01 Jul How to Photograph Beer: 15 easy tips to improve your shots
How to Photograph Beer: 15 Easy Tips to Improve Your Shots
A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Hopefully these tips on how to photograph beer will help you say the right thing.
We’ve had a handful of writers come and go on the blog, and it’s become really clear that liking craft beer and having an interest in sharing it just isn’t enough to put together a great write up. Good pictures are almost as important as the written content itself, and even doubly so on social media.
You see a beer before you smell it, before you taste it. With the intense sensory experience that a cold glass of craft beer provides, it’s important for it to look as good as it smells, tastes and feels. Capturing the moment is key.
For all you beer geeks on IG and Untappd trying to score a brand rep gig flaunting your poorly-lit, mugshots of bottles, these tips might help give you a leg up on the competition.
You don’t need much more than a modern smart phone, some patience, and a willingness to fail forward a few times.
How to Photograph Beer, Start with the photography basics:
- Know your goal
Why are you trying to learn how to photograph beer to begin with? Maybe it’s to document your beers creatively or maybe you’re hoping to impress some industry folks to break into a gig somehow. Remember why you’re doing it, and let that direct your shot.
- Know your subject
Shooting a pitch black porter at night, without any decent light source might not be the best idea. Unless that works really well with the subject somehow. A brightly-colored, fruity beer in the mid-day sun might be smarter. Know the beer you’re shooting, and plan the shot accordingly. Experiment.
- Play with angles and leading lines whenever possible
Maybe it’s the horizon, a fence, or the lines on your backyard deck – are there any natural lines around you that you could use to “point” some focus onto your subject? In the taproom at the latest release probably isn’t the best place to be laying on the ground to get a shot that makes the beer look larger than life, but try different angles. Get low. Get high. (This sounds like a Ying Yang Twins song all the sudden.) Experiment.
- Depth of field
DOF is one of the most fundamental ways to get the composition of your shots improving. Putting a foreground element out of focus can draw attention to background details that wouldn’t be noticed otherwise. If you’re lining up a shot with some objects very close to you and others that are very far away, try focusing alternately on the foreground and background and see which one gives you a more unique look. This is often as simple as, “Get closer. Ok, a little closer.” or vice versa to move the elements closer to the foreground or further away into the background. If you’re in a bar, shoot it with a short depth of field, meaning only the bottle should be in focus; the background should go blurry. If you’re outside, maybe the depth of field is deeper, showing the surrounding scenery. Experiment.
- Practice the rule of thirds
The rule of thirds, much like DOF, is one of those things that’s pretty easy to do and the results help a lot. Picture a grid of three columns and three rows. Turn on the grid on your camera phone, and then position the important elements in your scene along those lines, or at the intersections where they meet.
You should try and put your subject in line with one of the vertical lines. If there’s a horizon in the shot, it should be in line with one of the two horizontal lines. The rule of thirds breaks the norm of centering everything, and yields a shot that looks a bit more artful. Experiment. Are you beginning to see a pattern yet?
How to Photograph Beer, Get practical:
- Clean the lens
A dirty lens is one of the easiest ways to make your pictures look like garbage. Wipe your lens off on your shirt or some sort of soft fabric before you snap the shots to avoid the lint/oil blur.
- Set the focus
This works well to help achieve DOF. Tap on the screen where you want to focus before you actually snap the picture. That might be the glass full of beer, so that the background and can/bottle are out of focus. It might be the label art, so the actual beer itself is out of focus, but the label gets the spotlight. Or maybe you’re at a cool venue, and the picture is about more than just the beer; maybe the background is in focus – a band or a beautiful scenery – and the beer is out of focus in the foreground. Experiment.
- Set the exposure, lighting
Taking pictures was once described to me as painting with light. The lens is your canvas, and you move the light around to where you want it by moving yourself or the subject. Always aim for natural light, always. If you’re shooting outdoors, put your self between the sun and your subject, so that your subject is sure to be well lit. If it’s a little too dark outside, tap on the subject, and once the yellow square and sun appear, swipe up/down to increase/decrease the exposure. Spend less time trying to stage the perfect shot and more time working with the light around you. Experiment.
- Stage a shot – avoid clutter, or embrace it fully
Some of the best photos are nearly empty. This forces the subject to get the spotlight. If you’ve got a busy background of multicolored subway tile in your kitchen, that may compete with the beer itself. Find a way to cut the clutter. Conversely, maybe there’s no way to avoid it, or maybe it adds value to the shot. If you’re grilling with friends and family, maybe get the grill, fire, or a happy person somewhere into the background. If you’re buying a 6pack of a grapefruit IPA, maybe grab a grapefruit in the produce section to cut open and use as a prop in your shot or grab a sheet of hot pink paper to try as a background. Experiment.
- A good pour in beer-clean, proper-glassware
For the love of God, if you see a ton of bubbles inside the glass, don’t use the shot. That’s an indicator of a dirty glass, and even though everybody doesn’t know that, it still looks off-putting for those that aren’t in the know. Pour the beer aggressively (aggro-pour), so you can let the head rise up a little. If it’s a Pilz, try the shot in a Pilz glass, or if it’s an IPA, in an IPA glass. These little details may go unnoticed by the uninitiated, but they make a difference. Experiment.
How to Photograph Beer, Don’t do this:
- Don’t Zoom
Just get closer if you want to zoom, or move the subject closer to you. Zooming creates fuzzy pictures because it’s not really “zooming.” Instead it’s just stretching the picture and cropping out the details that are out of the frame.
- Don’t use filters or over-process photos
To begin with, you’re not doing the beer justice if you’re changing how it looks. Second of all, it’s really easy to get carried away with this stuff. Avoid filters, and if you’re going to make any adjustments to brightness, contrast, sharpness, etc., take it easy.
- Don’t use the flash
Flash causes harsh lighting and often destroys compositions. All that hard work with DOF, focus, and staging a shot becomes moot once everything in the background turns black. This is one of the most common offenses in beer pics.
- Don’t worry if your pic sucks
The beauty of your iPhone is pictures are free. Take 20. Take 40. Experiment. Try a different angle, different composition, or stage the beer differently. Once you get comfortable trying new things for each shot, you won’t be frustrated with a bad shot. Taking pics will get easier with time, and the results will get better when you experiment.
- Don’t Fix it if it ain’t broke
Once you find something that works well for you, keep doing it. This could be a time of day, a specific spot, or even a certain use of minimalism or props. Having a little bit of consistency will help your viewers recognize you in a sea of digital clutter.
Bonus: use the weather to your benefit. Sometimes when I can remember to, I’ll let the bottle or can sit outside in the heat for 2-3 minutes before I pour it and snap the shot. This’ll give it the super cold-looking condensation that makes people salivate at a picture of beer. Or if it snows, I’m going to be drinking a stout and taking a pic of the bottle in the white fluff.
All four of beer’s main ingredients – water, grains, hops and yeast – come from nature. You’ll find your best shots are naturally lit, outside, right where the beer started.
At the end of the day, you may find yourself in the moment, trying to find light in a dark bar or shooting in your back yard once the sun’s gone. It’s ok. Use as many of the tips as you can, and rest-assured that you captured the moment.
Finally, don’t be afraid to snap a shot just for the sake of it. You have to get comfortable experimenting.
This may seem like a lot to take in all at once, but that’s why it’s important to experiment. Over time these things will become natural to you, and you’ll spend more time drinking the beer than crawling around on the floor trying to take a cool picture of it.
Maybe you’re like us, and it’s not about you or your goals. Snap the shot, and move on. Enjoying the beer is priority number one.
Beers to you, Houston! 🍻