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Top 11 Tips for Crafting Dazzling Beverage Photography (with Visual Examples)

Top 11 Tips for Crafting Dazzling Beverage Photography (with Visual Examples)

The ability of photography to invoke the most primitive and knee-jerk responses is a hard-earned skill. To create dazzling beverage photography that makes viewers thirsty, you need to pull out all the creative stops.

While food photography often overlaps with beverage photography, the art of capturing a drink has a few technical nuances. Liquid is already a difficult substance to capture due to its ever shifting hues and glittering light. The act of capturing beverages can also get messy much more easily if you don’t know what you’re doing. 

If you’ve been wondering how to step up your drink portfolio’s charm and character, I have eleven beverage photography tips for you to use in your next session. 

Source Image: Pixabay

Table Of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Think of The Story You Want to Tell 
  3. Get Creative With Your Staging
  4. Learn the Cultural and Historical Nuance of Each Beverage
  5. Get Comfortable With Supplementary Materials
  6. Keep a Cloth on Hand at All Times
  7. Cultivate a Varied Set of Glassware
  8. Use Backlight to Enhance the Liquid
  9. Add Foam Boards or Bounce Cards to Control Your Lighting
  10. Use Overhead and Straight On Shots to Create Stunning Compositions
  11. Experiment With Different Focal Lengths
  12. Conclusion: Beverage Photography Is a Complex Niche, But Nothing You Can’t Tackle

beverage photography of a latte in a mug resting on a book with flowers

Source Image: Pixabay

1. Think of The Story You Want to Tell

Memorable beverage photography should tell a story to the viewer. What kind of story you want to tell depends on whether you do drink photos for a hobby or as a budding profession. 

If you want to create a professional beverage photography portfolio, your stories should be scenarios the viewer can easily see themselves doing. The above photo is a strong example of eye-catching coffee photography. While coffee consumption can be casual or fancy, its most consistent image is that of a romantic and soothing drink. The staging of this photo uses a botanical book and a few flowers to get across that relaxing, natural atmosphere.

If you prefer to keep your photography as a hobby, cooking up interesting stories will still create photos that are more memorable. Instead of just displaying a drink on a blank table, you can stage your photo to invoke a certain mood or bring to mind a memory. The above photo could also work as a casual addition to a hobbyist collection. It’s the kind of cozy nostalgia that could make viewers think of brewing a cup of coffee, then picking up that book they meant to read six months ago.

When you add a story to your beverage photography, you’ll:

Create a Memorable Photo That Sticks With The Viewer

A snapshot of a mug of tea on a table is a basic photo. A mug of tea resting on an old-fashioned table runner and framed by a vase of fluffy flowers becomes a painting.

It becomes a story.

Incite an Action Such as Buying or Subscribing

Professional beverage photography is an offshoot of product photography. The goal is to inspire an action in the viewer that relates to a sale, such as buying a drink or subscribing to a service.

When you use stories to support your beverage photography, you connect with the stories of everyday viewers. For example, someone who glimpses a beverage photo of a glass of wine on a living room table could easily see that wine on their own living room table.

beverage photography of a transparent glass of flower tea on a wooden table with loose flowers

Source Image: Pixabay

2. Get Creative With Your Staging 

Once you think of the story you want to tell, your staging needs to follow suit. Getting creative with your setting is an essential part of the storytelling process of strong beverage photography.

I’ve talked about how you can use items to frame your drinks, but just how far can you go with your set-up? The possibilities for mixing and matching different accessories is nearly endless. In fact, there are so many ways to decorate a beverage, you may get overwhelmed quickly.

The tabletop, backdrop, and decorations are the basic ingredients to a beverage photography setup. To reduce the risk of choice fatigue, narrow down your staging options with these important questions. 

What Kind of Mood Am I Aiming For?

The staging items you’ll choose depend heavily on the mood you’re going for. When it comes to beverage photography tips, capturing a certain emotion or general mood will be one you hear most often!

For example, a lavish environment filled with details can seem fancy, elegant, or playful. To contrast, a simple stage with heavy emphasis on the drink can feel professional and clean – in other words, visually straight to the point. 

Pinpointing your mood early will create a clear goal to guide your photography and keep you from getting lost in all the little details.

What Kind of Drink Culture Does This Beverage Have?

Each beverage comes with its own fascinating culture and history (which I’ll explore more in the below sections). Consider the drink’s culture as you set up the stage for your photo.

For starters, many cultures associate tea with relaxation, community, and serenity. As a result, your staging could include natural items such as leaves, flowers, or wooden decorations. 

Does This Setting Support the Story I’m Trying to Tell?

I can’t emphasize this point enough. Everything you do in beverage photography circles back to telling a compelling story that grips the viewer and doesn’t let go.

Just like multiple ingredients in a soup create a complete dish, so too does your setting create a complete story. Your decorations, lighting choice, and even your camera angles all craft the final result.

a bouquet of artificial flowers and leaves resting on a white table

Source Image: Pixabay

3. Build a Resource of Fake Decorations

Beverage photography requires trial and error, which real products don’t always last for. Crafting a resource of fake decorations will let you experiment on-the-fly and produce appealing results.

Creating a resource of fake decorations is as essential to your photography gear as a weather jacket or extra memory cards. These tools will help with issues such as:

Fake Ice to Prevent Melting

If you’re going to get into beverage photography, you’ll need to use ice at some point. Fake ice is ideal for giving you wiggle room to take photos without worrying about anything melting. 

You can find packs of fake ice cubes at popular outlets such as Amazon and Walmart. These handy tools come in different shapes so you can get creative with decorating, such as classic rectangles or artful diamonds. 

Fake Leaves to Avoid Withering

Another common hurdle to beverage photography are fake leaves. Whether you want to take an elegant snapshot of a mocktail or an artful arrangement of tea, you’ll want a few of these on hand.

Fake leaves are also common in retail stores, whether on their own or part of larger flower bouquets. They’re usually made of plastic or cloth, so be sure to wipe them down once you’re done. They can stain when repeatedly dunked in liquid and lose their natural appearance.

Food Dyes to Repeat Dissolving Effects

Skilled beverage photographers go out of their way to capture the illusion of a real drink being presented in front of you. Food dye is useful for simulating the curling, dissolving effects you’d see in a cocktail or glass of cold brew. 

Food dye (food coloring) is easy to find at grocery stores or art supply shops. Keep in mind food dyes aren’t eternal and will eventually dissolve if you take too long with your photo. If you use too much, you’ll completely change the look of your drink and you’ll have to start over.

an arrangement of sake bottles and ramen bowls at an izakaya

Source Image: Pixabay

4. Learn the Cultural and Historical Nuance of Each Beverage

Each beverage has its own unique historical and cultural history. Understanding the background of each drink will lend greater complexity to your photography, whether it’s choosing more appropriate settings or helping you choose fitting mood lighting. 

Coffee is a Trendy and Artistic Showcase

My first example is the fascinating field of coffee. Due to this drink being incredibly popular worldwide, it has a slightly more varied representation. 

Modern beverage photography sometimes portrays coffee as a soothing drink, but other times as lively and playful. Your staging could reflect this by choosing colorful settings for the playful aspect or calm, mundane locations for the soothing aspect.

Tea is a Slice of Serenity 

While coffee and tea are often found side-by-side in cafes, these drinks are still rather different culturally. Tea has a longstanding history as a slice of serenity, associated closely with peace and relaxation. 

Beverage photography today rarely showcases tea without calming or natural environments. A snapshot of tea in someone’s kitchen will likely come with accessories like a vase of flowers or a gently steaming kettle in the background.

Wine is Sophisticated and Cultured, Yet Becoming More Accessible

Did you know wine has been around since 6,000 B.C.? Its reputation as an ancient and sophisticated drink is a hard one to shake, but it’s still an image you can play with. 

The meticulous work that goes into crafting wine is reflected in its elaborate staging. Beverage photography often showcases wine next to iconic imagery such as old barrels and rolling green vineyards. However, your photos don’t have to be quite as lavish – a fine platter of food, decorative tablecloth, or cluster of fake ivy could all add visual dignity to your wine photography.

Beer is an Often Casual and Playful Beverage

On the other side of the alcoholic beverage photography coin is beer. Beer’s history is even older than wine, with the earliest known recordings dating back to 3,400 B.C. in Mesopotamia.

While beer’s roots range from ritualistic to socioeconomic wealth, it’s now a drink closely associated with easygoing social outings. Your beverage photography could dip into old beer history by embracing the brewing process, such as accessorizing with fake hops or sprigs of wheat. You could also lean into modern portrayals of lively parties with lime slices and sunset backdrops.

Cocktails and Mocktails are Highly Experimental and Artistic

When you want to really push your ability to capture all sides of a complex drink, turn to cocktails and mocktails. These fundamentally experimental beverages are just as visually stimulating as they are tasty.

Many cocktails and mocktails come with fascinating visual signatures such as gradations in color or floating particles. Certain types of lighting tend to do better here to showcase the subtle hue and lighting changes, all of which I’ll explore in the next sections.

Saké Has Roots in Both Spirituality and Thriving Nightlife 

The compelling history of saké could keep you busy for years. This Japanese staple has its roots as an offering during religious ceremonies and elaborate festivals.

Replicating the saké drinking experience to the viewer requires a deeper understanding of proper saké presentation. For example, choosing the appropriate settings for a traditional masu or a sakazuki cup (such as a wedding ceremony). On the other hand, a more casual setting could see saké in a simple tumbler or small wine glass. 

Sodas and Seltzers Are Easygoing and Fun

Not all beverage photography comes with a lengthy history lesson. Sodas and selters are beloved modern drinks for their sweet flavors and casual approach – the perfect choice for a beginner beverage photographer.

The main appeal across all the different flavor combinations is the carbonation, so beverage photography tends to focus on the glitter and pop of the drink. 

an overhead shot of a lemon and lime cocktail with a sugar rim on a wooden board surrounded by leaves

Source Image: Pixabay

5. Get Comfortable With Supplementary Materials 

Engaging beverage photography doesn’t just showcase the beverage, but related items and accessories. After all, drinks are frequently paired with meals, snacks, or events. 

Getting comfortable with supplementary materials starts with challenging yourself with every new photo. Ask yourself how additional items can help tell a story to the viewer and get them thinking of trying the drink out themselves.

A few ideas you can get started with include:

Pairing a Beverage With a Meal

The most straightforward answer is usually the correct one, right? A meal is a great supplementary material to showcase how the drink pairs with certain ingredients or cultural cuisine.

Use common sense when pairing drinks, too. Setting up a classy bottle and ceramic saucer of saké next to a few slices of old pizza may seem unique, but it won’t be for…good reasons.

Pairing a Beverage With an Event

Speaking of using appropriate settings! Drinks frequently have associations with certain celebrations or events, so lean into that when setting up beverage photography photoshoots.

A few quick ideas for pairing your beverages with a story in mind include:

  • Blushing sparkling wine for a wedding
  • Light beer for a party
  • Mocktails for a sober curious get together 
  • Tea for a yoga class
  • Coffee for a Zoom meeting

a roll of various blue and brown towels bundled together in a row

Source Image: Pixabay

6. Keep a Cloth on Hand at All Times

Drinks can get messy in more ways than one. Think of the worst case scenario of food photography, then multiply it by ten with a drink spill. 

Keep a cleaning cloth on hand at all times to keep the worst case scenario at bay. Preferably, choose a few and make sure they’re on the thick side. A tiny microfiber cloth could be useful for mopping up a few stray droplets on a glass, but they won’t do much against a giant spill. 

an example of beverage photography showing a rose bottle with multiple glassware on a shiny table

Source Image: Pixabay

7. Cultivate a Varied Set of Glassware

One of the most iconic elements of a beverage is glassware. Each drink comes with its own unique set of glassware designed to bring out certain elements of the beverage, such as aroma or to show off its appearance.

Common types of glassware include wine glasses, tumblers, shot glasses, mugs, saucers, and bottles. Cultivating a varied set of glassware will allow you to:

Sharpen Your Photography Skills With Different Materials

Photography is a delicate balance of capturing a subject while anticipating technical hurdles. Beverage photography is often challenging due to the emphasis on glass and water, both of which are highly reflective.

Getting multiple types of glassware will help you learn what to expect in terms of reflected light or more subtle shifts in color.

Showcase a Variety of Beverages With More Cultural Accuracy

While there’s nothing wrong with thinking outside the box, being aware of each beverage’s classic glassware will make your photos feel more appropriate. 

Wine glasses come in different categories depending on the wine type, such as the tapered burgundy glass or the thin port glass. Tea frequently comes in ceramic mugs, but is frequently associated with coffee mugs, too. 

a beverage photography example of mulled wine sitting on a wooden board next to orange peels and cinnamon sticks

Source Image: Pixabay

8. Use Backlight to Enhance the Liquid

Liquid is a tricky substance to photograph because of its translucency and how easily it reflects light. A backlight puts a little power back in your hands by letting you control the light source and what it emphasizes.

A backlight can take the form of a lamp, a candle, or even a flashlight. With this tool, you’ll be able to:

Highlight Particles Inside the Drink

Sometimes the liquid is just one part of the equation. A backlight is extremely useful for exposing other particles inside the drink that could’ve gone unnoticed, such as mint leaves or lemon chunks. 

Mulled wine, cocktails, mocktails, and loose leaf tea benefit heavily from this approach.

Create a Dramatic and Atmospheric Effect

A soft glow has a way of drawing our eyes and igniting our curiosity. Backlights make it easy to illuminate your drink from within, cultivating a more atmospheric effect.

an example of a cocktail showcasing natural backlighting on a wooden board with a scatter of salt

Source Image: Pixabay

9. Add Foam Boards or Bounce Cards to Control Your Lighting

Another way to control how lights interact with your drink is through foam boards or bounce cards. Without carefully utilized lighting, the visual nuances of your drink could be completely lost.

Foam boards and bounce cards control lighting by letting you:

Direct Lighting Exactly Where You Want It

With foam boards or bounce cards you can shift light to the right, left, bottom, or up. You can control source lighting to highlight the focal point or create reflected lighting for dramatic effect. 

Strengthen Weaker Sources of Lighting

These tools can also strengthen weaker lighting if you’re low on tools. If your light source isn’t strong enough for your liking, the refracted light off the board or card can enhance it.

Remember that the closer you place the card to your drink, the brighter the light. The further away, the softer and more spread out your light.

an example of a straight on shot of an orange cocktail surrounded by ice cubes and a leaf sprig

Source Image: Pixabay

10. Use Overhead and Straight On Shots to Create Stunning Compositions

While many angles can create dynamic beverage photography, overhead and straight on shots are quite reliable. They both achieve what the majority of beverage photos set out to do – showcase the drink and get people thirsty.

an overhead shot of a cappuccino with a white heart on a dark wooden table

Source Image: Pixabay

Overhead Shots are Useful For Showcasing What’s Inside

It’s hard to see exactly what’s inside a drink unless you get some strong backlighting. Some beverages are still too dark for light to penetrate, so an overhead shot helps.

Overhead shots allow you to see the top of the drink, an especially useful angle for latte art or top-heavy cocktails. The image above draws the viewer’s eye to the cappuccino heart, a beautiful sight that no doubt stirs up some cravings.

an example of a straight on shot using a blue cocktail surrounded by mint and ice

Source Image: Pixabay

Straight On Shots Feel Especially Candid

Sometimes the top of the beverage isn’t notable, but the rest of it stands out. The straight on shot allows the viewer to get a candid snapshot of the drink, almost as if it were in front of them.

Compositions in photography are a subtle art, but worth learning if you want your beverage photos to linger in the viewer.

an example of focal length in beverage photography using champagne bottles in an ice bucket

Source Image: Pixabay

11. Experiment With Different Focal Lengths 

Your mind is no doubt swimming with ideas for beverage photography settings now. I’ll wrap up this list with a little technical reminder to experiment with different focal lengths. 

Focal lengths will add more depth and style to your photo. Experimenting will allow you to learn how to:

Utilize Depth of Field to Create an Eyecatching Result

Depth of field makes your beverage photography go from stale to popping out at the viewer. The above photo sharpens the champagne bottles while softening the backdrop, instantly drawing your eye to the focal point.

Distortion Can Be a Fun Way to Add Flavor to Your Photos

Distortion is another useful side-effect when experimenting with focal lengths. Wide angle lens can make a drink appear stretched out or incredibly close to the viewer, adding a little flavor to your work.

This stylistic enhancement can still have a practical purpose, such as emphasizing minute details inside a drink.

a black ceramic mug of green tea on a gray table surrounded by leaves

Source Image: Pixabay

Conclusion: Beverage Photography Is a Complex Niche, But Nothing You Can’t Tackle

Dazzling beverage photography may be composed of many working parts, but all of them support the same function – getting the viewer feeling a little thirsty.

Beverage photography is a complex subniche that focuses primarily on beverages, but can overlap with food or other products. Each beverage comes with its own compelling culture and history, all of which are reflected in glassware, staging, and supplementary materials. 

This field is especially challenging due to glass and liquid being one of the more difficult subjects to photograph. However, remembering your photography fundamentals such as the power of lighting and telling an interesting story will help in generating a strong portfolio.

Whenever you feel doubtful about your ability to craft strong beverage photography, tap into the feeling you get next time you’re craving a soda. You’re already on the right track.

Curious to learn more about the challenges of unique niches? Check out the posts below: