I constantly get asked for tips on how to shoot drinks as well as how I shoot and edit my photos. For this reason I decided to write up an article with 5 tips I would give to whoever is jumping onto drinks photography based on my experience with shooting for Welcome To My Bar.
Remember, no matter what just get started and take as many photos as you can. The only way to improve on any kind of photography is to shoot and edit as much as possible. I hope you will find the below useful, and that you will enjoy the read. If you have further insights or tips please DM them to me in Instagram or drop me a note via this form.
1. Light it right
When shooting drinks, light can make or break your shots and is what I believe the most important factor to get right. Too many shots are ruined because of bad lighting. Personally I like to shoot most drinks with a diffused soft light illuminating them. This avoids any harsh reflections on the glass and on the ice. An exception to this is when I want to achieve a more dramatic effect with the shot I want to take.
This all sounds great when shooting at home or in studio where you can control the light well but what about when shooting in bars? Shooting in bars can be very tricky due to low light and/or "bad" artificial light. The way I get around this is I try to shoot before the bar opens, typically when there is natural light available. If not possible, because for example I am shooting in a speak easy with no windows, I typically try to find a couple of different spots where I can shoot with the available light and run some tests shots there to make sure the results are good before starting. If all else fails I also carry with me a small but powerful portable light I can bounce off walls or use with diffusers and/or with a portable reflector. Also, shooting with a tripod come come in handy.
2. Shoot RAW and with a DSLR
Phones nowadays can shoot beautiful photos. However unless you are shooting under perfect lighting conditions, many times phones simply can't beat the quality you can achieve with a DSLR mounted on a tripod. DSLRs typically can also capture more data than phones so when post processing shots you will be able to achieve better results. When shooting with a DSLR make sure to shoot files in RAW format, this will allow you to push a lot more the boundaries when editing your shots versus JPG.
So which DSLR should you buy? It all depends on your budget and personal preference. I recommend you to check out reviews on dpreview.com and on youtube as well as to try out different cameras for yourself as they can have a very different feel from one another. You can also consider renting a camera out before buying it which is what I did with my current camera.
I personally shot with Canon for years. My first DSLR was a Canon 500D. I then upgraded to a 70D. Last year I had the opportunity to try Sony's new mirrorless system and fell in love with it. I am currently shooting with a Sony A7RIII. The reason why I decided to upgrade to a full frame camera is that these perform better than cropped sensor ones in low light and given that I shoot a lot in bars, the choice to pick a full frame camera vs. a cropped sensor one was easy for me. I mainly shoot with my 24-70mm F2.8 G Master, 55mm F1.8 Zeiss and 90mm F2.8 Macro G lenses.
3. Learn how to edit
Unfortunately most unedited shots end up looking bland. Also, poorly edited shots look terrible. The only way out is to learn how to edit. I personally improved my editing by watching a huge amount of tutorials online and by editing a vast amount of photos.
I now edit with both Lightroom and Photoshop and typically jump from one to another during my edits. I mainly use Photoshop to clean my shots with healing/cloning tools and for more advanced editing if the shot requires it. I use Lightroom for the rest. For most people Lightroom probably will be more than enough and it has been that way for me too before the beginning of this year, when I decided it was time for me to learn more advanced editing techniques with Photoshop.
4. Make sure the shot is interesting and that you have options
This tip is a bit of a broad and obvious one, but often overlooked. I always think that whatever I shoot has to be interesting. If I have to shoot a simple drink with no garnish, I usually try to position it in an interesting setting. If I think the background is too dull, I take the drink elsewhere. If I have to shoot 2 similar drinks during the same photoshoot I try to mix things around with how the drinks are presented and the angles at which I shoot them.
I personally always shoot each drink multiple times from different angles and on different backgrounds if possible. For example I ask the bartender to hold it in his hand, then I shoot the drink positioned on the bar at 45° where the bartender positions it, then I take it with me and position it on a couple of different tables and shoot it there. This is so I have more choice when selecting the shots to edit and publish.
5. Always shoot drinks with clear ice
Unfortunately cloudy ice looks awful in drinks. The reason why I say unfortunately is because making clear ice requires extra effort and it is not always available in bars. However always make sure to shoot only drinks with clear ice in them or the results will suffer.