Photographing Drinks in a Creative Way


As the undoubtedly curious photographer you are, is quite possible that you've come to the attempt of taking photos of drinks and food. Chances are high that those first attempts towards this particular genre resulted in frustration and disappointment, right?

Few of you might know this, but before finding my photographic voice in socially oriented imagery, I tried the commercial path as well. I did it all: corporate drinks, food, graduations, head-shots, maternity, products, sports, weddings… You name it, and all of them are now beyond my portfolio's scope of course. Nevertheless, I have to admit something to you. It was the gastronomic branch the one delivering the most fun of them all. However, it was overwhelmingly challenging, to say the least.

Today I want to share a noob anecdote from my behalf regarding this sort of assignment. And along the way, some easy-to-follow aesthetic suggestions – aka tips – for you to consider the next time you are willing to photograph drinks with your cameras and phones.

We All Fail the First Time

Not so long ago, while digging about how photography can be used to help with depression, I stumbled upon a moving sentiment from a user on Reddit. In it, this fellow photographer recognised being unhealthy-scared of failing as a photographer who was being paid — also known as being a pro.

After reading those lines posted a couple of years ago, I felt connected to him somehow. One of my very first paid jobs as a freelance photographer was for a restaurant in my country; and that gig left me with two big lessons. First, is that chefs are more worried about food's flavour than the looks; something we can all understand right? And the second lesson is that photographing drinks in a consistent way is hard!

Cooked dishes weren't much of a problem for me since I had recently quitted a small advertising company for which I worked as THE photographer. There, we worked with food a couple of times so I had basic knowledge on food-styling. The problem was the drinks…

The client was a charismatic Chilean chef who wanted a new menu design for her restaurant. Food came in large quantities and everything smelled incredible. Plating dispositions were a bit traditional and I had a very low manoeuvring rate for arranging the food. Despite that, photographs were going as expected. But then, she told me about her new line of drinks and desserts.

Oh boy, what a mess… El Salvador lies within the tropics so you can expect glass dripping in no time. Ice was melting, the liquid was rising and the beautiful colours quickly began fading away. And don't make me talk about what happened to those beautiful ice-creams on a plate…

What I Learned

I promised myself never to undergo that shame again and prepared myself for any upcoming request from the food industry. For this, I have to thank Linda Bellingham for her fantastic book on food-styling for photographers and Cyrill Harnischmacher for his insightful text on tabletop photography. These two wonderful written assets were my guide during those days in which I had the opportunity to work as a commercial photographer.

Here's a brief list of things we all can take into account when attempting to photograph beautiful cocktails and gorgeous-looking drinks!

  • Avoid getting carried away by artificial lighting, natural light delivers a soft look which is perfect for dark and moody images of drinks.
  • Detach your camera from your tripod and try different angles for showcasing your drink.
  • Mind the background, and use it as part of the story you're trying to tell. Bright surroundings work fantastic for party-related images and dimmed scenarios fit perfectly for elegant results.
  • When working for a client, request more than one drink so you can play with angles before taking the actual shots.
  • Any further enhancement via raw development and digital manipulation has to be consistent with the message you are trying to convey, so don't forget about that!

Pro Jargon: Did you know that photographers call the most perfect version of a food, dish, drink or dessert “the hero”?

Some Inspiration

Enough reading, let's see some images that will trigger your imagination this day!

Photo by Olena Sergienko
Photo by Ash Edmonds
The Nix Company
indoor cocktail photography
Photo by
Photo by Victoria Shes
Photo by Kobby Mendez
elegant minimal cocktail photography
Photo by Ambitious Creative Co.
Photo by Stanislav Ivanitskiy
refreshing green cocktail
Photo by Sam Hojati
cocktail celebration
Photo by Helena Yankovska

Don't know how to shoot your favorite drinks? “The Creativity Catalogue” by Photzy is intended to give you that kick-start towards stimulating your own ideas and projects.

minimal cocktail photography
Photo by Edward Howell
Photo by M.S. Meeuwesen
flatlay cocktail photography
Photo by Kim Daniels
dynamic cocktail photography
Photo by Helena Yankovska
high speed cocktail photography
Photo by Igor Stepanov
Photo by Ash Edmonds
Photo by Tommy Van Kessel
cocktails indoors with neon lights
Photo by Louis Hansel
minimal milky cocktail
Photo by Trinh Minh Thu

I hope you found my anecdote both entertaining and insightful. Nowadays, I feel happy about all those mistakes which made me more aware of light and planning. If you have a horror story like mine, you can share it in the comments section below or over at our friendly community as well!

Further Resources:

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

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