks it down is that a transparent cocktail wants to be lit from behind or behind-ish, so it glows. An opaque cocktail wants the light coming from the front or front side-ish. Whether or not that back light is direct or bounced off of something is up to you.” Grab the table’s candle and maneuver it to see which works best.
Don’t overdo it
Cayla Zahoran suggests people make the mistake of creating a busy photo when the cocktail should be the focus. “Cocktails are super clean, simple items—adding too many additional things in the photo can really pull your eye away from the focus.” Clayman agrees: “I hate over-propping. If it’s silly and taking the ‘creative license’ too far, I find it distracting. For example: If my cocktail has brewed coffee as an ingredient, I don’t want to see coffee beans scattered around. I call it ‘McCafe’ styling.”
But use what you’ve got
“Keep an eye out for tabletops and ways to use the space if you are shooting in a restaurant,” says Zahoran. “My favorite cocktail shots show a lot of environment or use the corners of tabletops to draw your eye around the frame.”
Find the most interesting component
“In general, cocktails are pretty resilient to a variety of depth of fields—shallow or wide can both work,” says Clayman. “If you are choosing (or forgot your tripod!) to shoot with a shallow depth of field, focus on the most interesting element. Sometimes it’s the condensation on the front of the glass, the front rim or the garnish.”
Prep is key
“Prepare as much as you can! Ask whoever is making your drink to explain what it looks like before they start making it,” says Clayman. “Get an empty glass and compose your frame in advance so your shot is more or less figured out by the time the drink hits the table. You don’t want to be messing with your exposure while the ice is melting. Cocktails die quickly! And a frosty glass is a beautiful thing.”
Invest in a new tool
If you’re an iPhone photographer (and aren’t we all), the DxO One allows you more control, better quality and picks up a lot more light than the built-in lens—perfect for bar shots.
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