Beverage photography is a challenging and exciting niche in photography, often shot by photographers that specialize in food photography. The reflective nature of glassware makes it difficult to shoot. Moreover, photographing cocktails to look cold and icy, means having a few tricks up your sleeve.
Having the right tools in your toolbox can go a long way in helping you get the look that you want. Items like a cocktail shaker, stir stick, and brushes are some basic items that you need. Read on for suggestions on the items that commercial food shooters have in their beverage photography arsenal.
The top ten tools for commercial beverage photography
1. Razor blades
Commercial beverage photography involves shooting a lot of liquor bottles. This means you have to take off the back label. When you light bottles, you light them from behind. The back label will cast a big black shadow that will ruin the image. To remove the labels you need a good razor blade.
Gently scrape the label off using the razor blade in a downward motion to remove it. If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to soak the label by lying the bottle in a pan of warm water, shallow enough to not get the front label wet. The label should come off a lot more easily after five or ten minutes of soaking.
Keep a couple of razor blades in your kit and keep them clean.
2. Goof off
Goof Off is a solvent that is able to dissolve tough adhesives quickly.
Once you have removed your label, most likely there will be some glue left behind on the bottle. You need to get every last trace of it off and make sure the bottle is as pristine as possible. Any marks will show on the image and can be a nightmare to retouch.
The heavy-duty remover in the spray bottle should do the trick. Good Off is safe for a variety of surfaces and is an important item in your beverage photography kit.
The single most important item you can have in your beverage photography toolkit is good quality glassware. If you’re going to be doing a lot of beverage photography, this is a worthy area to invest in.
The quality of glassware easily becomes apparent when it’s shot, particularly with stemmed glassware. If you gently rotate the glass, you’ll find that the cheap stuff will not sit perfectly even. This will show in the way the liquid sits in the glass.
Remember that in beverage photography, your cocktail or drink is the “hero,” the focus of your shot, so it has to look heroic.
Get a variety of good glasses for different types of drinks. As long as you don’t break them, they will last you many, many years.
4. Fake ice cubes and shards
Another essential item for commercial beverage photography is fake ice cubes and shards. Real ice looks more organic and works well for editorial photography. However, in high-level commercial photography, where consistency is often required, fake ice is necessary.
As with glassware, any old plastic ice cubes won’t do. Fake ice used in high-end commercial photography needs to be high quality and is very expensive.
The most popular supplier of high-quality, fake ice cubes and shards in the U.S. is Trengrove Studios in New York. But regardless of where you live, fake ice can also be bought online by various suppliers.
Be sure to get acrylic or plexiglass fake ice and stay away from plastic. Cheap fake ice can be useful as filler ice, perhaps blurred out in the background or in another glass that isn’t the main subject.
Fake ice and ice shards can cost $60 to $300 apiece, so start with one or two cubes and slowly add to your collection over time.
5. Ice powder and crystals
Ice powder and crystals are most commonly used on the outside of beer bottles and glasses to give a cool and frosty look.
They are used less for cocktails but are great to make slushy drinks like margaritas. Real ice slush is a nightmare to work with because it melts so fast, but crystal ice and powder allows you to shoot all day.
Glycerine is an inexpensive item that you can find in most drug stores in the beauty section. It is used extensively in food and beverage photography. Mixed with water, you can spray it on produce items to create a misted look with evaporating.
Similarly, in beverage photography, it’s used to add condensation to a glass that stays put.
Buy a few atomizer bottles in different sizes. This will be for your glycerine and water mixtures.
Different bottles will offer a different amount of water droplets, so it’s good to have a variety on hand to choose from, depending on what kind of drink you’re shooting.
You can often buy these at the drug store as well. For example, you can buy empty atomizers meant for travel use. You can also choose from a wide variety on Amazon.
8. Cotton gloves
You can purchase cotton gloves at the drug store and they should be worn whenever you are handling any glassware that will appear in the shot. The smallest fingerprint will show up and it will be impossible to retouch well in Photoshop.
Clean the glass with a good glass cleaner and then handle it with gloves
Tweezers are an indispensable item in beverage photography. You can use them for moving very small pieces of garnish like herbs or small ice shards.
When you shoot beverage photography, every small detail is very important, so having tweezers on hand can help you make small adjustments. If you can find some with a long handle, that would be extra helpful.
10. Canned air
Canned air or air duster is an item that can be found in hardware stores and may seem like a strange item to have in your beverage photography toolkit. It’s used to blow any dust off your surfaces and set.
Remember, with commercial beverage photography, a pristine, polished image is super important so you don’t want any dust or blemishes on your subject or set. Of course, you can retouch these out to a certain extent, by why spend the time if you don’t need to. Canned air will help you with that.
Commercial beverage photography can be a very challenging genre to shoot. However, having the right tools on hand can make your job much easier and go a long way in helping you get that hero shot.
These are my top ten suggestions for your toolkit, but there are other items that can be useful. Chime in in the comments below if you have any suggestions.