Beertography | How-To
Beertography is a broad term used to describe pictures of beer, beer bottles, beer cans, and beer glasses. It can be a fun way to share with your friends what you are drinking or what you have bought on social media. The amount of people taking pictures of beer and posting to media has grown tremendously in the past couple of years.
I’m going to share a few tips and tricks for you to take better pictures of beer using whatever tool you have on hand. You don’t have to be a pro-photographer to get appealing pictures of beer. I’ll cover how to use your cell phone, a regular point and shoot camera, all the way to a DSLR using external flashes.
My first approach to taking a photo is “What is it about this subject that makes me want to take a picture?” With beer I am particularly drawn to special or rare beers that will gather attention on social media outlets; I’m excited about the beer and I want to share that with others who will enjoy it.
I want to share the experience with others so I try and match the photo to that experience. Sometimes I’ll add props such as chocolate or coffee. I’ll cover setting scenes in another section but once I have figured out what makes this beer special I move to framing the beer. I have to pay special attention to light sources because of how reflections will appear on the glass surfaces.
Using a cell phone is my most common approach since cell phones have fairly good image quality and I always have it with me. I prefer to take image on a 1:1 aspect which means I hold the camera right square in front and level with the beer. I break the rule all the time of course but it’s my first approach.
Next I try to make sure the color of the beer comes through on the picture. This means I need to make sure that if the beer is lighter in color (not stouts, porters, black ipas, et al.) that light is getting into the liquid (if it’s in a glass). This is not an issue for bottles and cans. To make sure the color of the beer comes through I position the glass in front of a light source or use some sort of reflector. In the picture to the left I just used a piece of printer paper that the sun was shining on as a reflector.
reflector behind beer
The reflector doesn’t need to be in the picture like it is here. The goal is just to bounce light into the back of the glass and make the liquid glow.
Other times you don’t need a reflector. The image just below this text was on a very cloudy day outside at OMB. The table acted as a slight reflector of light for this Southside Weiss. I prefer to capture the image like this because it’s easier.
Another situation I find myself in quite often, as do most people, is in a bar at night where its dark without much help for taking a decent photo. We’ve all seen these images. They turn out grainy, dark and unappealing. Or someone uses the flash on their phone and you end up losing half the label or logo due to the reflection.
If you really want to get a decent photo all you have to do is borrow your friends cell phone (one that has a ‘flashlight feature’) and a napkin. Yes, this will look odd but hey, Internet points! Take the cell phone with its flash turned on and place it behind an open napkin and hold it 45 degrees in front of the glass/bottle/can.
off camera flash into a napkin
In the first image I used no flash. The second image I used my phone’s flash. The third image uses the napkin/2nd cell phone flash technique. You get way more definition, color and texture. You can even see light coming through the bottle in this instance.
There are many great camera apps available for both iPhone and Android. I typically use either the built in app, the Instant grams, or VSCO Cam. These apps can help take your image to the next level simply by adjusting some of the settings such as brightening shadows, sharpening and contrast.
Beertography with a Point & Shoot Camera
While my cell phone does a great job of getting a picture without too much effort, sometimes I want a little bit more quality in my image. I always keep a point and shoot camera with me. I recently purchased a Canon G15 that does almost as much as my DSLR but is just as convenient and easy to use as my cell phone.
Most P&S cameras have adjustable controls on them; just look for the P/Av/Tv/M options. Most often I’ll leave my camera on P mode or Av mode. If you are unfamiliar with these setting on your P&S camera or your DSLR I highly recommend going to THIS LINK. That website covers Basic Manual Settings concepts that apply to any camera. When I am doing most beertography I will leave the Aperture Value between 1.4 or 5.6. Again, if those numbers are foreign click on the link above. Everything that applied to the cell phone beertography applies here as well but now we have a little more camera control.
When appropriate, feel free to use a tripod in low light. Those little table top tripods are great for this. Blurry pictures are no fun and if it’s dark and you’ve had a few drinks then it’s going to be difficult to get a steady picture. If I’m in a bar or it’s getting dark I always turn my Av as low as it will go and my ISO as high as it will go without being too grainy. The ISO is how sensitive your sensor on the camera is. The higher the ISO the more sensitive it is to light meaning that it does better in the dark but it decreases the quality of the image over all. That is still better than it being blurry.
If you’ve made it this far I’ll just assume you want all the technical details and set up shots. No worries, I’ve got you. For this section I’ll list some of my favorite shots and explain how I took them.
I’ll start with one of my favorites; the front cover shot for Charlotte Beer: A History.
To create interest and variety I used a bunch of random beer colors. I placed the glasses on top of black plexiglass and lined everything up with a square. I did my best to make the glasses level.
For the technical details:
42mm with an EF24-70L
1 strobe above, with flags to keep the light off the front of the glasses.
1 strobe behind the glasses through a cutout in the background for back lighting.
1 light into a large reflector to the camera front left.
Some set ups are much simpler than others. Here is a shot of Highland’s Cold Mountain. A winter/Christmas time beer. I set up a wreath and some evergreen branches to give a sense of the experience.
50mm on a 50mm 1.4
1 strobe into a softbox to the front right (lower power than back left.)
1 strobe into an octobox to the rear left.
One of my favorite shots I’ve done this year is during this years big snow storm. I’m a huge fan of Greenman Brewery and I love their Forester beer. As the sun was starting to set I grabbed my equipment and headed off into my woods. I couldn’t have hoped for a better shot.
It was starting to get pretty dark so I had to drag the shutter quite a bit to get the background, 13 seconds to be exact. I held a flash into a 60” umbrella above the glass to get the right light. The snow acted as a great light reflector to lighten the label.
135 on a 135mm L
1 strobe into 60” Umbrella held above the beer.
To me, some are great accomplishments. One was for the Beer Lovers’ The Carolinas book. Event Horizon from Olde Hickory is an awesome beer and needed something to go with is. Sadly my dad’s idea of creating a black hole wasn’t going to work but his idea inspired this shot.
To create it I took black backdrop paper and punched holes of varying sizes in it. I placed a strobe behind it to create an effect like you were staring out into space.
135 on a 135mm L
1 strobe into octobox camera front right
1 strobe into grid shining onto large white sheet camera left
1 strobe behind the bottle for back light
1 strobe behind back drop into punched holes
This image was used to represent chili beers in a homebrewing book that comes out this month. I love this image. It’s actually framed and hanging in my kitchen.
For the set up I used some of my peppers from the garden and a flammable liquid. I took about 20 different shots with the flames burning at different heights. The lighting was tricky, I was outside at night because I didn’t want to burn down my workshop.
135 on a 135mm L
1 strobe into 60” Umbrella back right
1 strobe into octobox and diffused through large diffusion panel camera left
1 strobe into small softbox camera right
This shot is also for the experimental homebrewing book that I shot for. I wanted to create some action and liven up this shot a bit so I dropped some pils malt as I took the shot. This was a SMASH beer recipe.
32 on 24-70 L
1 strobe into octobox diffused into large panel background
1 strobe into small softbox camera left front