In our continuing series on food photography, Tessa Huff of Style Sweet CA teaches us how to photography cold drinks. It can be tricky but with these photography tips, you'll be set to get started.
Upated on Feb 20, 2020
Ever wonder how to capture a frosty beverage or perfectly chilled cocktail with your camera?
It’s raining buckets today in Vancouver, but sunshine and summer BBQs are just around the corner. I have a feeling a lot of you food bloggers will be creating and sharing some yummy sips and shakes over the next couple months, so today let’s explore how to photograph cold beverages!
Like photographing most foods where temperature is a factor, the key is in the preparation.
From frozen treats to a hot cup of coffee, there’s a bit of prep work required to capture that perfect drip of ice cream or swirl of steam coming from a bowl of soup. Unlike things like a slice of banana bread or stack of cookies that can sit out at room temperature while you set up your perfect shot, cold beverages don’t wait.
To make life a bit easier on ourselves, let’s take a look at ways we can set up our shot ahead of time and prepare our chilled components. (you can find some additional styling tips for cold drinks like summer cocktails right here.)
Preparing Your Materials
You may be inclined to just reach in and grab a handful of ice from your freezer, but why not consider the shape and style of the ice cubes first? I know my own freezer produces its own very generic “cubes,” so for photos I always pull out an actual ice cube tray. I have a couple different silicone trays that make the perfect cubes of ice, large and small.
I bet some finely shaved ice would photograph lovely as well. Ice is just one more component in a beautifully photographed drink that can sometimes be overlooked. Be sure to remember to freeze cubes with plenty of time before shooting!
For a frosty effect, the glass needs to be nice and chilled. I usually place my glasses in the freezer for about 15 to 20 minutes before shooting. You can try wetting them first or spritzing with water for different effects, but popping them in dry works as well.
When filled with ice and liquid, a chilled glass will only need a few minutes out at room temperature before condensation begins to form and it’s time to snap away!
When working with glass, always be mindful of fingerprints and how you handle the glassware. Try placing the glasses in the freezer upside down and picking them up from the bottom.
Transport filled glasses by placing your two palms on the bottom and top of the glass instead of around the sides.
When possible, I like to freeze my garnishes as well. This step isn't completely necessary, but I sometimes prefer the look of frosty berries and such. However, I don’t recommend putting fresh herbs in the freezer as they may turn brown and wilt quickly.
For citrus slices, try to practice good knife skills. I personally prefer clean, thin rounds of citrus where the light can shine through, as opposed to thick, chunky ones.
Since the addition of liquids sometimes makes the garnishes float, try anchoring them down in the glass with ice, securing them on a toothpick, or just popping them up on the rim!
Before You Shoot
It’s always good practice to set up your shot before bringing in the “hero,” but with hot and cold food, this is especially important.
In food photography, the “hero” is the best-looking or most appetizing version of your product that you plan to feature (i.e., the most even slice of cake, the prettiest fruit tart, a perfectly assembled burger).
When you only have a limited amount of time to get your shot perfect, you should consider using stand-ins (either leftover or least attractive versions of your hero or even similarly coloured/sized props) before bringing out the star. This way, you can style and compose your shot without feeling the pressure of the clock or your melting ice cubes. A tripod can be extremely helpful here.
Lastly, to prevent spills, try placing the chilled glass in the frame and then filling it up on set!
Styling and Composition
Today I’m showcasing two different drink set-ups: one featuring side-lighting and the other being lit from behind the subject.
My Berry Smash cocktail was shot next to a large window just to the left of the subject. It was an overcast day and the light was perfectly diffused by the clouds.
While the drink itself is bright and vibrant, I used a piece of black foam core placed to the right of my subject to increase the contrast and used a distressed cookie sheet as my backdrop (a great example of a cheap photography backdrop!).
For the first shot, I used all of the available light to keep the photo bright and fresh.
For the second, I enhanced the contrast even more by partially blocking some of the light coming in with another piece of black foam core (placed on the left side of the subject, but slightly behind it) in order to darken up the backdrop even more.
The light was still hitting the subject, but put the background in shadow. In the end, I think this move made the clear liquids and vibrant berries really POP!
Remember my preference for actual cubes of ice, as opposed to the unattractive crescents my ice maker produces? Well they certainly become the stars of the show here. The way the sidelight hits all of their angles and edges make them look like giant diamonds!
For the photos of my Lime Spritzer (along with one more of the Berry Smash, just for fun), I repositioned my camera and set-up so that the light (from the same large window) was coming from behind the subject.
I don’t always prefer back lighting because sometimes it can cause harsh shadows on the front of the subject, but for some items it works out beautifully. In this case, I love how some of the light travels through the glass and clear liquid while also wrapping itself around the round edges of the cup.
In some shots, the light even seems to be coming through the slice of lime (see earlier notes about garnishes).
I wanted to use a plain, glass cup and a clear liquid in this example to really show off the condensation and give the illusion of a refreshing beverage on a hot day. From the time I removed the glass from the freezer, filled it, and shot this image, it had been approximately eight minutes.
Shot at a 45-degree angle, the light in the next photos grazes the surface of the liquid, allowing it to glisten and shine. I love how even the spills in the foreground pick up and reflect little bits of light!
I welcome you all to embrace the challenge of photographing cold beverages, but if all of this seems too fussy for you, there are other options. You can purchase acrylic ice cubes and even mist corn syrup onto the outside of your glass to create faux condensation!
Looking for More?
- Tips for Food Styling Summer Cocktails
- Curating Your Food Photography Props for Beautiful Photos
- Outdoor Food Photography
- Food Photography: Start With the Basics
- 5 Tips to Improve Your Food Photography for Beginners
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Food Photography: Photographing Cold Drinks was written by Tessa Huff. Tessa is a Vancouver-based pastry artist, food stylist and photographer. Before moving to British Columbia, she was a cake decorator for several years and owned her own cake boutique. Tessa currently runs her blog, Style Sweet CA, and is a freelance recipe developer and photographer. Her first cookbook, Layered: Baking, Building and Styling Spectacular Cakes, was just published (Abrams Books, Spring 2016) and she’s also having fun spending time with her husband and their baby boy. Follow Tessa on social media: Facebook , Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.