Drink photography, like all food photography, might seem difficult, but it’s actually pretty easy – once you know a few techniques.
In this article, I share my top 7 tips for gorgeous images of drinks, including:
- The best ways to style your drink setups
- How to handle drink photography lighting
- A step-by-step method for splash photography
- Much more!
Ready to become a master drink shooter? Then let’s dive right in, starting with my first tip:
1. Carefully compose your scenes before shooting
The best drink photos are well composed, which means that you must pay careful attention to the position of elements in the frame. The way you arrange the drink and any supporting items will help the viewer process the image and will tell a specific story.
To create a good composition, start by determining some sort of compositional “rule” or guideline you’d like to use, such as the golden spiral.
Next, set out your main subject – in other words, the drink. Then move on to the props; be sure to arrange them according to the compositional guideline you’ve chosen. For example, if you’re working with the golden spiral, then position the props along the curve that leads to the drink.
You should also pay careful attention to your choice of props. I’d recommend working with a color palette and a style that fits the mood of the photo. For example, if the drink is orange, you can use green props to add contrast or orange props to make the scene more monochrome.
If you’re struggling to come up with prop ideas, look to your ingredients. You can add mint leaves, pinches of sugar, lemon slices, and much more.
The type of glass is also important. Certain drinks have specific glasses associated with them, so make sure you do your research! If a drink isn’t associated with a glass type, then choose a glass that works well with the overall scene.
Finally, you might want to put “makeup” on the drink. Professional food photographers often create condensation bubbles or frosting on the glass, which ensures a perfect look and lasts longer than natural bubbles or frost. In fact, there are people that specialize in this type of food styling and work with the top photographers – though some shooters do advocate for a more natural look, and at the end of the day, it’s really up to you.
2. Follow a specific workflow
With drink photography, the order in which you prepare the set is very important.
The drinks and the props must look fresh in the final photo, so start by placing a dummy to stand in for the real drink.
Then add any props that aren’t meant to be fresh, especially the ones that can be difficult to light due to reflections. You can also add fresh props, but know that they’ll need to be replaced before the final shot.
Next, light your scene and adjust your exposure settings. Once everything is ready, replace any props that don’t look fresh, and place the main drink (i.e., swap it out for the dummy). If you wanted to prepare the frosting or condensation, go ahead, then add it to the set.
The very last step is to pour the drink into the glass. Many liquids have foam, bubbles, or other tells that indicate whether they’ve just been served or if they’ve been sitting for a long time, and the goal is to keep things looking as authentically fresh as possible.
I don’t mean that you only have a couple of seconds to take the shot, but if you can follow this workflow and then pour the drink, your shots will always look fresh and inviting!
3. Use the right light
Natural light works for food and drink photography, but artificial light will make your life a lot easier as you’ll have more control over the reflections. Note that you don’t need a lot of studio equipment to make great photos; you can shoot with one strobe or speedlight and still get great results.
Whenever possible, photograph in a dark environment; otherwise, you’ll need a flash powerful enough to overpower the ambient light. To make sure that none of the ambient light interferes with your setup, start by taking a photo without the flash – it should be completely black.
Then begin adding lights and modifiers one by one. You can take a test shot after each new addition. And as you examine the test images, pay careful attention to the reflections!
As for lighting setups:
Backlighting is an extremely popular choice; it limits reflections and gives translucent drinks a certain glow.
Sidelighting is also popular, especially for scenes with denser drinks and/or foreground elements that need to appear bright. Softboxes and stripboxes will help you create an eye-catching white reflection on the edge of the glass.
You do have the option to use hard light and incorporate reflections and shadows into the composition. This approach is very trendy on Instagram and other social networks.
4. Be sure to carry essential accessories
Every drink photoshoot requires a handful of accessories. These aren’t part of a standard photography gear bag, but they’re must-have items for drink shooters.
Here’s the list of key accessories to own:
- A microfiber cloth. This will help you clean the glass. Any cloth can work, but microfiber is very absorbent and won’t leave lint behind.
- Gloves. You should always handle drink glasses with gloves to avoid fingerprints. Cotton gloves are good, but they can leave some lint behind. Latex gloves are even better.
- A funnel. To avoid splashing the clean glass, use a funnel to pour the drink.
- A cutter or sharp knife. You’ll often need to cut herbs or garnishes to style your drink scenes. A dull knife can ruin the item, so always bring a good cutter or a sharp knife.
- A syringe and an eyedropper. You can use these to create splashes or carefully place drops as needed.
5. Try some splash photography
Splash photography looks great, and it’s not too difficult, either. It requires two key elements: a fast shutter speed and lots of patience.
Now, the best splash shots are actually composites; in other words, several photos are pasted together to create the perfect final file. Here’s how it works:
First, build the set and adjust the lighting. A flash will help you freeze the splash and the flying drops, but you can do splash photography with continuous lighting if you set a fast shutter speed. You’ll need to use a tripod so that all your shots have the same framing.
Take the first photo without the splash. You’ll use this shot as the base of the composite because it’ll show a clean set. (That way, you won’t have to clean up after each photo!)
Next comes a lot of trial and error. Take plenty of shots, experimenting with the shape, size, and form of the dropped liquid. Change the drop height and even the shutter speed for sharper or blurrier splashes.
Some images will look better than others, and you’ll likely need to merge multiple splashes to build a perfect result in post-production. For more on this, see my next tip:
6. Don’t be afraid to create composites
Photo compositing is a post-production technique where you use parts of several photos to create a single stunning file, and it’s a big deal in drink photography.
For instance, as I discussed in the previous tip, you can blend multiple photos to create a perfect splash shot. You might also use compositing to create levitation images or when capturing a steaming hot beverage.
I’ll explain how compositing works in Photoshop, but any program that lets you use layers should be fine.
Start by opening Photoshop. Then go to File>Scripts>Load Files into Stack. In the pop-up window, select the series of images you’d like to composite, then click OK. All of the files will be loaded in the same Photoshop document as separate layers.
Make sure the base photo (the clean splash scene) is the bottom layer. Then turn off the visibility of all the layers except for the bottom two. Click on the top layer and add a layer mask – fill it with black. Use a white brush to paint the part of the file that you want to use in the composite.
Repeat this process until the final shot is ready. Sometimes, you can change the blending modes to avoid having to carefully select different elements. For this splash example, I changed all the layers except the background to the Lighten blend mode:
7. Apply some standard edits
Every drink image requires a few basic edits, which is why you should always spend a bit of time with each file in your editing program of choice.
The most important part of editing drink shots is getting rid of any unwanted reflections. You can remove these using cloning or healing tools, and while it may take a bit of trial and error, you’ll become more skilled over time.
The rest of the editing workflow should focus on balancing the exposure between the highlights and shadows, removing color casts by adjusting the white balance, and making the colors pop.
You can do all this manually, or you can work with filters and presets; it’s up to you.
Drink photography tips: final words
Drink photography is a lot of fun, and now that you’ve finished this article, you’re ready to create some stunning drink shots of your own.
So remember these tips. Practice lots. And capture great images!
Which of these tips do you plan to use first? What drinks will you photograph? Share your thoughts in the comments below!