There’s no way to put this gently: Your beer pictures suck. Yeah, you, with the beer blog, and the Facebook albums loaded with dimly lit, weird-angle bottle shots that all have that same, bright-white flash reflection. For your sake, we coerced our eagle-eyed art director, Kevin Robie, to spill the beans on how to take beer photos like the pros.
Step 1: Choose a backdrop. “When you shoot one bottle, it’s easiest to shoot it on a plain, white background,” says Robie. “But when you’re shooting multiple bottles, do it in an environment; otherwise, it’s hard to control so many reflections.” In an environment—say, on a table, against a wall—the lighting likely won’t be as severe, and reflections may add some aesthetics to the shot. Robie adds, “If you’re in a bar, shoot it with a short depth of field, meaning only the bottle should be in focus; the background should go blurry.”
Step 2: Adjust your camera’s settings. Select an ISO—the number indicating the camera’s sensitivity to light—between 50 and 100. Those are low settings, meaning you’ll need bright light (see step 3), but never use your camera’s flash—just turn it off. If possible, set the F-stop (which determines the size of the lens opening, and thus the brightness of the shot) to low, which will let in a lot of light; if your camera’s less advanced, switch to an indoor setting. Bottle shots also require a slow shutter speed, so you’ll need to use a tripod, or the images will likely blur.
Step 3: Remember, you’re shooting glass, and whatever you aim at the bottle—bright bulbs, or even the camera—will reflect on its face. For the same reason, Robie advises against using photo tents; usually, the opening of the tent will be visible on the bottle. “First, you need to diffuse a bright light into a square shape,” says Robie. “Go to a craft store and get a frame you’d use for stretching a canvas, stretch a piece of vellum over that; it will diffuse the light.” Then, with the beer label facing you, stand over the beer: At the four o’clock position, place the vellum with a bright light behind it (that’ll be just over your right shoulder when you’re shooting). Place a white card upright at seven o’clock, which will bounce light from your right side back onto the label. At 10 o’clock, place a black card, which will yield a single refection on the right and a bit of darkness to the left—much better than the 20 reflections you’re working with now. And be sure those ceiling lights are off, too.
Step 4: Skip the crazy angles and position the camera directly in front of the bottle. “For a straight-on shot of a 12-ounce bottle, I usually line up the camera to the top of the label on the front.”
Want to see more beer photography like the shots in this article? Follow Draft on instagram.