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

Prev A Haunting Reminder to Backup Your Files
Next Healthy Hawaiian Pizza
Healthy Hawaiian Pizza

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The images on this site are protected by copyright laws and may not be used without a usage license. Please contact Jonathan Gayman Photography for license inquires. Thank you!