Tips for Photographing Beer
People often ask me why I’m a Redskins fan, and although I often ask myself that same question, the answer is really quite simple. When I met Dr. Fiance nearly eight years ago, she told me that she was a big football fan. I never really minded the sport, but I never really paid it much attention either. She immediately went to work on her campaign to get me to like football. I was a little meh about the whole thing, but then she divulged a key piece of information that for some reason I hadn’t put together before: watching football means that you get to sit in a bar on a Sunday afternoon and drink beer and eat hotwings to your heart’s content … all in the pursuit of rooting for your favorite football team. Beer! Hotwings! Huzzah!
Genius approach. She had me at hotwings and beer. And then she made me a Redskins fan. Doh!
Anyways, in the fall our Sundays are spent drinking beer and watching football. These days there seems to be a lot of work to be done during the Sunday games, but I have dutifully kept the tradition alive even if it means having a beer in one hand and my laptop in the other.
And I do love me some beer, for sure. Which is why I was thrilled when Feast magazine approached me about shooting a feature on St. Louis breweries and the Business of Beer. Beer, beer and more beer. We have a lot of it here in St. Louis. For a while it was mainly known for the dreaded AB products that this nation drinks by the gallon, but these days there is a lot more than Bud Light available in town. We have some fantastic breweries, which makes shopping for and drinking beer in St. Louis a joy (or a lesson in frustration if you’re the type of person who has a hard time making decisions).
As part of the beer project, I shot a series of detail shots of beer for the inside spread, and ultimately one of those images was chosen for the cover as well. Throughout the process of shooting the project I discovered a number of helpful tips for shooting beer:
1. Warm Beer Is Your Friend
If you want your beer to be bubbly and frothy and gorgeous, then you want to go with warm beer. Not the best thing to drink, but a must for photography. Cold beer will not give you a whole lot of bubbles and in addition will cause your glass to fog up with condensation. If you’re going for a super-cold and refreshing look this may be ok, but if you want to see the beer clearly through the glass, keep it warm.
Beverage Styling Tip: If you DO want to have the beer look super cold, try making fake condensation: take some light corn syrup mixed with some water and spritz it onto your beer glass or bottle. The ratio of corn syrup to water will depend on how large or small the droplets you want and requires a little experimentation. I use a toothbrush to spritz on the mixture and then a syringe or chopstick to drip individual droplets at strategic places. Once it dries you’ll have perfect condensation which won’t evaporate or move, which is handy when you’re trying to get that perfect shot. Even better, the “condensation” will wash off with warm water when you’re done.
2. Tall Glasses = Lotsa Bubbles
After some experimentation, I realized that a tall skinny glass with a small top will give you the best half-life on your bubbles. I’m sure there are all kinds of scientific reasons for this like surface tension and such, but for a zero-science guy like me I figured it out just by trial and error. Obviously if you’re shooting a particular kind of beer you need to take into account the correct type of glass. But for a straight up beer with bubbles shot, tall and skinny is the way to go. For the shoot for Feast I used a standard British pint glass for some of the shots, and then for others I picked up a clear plastic food storage container from the Container Store that was perfect for beer-bubble-detail shots I was shooting.
3. A Little Lint Goes a Long Way
When preparing for a photo shoot using glassware, removing every single piece of dust and lint is a must. After all, you don’t want any distracting dirt taking away from your photograph. However, when shooting a carbonated beverage like beer, sometimes a little lint is a good thing. After you meticulously clean your glassware, wipe down the inside with a non-lint-free rag or a paper towel. The tiny bits of lint that are left behind are generally invisible to your camera, but they grab onto the bubbles in the beer and make them stick to the inside of the glass. You don’t want to go overboard, but a few pieces of lint can make the difference when you’re trying to show bubbles.
4. Pinch of Salt
Turns out that if you drop a few pinches of salt into beer it will bubble like crazy. I found that this was a great way to reinvigorate my beer once the bubbles started to slow down and the head started to collapse. I tried a variety of different types of salt – rock salt, sea salt, kosher salt – but found that the ordinary fine grain table salt worked the best. When you sprinkle the salt into your beer make sure to do it evenly and across the whole glass or you’ll get uniform little streams of bubbles which don’t look natural.
5. Plan Ahead, Have Extra Beer
Obviously this quick little list of tips is not a complete “how to” for photographing beer – there are all kinds of different styles of beer and beer photography and these tips worked very well for the specific art direction for the magazine assignment. Every beer company has a different idea for what their beer should look like – color, size and shape of the head, the glassware it should be served in etc. So make sure that you have an idea of what your final shot is going to look like before you begin and plan from there. And make sure that you have plenty of beer to work with. Carbonated beverages are a living thing, and it always pays to have more than you’ll need, just in case it takes longer than you think to get the shot.
And after all, it’s not like that extra beer is going to go to waste. In fact, the best thing about shooting beer is that there is usually a lot of left over beer for a taste test. Just make sure you drink it cold … without added salt and lint.