How to shoot a beverage pour photograph 

 April 3, 2010

By  Pascal Depuhl

I do not usually photograph food – once in a while there was some steak on the grill for a Frontgate shot, or a model would hold an ice cream cone for a Boston Proper catalog image, but food as the main subject of my photography hasn’t crossed my camera often.

One of my recent clients has assigned a pour shot to me for a double page in their catalog, so I’ve been photographing splashes and pours all morning and since I did not find a ‘how-to-photograph-a-beverage-pour‘ post online, I figured I’ll post one.

Here are the requirements of the shot from the client:

  1. The bottle must be on the left page of the photograph, so that the right half becomes a clean background for the copy. The coffee must be the background for the whole spread.
  2. The bottle itself must be visible, since it is an interesting construction made up of two separate glass containers, that are fused together containing the coffee liquor in one half and the cream in the other.
  3. The name of the bottle should be readable, although it will be underneath the spout when the pour is shot from the top.

So I start out with is a discussion of the shot and a sketch:

A quick conceptual sketch that the Art Director drew to show the proportions and placements of bottle, pour and background.

This is a pretty complicated shot. First of all it has to fit the space, it needs to be light nicely and it has to be repeatable, i.E. the bottle has to be in the same place and can’t move.

So first comes the engineering challenge of how to rig a pretty heave bottle, so that it does not fall, but stays in place. The pour also needs to hit the coffee mix, which will make up the whole background – without making too much of a mess. The bottle gets rigged on a short ‘C’ stand, with an extension arm that has a super clamp on it. This holds the bottle in place and can be articulated in 3 dimensions enabling me to move the bottle exactly where I need it.

Snapshot of the set that will be used to capture the pour and splash photography of the Sheridan liquor.

Secondly is the light. I need to light the coffee, the bottle and the pour. A medium softbox onto a 4×4 white reflector creates the gradation on the coffee mix. After getting a nice gradient I wanted to use the focused head to light the pour, but discovered by accident that if pointed onto the underside of the bottle, the label would reflect into the coffee mix (it’s subtle, but it really makes the shot). Then I need to place a card to cut the light from the softbox onto the label of the bottle (which I removed from the front of the bottle to place it on the back which ends up being the top of the bottle in the shot). This card needs to cut light from the label without showing up in the reflection of the coffee mix and without killing the light in the rest of the bottle. Finally the Canon Speed light aimed at a small white fill card up front creates the rim on the bottle opposite of the softbox, opening up the shadow and showing the shape of the bottle.

Then it’s all about capturing the right moment. All strobes are at their lowest power setting to get the shortest possible flash duration. Camera is set at 1/160 (sync speed) and pre- focused, that’s where the non-moving bottle comes in really handy. The camera is tethered into my MBP shooting directly into Capture One Software. Here are the tech specs of the shot:

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens:       100 mm 2.8 set at f11 @ 100 ASA
Computer: Mac Book Pro
Software: Capture One 5.1
Strobes: Broncolor Primo, Broncolor Impact with focus spot, Canon Speedlight 580EX II

Here is the one of the few versions we shot of the final photograph:

Beverage photograph of a coffee flavored liquor splashing into a pool of coffee.
The Shot
  • I found this very informative if not interesting to say the least. I don’t particularly practice shooting food but you never know when the occassion might arise and having some “know how” never hurts.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    Pascal Depuhl

    Miami product photographer, video producer, cinematographer and chief mindchanger at Photography by Depuhl I love to share the knowledge I've gained over the past two decades. Catching light in motion.