Beverage Photography Tips: Invest in Cubes

For anyone who has worked with beverage photography, they will all tell you that ice cubes are a real pain to shoot. First of all, unless you have a professional grade Kold-Draft ice maker (which will set you back quite a few bucks) you’re most likely stuck with those ugly half moon “cubes” from your fridge – clearly these will not work for beverage photography. Ugly ugly ugly. A cheaper alternative to a professional ice machine is to make pretty cubes that are actually cubes by using square ice cube trays – from which I’ve gotten decent results. However, it is fairly difficult to get beautiful, clear cubes even if you have a method of crafting the correct shape for your particular shot.

Even if you can make yourself that perfect cube out of actual frozen water, there is one distinct problem: real cubes melt. This may work to your advantage for some shots (particularly editorial shots) but for commercial shoots you just want a clean, beautiful cube that won’t be going anywhere while you perfect your shot. This means using acrylic or glass cubes. Sadly, professional level artificial cubes do not always come cheap. There are cheap alternatives, but you have to be very careful: most inexpensive acrylic cubes are meant to be display or background cubes, not the hero of your shot. Note: display cubes can be used for background shots where the beverage in question is out of focus, your mileage may vary.

Whiskey | Beverage Photography by St. Louis Photographer Jonathan Gayman

For the whiskey photograph above, I used a single irregular shaped acrylic ice cube from the small collection of cubes I purchased from Trengove Studios in New York for the bargain price of $40 each. These cubes are made by hand and are simply lovely. Beautiful shape, beautiful clarity, and they make a simple whiskey shot like this one really shine. I wish I had fifty of these bad boys.

The bottom line is that if you want to get that perfect look for your beverage photography, be prepared to drop a little coin on your props. Invest in the cubes!

Side note: The glass in this shot was a gift to me from Dr. Fiance several years ago, and is a replica (replicant?) of the glass that Harrison Ford uses in Bladerunner. Badass.

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  1. Hi Jonathan,

    Really useful information here! Thanks for sharing. I wonder if it would also help bring that luminous or clear look with the ice cubes by freezing them a shorter period of time before they turn completely solid? I’ve found that ice cubes look a little more clear when they’re not frozen as longer and the liquid water in the middle has just almost frozen.

    Additionally, what are your thoughts on using ice chips or other materials on the market to help bring a frosted/cold appearance to beverages/glasses? Do you like that look and do you find those products useful?


  2. Hi Rob,

    I’ve read that if you use hot water in ice trays instead of room temperature water helps make clearer cubes, but I’ve never tried it myself, so that’s something you could try. As far as adding a frosted look I’ve found that freezing your glassware ahead of time helps, but again, the effect is time sensitive. You can purchase ice powder (also available from Trengove Studios) which when added to water droplets give you a more longer-lasting ice crystal look, and you can use dulling spray to give the frosted look as well. Generally you apply the dulling spray to the glassware, then enhance that look with ice powder crystals or a water droplets made with glycerine or corn syrup, depending on the look you’re going for.

  3. Dear Jonathan:

    Thanks very much for mentioning my company in your blog about ice cubes.
    However, because the name is spelled wrong, it won’t click through.
    Please see my name below for the correct spelling.

    Best wishes,

    Thomas Trengove

  4. Hi Thomas – thanks for pointing that out! I’ve fixed the spelling and updated the link. Should be working correctly now. Thanks, I love your ice!

  5. Hi Jonathan – just wanted to know about the size of the cube used in this shot, in inches if you know also is that just a regular cube or an Amorphic cube?

  6. Hi Jonathon,

    I’m in the UK and I’d seen the Trengove ice, which does indeed look great. In the end, the shipping charges were too much for me, so I ended up purchasing a block of high-end acrylic and producing my own. My question, though, is this… How did you get the cube in the glass to sit up on its corner like that?


    Graham Walker

  7. Hi Graham, as I recall the cube is just leaning on the side of the glass there – no tricks, just a balancing act. No idea where to locate good cubes in the UK unfortunately. Good luck!

  8. Great post! Been wanting to get some fake ice. The Trengove ice seems quality but pricey. So many choices. Which size cubes would you recommend to get as a starter set?

  9. The size you choose will generally depend on the size of your glassware, but I think I started with a large cube, a medium, and a shard. That way you can fill in shapes in the glass. If they are all the same size your options are limited for placement. Good luck!

  10. Hello, I had a jewelers cabinet full of Tom’s cubes back in the day. They always photographed so nicely. When I was making a photograph and wished I’d had a specific shape, I’d fax him a sketch and size and he would faithfully reproduce that cube!

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