St. Louis Beverage Photographer: Moscow Mule

It has been a while since I’ve done a how to post, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about a really fun photograph that I shot for the June issue of Feast magazine here in St. Louis. Each month I shoot a cocktail column for Feast called The Mix which is usually a studio shot. I am responsible for both the propping and styling of each of these cocktail shots – some are easy, some are harder.

This month’s cocktail is the Moscow Mule, which is a fairly simple cocktail consisting of vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. The drink is traditionally served in a copper mug, and much to my surprise I found it difficult to locate the appropriate mug. In the end, I was able to borrow an antique mug from the writer for the column – an original Moscow Mule mug produced by the makers of Cock & Bull ginger beer – who also created the cocktail in the first place.

Moscow Mule

The mug is just beautiful … antique, corroded … just gorgeous. Since I really wanted the mug to be the star of the show for this shot, I felt that it should be a natural light shot. However, I also wanted it to be a little darker and more dramatic … think dark bar versus bright white cafe.

I could have used the beautiful north facing windows in my studio and taken advantage of the natural light there. However, I have been working with an increasing number of commercial clients, and while natural light always beautiful, it can change at a moment’s notice. I often want more control over a longer period of time. I’ve been working on a natural light look using strobes, and so I took this opportunity to practice a bit more with the technique.

Achieving a natural light look essentially comes down to using a large, soft light source. If you were using natural light you’d use a big window for a shot like this. If you’re using strobes, the next best thing is to fake a big window. My favorite modifier of choice these days has been my growing collection of home made diffusers.

My diffusers are made out of simple wood canvas stretchers that I picked up at my local art supply store for a frame with Rosco Diffuser material stretched over the frame instead of canvas. These frames are perfect for mounting on c-stand arms because instead of being flat, they have a slight curved bevel which sits very comfortably on the curved surface of the c-stand arm. One additional innovation I made for my diffusion panels was to add a second layer of diffusion material mooted with velcro that can be easily put on or taken off depending on the amount of diffusion I need.

In the end, the lighting setup for this shot was quite simple. One strobe (in this case a Profoto D1 Air 500) on camera left, shot through a 36”x36” home made diffusion panel. I added a small tin-foil covered piece of cardboard (another home made light modifier) on the right side of the mug to bounce a little fill light back into the frame.

I could have let the shot go right there, but I felt that the light in the shot was too bright, particularly at the top of the frame. I wanted more of a moody look, but didn’t want to lose the nice soft light that was illuminating the mug. To achieve the darker look that I was going for, I added a second diffusion panel, this time 12”x12” in front of the larger diffusion panel. This cut down the light streaming across the top of the frame, and gave me the look I was going for. A solid panel would have blocked off the light completely, and would have given me a hard edge shadow, which would have been too severe. The diffusion panel, placed at a slight angle, gave the top half of the frame a darker exposure while still allowing that soft “window light” to illuminate the limes at the top of the frame.

Here is a lighting diagram of the whole setup!


Recipe: Moscow Mule Cocktail


  • 2 oz vodka
  • ¾ oz lime juice
  • 4 oz ginger beer


  1. Combine all ingredients over ice in a copper mug or highball glass. Stir briefly before serving.
  2. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Number of servings (yield): 1

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