5 Expert Tips for Shooting Mouthwatering Cocktail Photos

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The holidays are coming up, and that means three things: snow-covered landscapes, time with loved ones, and festive cocktails. Anyone can take a photo of a drink, but a great cocktail picture is more than just the sum of its parts. The best food photographers know that a drink can capture the spirit of the season, whether it’s mulled wine in winter or a daiquiri in summer. They know that every detail—the lighting, the props, even the condensation on the glass—has to be just right in order to convey the right mood.

Below, six food photographers share their secrets for creating the picture-perfect cocktail. They have a variety of different approaches; some create clean and simple compositions, while others incorporate props to tell a story about a place or a specific type of cuisine. A few of them use natural ice, while others prefer artificial, and still more like to use a combination of the two. There’s a handy tip in here for everyone, whether you’re an emerging artist or a seasoned pro. Read on to learn how these photographers create mouth-watering cocktail photos, even when they’re shooting on tight schedules or with limited resources.

1. “Before shooting a cocktail, you must be clear about the concept.”

Oxana Denezhkina

5 Expert Tips for Shooting Mouthwatering Cocktail Photos — Be Clear with Your Concept

Image by Oxana Denezhkina. Gear: Nikon D300s camera, Nikon 105mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I lived in Sardinia for six years, and in that time, I noticed that the cuisine and drinks of this amazing island are not very well-represented on the internet. My idea was to shoot the traditional Sardinian digestif Mirto, which is very popular in Italy. I had to pick the berries myself, and I ordered the liqueur from a local nonna (granny)! I’d like to believe I was successful in capturing the atmosphere of a cozy Sardinian house where people might drink Mirto after a family dinner.

5 Expert Tips for Shooting Mouthwatering Cocktail Photos — Use Fresh Ingredients

Image by Oxana Denezhkina.

Pro Tip

Before shooting a cocktail, you must be clear about the concept. What cocktail are you going to shoot, and when do people usually drink it? This will help you to choose the right props and right lighting for the photo. For example, people drink strong evening cocktails in bars or at discos, so shoot with that atmosphere in mind. On the other hand, bright sunlight is ideal for summery, fruit-based cocktails. Try to use the beach or the pool as a background and introduce light props.

I don’t like perfect photos. I’m in love with small imperfections like a few drops or a glare on the glassware. These things will make your photos feel more natural and attractive.

2. “Background props are also important; for example, bottles and bartending tools all help to create a mood.”

petereleven (Peter Cernoch)

5 Expert Tips for Shooting Mouthwatering Cocktail Photos — Use Background Props

Image by petereleven (Peter Cernoch). Gear: Sony A7ii camera, 90mm Sony macro lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f8; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is one of my favorite recent Gin and Tonic photos, and it sells well because this drink is quite popular at the moment. A friend of mine wanted me to try shooting at a local Gin Bar, and I was amazed at how many brands are available these days. There were so many variations in terms of ingredients.

I wanted to create a dark yet vibrant photo of a spiced craft drink. I used a wooden board painted with black chalkboard paint and a black cloth background. For lighting, I used two large softboxes: one behind the object on the left to illuminate the rim and the liquid inside the glass, which was actually plain water, and a second one in front on the right just to fill the shadows.

Fresh grapefruit, red peppercorn, and mint leaves were my go-to ingredients, and I used an old gin bottle and bartender strainer as props. I also used fake acrylic ice cubes so I could control the condensation on the glass.

Pro Tip

First, I always make sure to shop at good, high-quality stores that carry fresh fruit, herbs, or spices. Once I’m back in the studio, I try to set the mood for the photo. Colors are important when choosing ingredients. The fewer, the better; I prefer to use multiple shades of the same color.

I always use fake acrylic ice cubes, and because they won’t create condensation, I sometimes spray a small amount of water onto the glass to create this effect. It’s also important to clean any dust off of everything, polish the glass, and use soft gloves to avoid fingerprints. That will decrease the amount of time you have to spend on post-production.

Background props are also important; for example, bottles and bartending tools all help to create a mood. When shooting cocktails, I try various compositions and angles, and I generally play around to create around 25-50 different photos of the same topic. I change the background colors to create shots that are light and dark. This lends some variety to my portfolio, which is good since it’s difficult to predict which photo will end up selling the best. Often, it’s the one I least expect!

3. “When photographing cocktails, it helps to put the glasses in the freezer before the shoot.”

Roman Debree

5 Expert Tips for Shooting Mouthwatering Cocktail Photos — Try Freezing the Glass

Image by Roman Debree. Gear: Canon 6D Mark II camera, 100mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I love coffee so much, and I cannot imagine my day starting without a cup of espresso. I spent this summer in Greece where Freddo (or iced coffee) is one of the most popular summer drinks. This inspired me to make a set of iced coffee drinks with the addition of cream and brandy.

Pro Tip

When photographing cocktails, it helps to put the glasses in the freezer before the shoot. Herbs and fruit in cocktail photos should always be as fresh as possible, but if the herbs don’t look so fresh, you can put them in cold water before starting.

Dark backgrounds and certain lighting schemes can give your photos a more mysterious atmosphere. When you shoot a cocktail that has milk as one of its main ingredients, try to use heavy cream instead of milk. This will give the drink some interesting volume and make it look almost hand-painted. To achieve interesting effects with light, you can also use some tricks to imitate natural window light. For instance, you can try using large cardboard boxes with homemade “windows” you’ve created inside.

4. “…never prepare your drinks in advance when using natural ice.”

Natalia Klenova

5 Expert Tips for Shooting Mouthwatering Cocktail Photos — Take Color into Consideration

Image by Natalia Klenova. Gear: Canon EOS 5DS R camera, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f8.0; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I wanted to make a positive, uplifting cocktail photo to capture the mood of summer. So, I focused on light summer colors and an authentic, natural mood. I chose a blue background to recall the feeling of being close to the sea on vacation. Color combination is even more important than the props you choose. It only takes one inappropriate color to spoil the overall effect of a photo. For this image, I used two flash lights, a blue paper background, and a white wooden board.

5 Expert Tips for Shooting Mouthwatering Cocktail Photos — Use Waterproof Backgrounds with Natural Ice

Image by Natalia Klenova.

Pro Tip

If you work with natural ice—which is my favorite—I would advise you to use a waterproof background. That way, you’ll simply replace the melting ice without needing to spend time drying your background. Additionally, never prepare your drinks in advance when using natural ice. Set up the whole composition first and then position your cocktails just before shooting.

We all want summer cocktails on hot days, and in cold weather, we want a cozy, hot meal. But if the temperature in your studio tends to vary a lot based on the temperature outside, I advise you to do the opposite. In the winter, shoot pictures of food and beverages with ice. This has two advantages: in a cold studio, the ice won’t melt as quickly, and you can start uploading your photos in spring, when designers are just starting to look for summer-themed images. Similarly, it helps to shoot a hot meal in summer; it won’t get cold too quickly, and, by the time fall comes around, you will already have a decent collection of new autumn/winter photos.

5. “Lighting is crucial when taking pictures of glassware.”

Wollertz (Charles Wollertz)

5 Expert Tips for Shooting Mouthwatering Cocktail Photos — Up Your Lighting Skills

Image by Wollertz (Charles Wollertz). Gear: Canon 7D camera, EF70-200mm f2.8 L IS II USM lens. Settings: Focal length 115mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f18; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

When I took this photo, I was a full-time bartender and part-time photographer. I knew what looked good at the bar, but I was learning how to transfer that to an image. I tried all different kinds of lighting setups and ended up with a homemade diffuser that I use for isolating glassware on white to this day.

A classic Cosmopolitan looks great on white because of its intense red color, and the bright green lime garnish adds a bit of color contrast with an interesting focal point. The best part of cocktail photography is that, at the end, you get to enjoy the props!

5 Expert Tips for Shooting Mouthwatering Cocktail Photos — Use Color as a Focal Point

Image by Wollertz (Charles Wollertz).

Pro Tip

Pay attention to the details. When I order a cocktail at a bar, I love a chilled glass with a fresh garnish. Bright colors in a cocktail or a bright color accent in a garnish will pull viewers’ attention to where you want it. I use a small spray bottle to mist the glassware, and then I freeze it for a few minutes. This way, the cocktail looks refreshing and delicious.

Lighting is crucial when taking pictures of glassware. Be careful with unwanted reflections, and remember to add black cards when isolating on white in order to get definition on clear glassware. I’ve built a “drink box” for the purpose of isolating on white. I use black foam board with large rectangular cutouts on the sides, and I tape white tissue paper over the cutouts as a diffuser for flashes. I then use black foam board on top and on the front and back sides to block reflections on the glass. Allow a top light to shine directly on a white background only for perfect isolation.