Photographing cocktails with natural light
Many photographers start out working with natural light then progress to using controlled lighting which is more technical. I’m the other way around, I learnt to photograph using flash lighting and still prefer to have control over the light, but it is good to get out of the comfort zone now and again and sometimes setting up lights when working on location just isn’t very practical.
So with the longer hours of daylight around I decided to take advantage of the natural light available in this unusually airy cocktail bar in my local area. It’s a favourite haunt of mine and so was delighted to be photographing some of their thirst quenching and intoxicating cocktails!
I choose a table near the window in a quiet corner of the venue where the windows curved around in an L shape. I set up so that the brightest window was behind my glass and I would get some nice softer fill light coming in from the side window. Most subjects flavour lighting from the front, but with food and drinks you need back-lighting to make an attractive photograph, here the back-light is what is going to illuminate the liquid.
Secondly I try to eliminate other lighting sources such as ceiling lights which are a different colour temperature to daylight and will give a yellow cast to the images if left on. They can also cause unwanted reflections in the glass.
Taking the glass which the cocktail will be presented in I ensure it is sparkling clean with no marks or fingerprints and set it on the table. This is my opportunity to find a composition I like, check how the light is falling on the glass and fill any dark areas by bouncing light back into them with white cards or reflectors and creating definition with black card.
Either my stylist or I will dress the area with any props that are to be used, usually colour coordinated with the drink, or which fit in with the style of it to add some background interest and tell more of a story about it.
It’s usually best to have the cocktail poured directly into the glass on the set. The moment it is ready I have to work quickly to get all the shots I need as with every second that passes the drink will start to settle, froth with disappear, ice will melt and it looks less and less attractive. It is a good idea to have garnishes made and ready to put in place prior to the cocktail being made.
Here are a few of my favourite shots.
I hope you found this little tutorial on how to photograph cocktails insightful.