Behind the Bar Bar Talk

Here’s How to Take the Best Bar and Cocktail Photos

Despite the helpful filtering and editing options made possible by smartphones and Instagram, the majority of photo-taking bartenders (and guests) aren’t exactly Annie Leibovitzes in training. Between the dim lighting, awkward angles and valiant attempts not to disrupt guests, it can be difficult to get quality shots in decidedly tight confines.

Photographer Liz Barclay, whose food and drink photography has appeared in The New York Times, Lucky Peach and The Wall Street Journal, among others, wants to help demystify the art of the perfect shot. “The first option for most bartenders is to shoot the drink right where it’s served or prepared,” she says. “However, give yourself some options. Don’t be fearful to move around the bar!”

Below, Barclay outlines how even the most photo-clumsy bartender or drinker can go from blurry Polaroids and overexposed drink snaps to being fully focused on creating beautiful images.

1. Light

“When shooting cocktails, source of light is important. Aim for natural afternoon light or dusk, not direct sunlight. Being near a window is usually your best option. And in environments without natural light, position the cocktail in front of a candle to backlight the drink.”

A solid second option is the using the smartphone light. “We all initially back away from this, but truth be told, it can be very dramatic and theatrical if used wisely. You’ll need to have a second phone, so if you have a friend [or coworker] with you, have them hold the light at a 3/4 angle overhead.”

2. Placement

“Take multiple pictures and frames; shift around your positioning of the drink. Surfaces, textiles, wallpapers, edges and architectural elements are often forgotten, but sometimes the drink can juxtapose nicely with its physical placement.”

3. Distance

“Most people fill the entire frame with the drink, but sometimes the beauty of a cocktail can be conveyed by its setting. The mood, the environment and including more detail in the frame can allow the viewer to experience ambiance. And having a drink is also sometimes about the setting of a bar—the sexy surrounding and the celebration time devoted to having a nice creation. Don’t be afraid to give a couple of feet between your drink and your camera. The focal points are usually crisper, and the eye can travel around the drink.”