There are some projects that as a photographer I always enjoy booking and as commercial work goes, cocktail photography is definitely one of them.
It can be a chance to be really creative. An opportunity for the photographer to show as much flair and ingenuity as the bartenders who create the drinks in the first place. That being said, there’s lots to consider:
Firstly, you need to understand both your demographic AND the brand(s) you are representing. Time, effort and creativity have been poured (literally) into making a concoction that appeals to the venue’s target audience, so what you choose to do with the drink in the styling side of the shoot MUST reflect that same goal.
However there are a lot of bars competing for customers and the cocktail photography has to be eye-catching enough to stand out from the crowd.
So when I work with a client, my first aim is to identify their target audience and to understand the unique edge they have that keeps customers coming back time and again. That could be any combination of flavours, creativity, decor, ambience and a whole host of other factors. Once you have that understood, you then look to work towards creating a scene that people can immediately identify with their brand. Sometimes you want it to scream out at customers, other times your aim is more subtle but there always needs to be a connection made that leads people to the doors of their establishment.
Take Alchemist for example. Their brand is unmistakable – molecular mixology that’s daring and unconventional. Pioneering unusual ways of creating and presenting cocktails whether by bunsen burner, dry ice, colour changing ingredients or other inventions, they are a huge success as a result. For their images then, customers are used to being wowed in the bar. They ought to be wowed when they see photographs too. Fortunately for myself the opportunity to get my hands on their chemistry kit proves way too tempting to resist every time, resulting in images like the ones below!
As mentioned before though, every venue is different and should be treated as such. Where the molecular extravagance is synonymous with Alchemist, other venues have their own USP.
Angelica for instance, a rooftop bar and restaurant that oozes elegance and sophistication with a more “relaxed” atmosphere. Angelica allows that to shine through in the quality of their produce, whether it’s their award winning head chef’s fantastic food or the bartender’s skilful creations. Elegance, therefore is what their images should show. Stripped back to their elements, served beautifully and allowed to stand out for themselves, customers know that this drink needs no introduction or explanation.
Sticking with ambience but with the focus changing, you come to a venue like Revolución de Cuba. A superb venue themed around parties in the hay-days of Havana, you’ll always feel immersed in the vibrant Cuban culture in here. Therefore, it’s important to bring that into the imagery so new customers are excited to visit and veterans are left itching to return.
Sidenote: When handed a blowtorch to light sparklers, check how aggressive the flame is first so you’re not surprised by the foot long flamethrower it turns out you’re holding. Possible overkill for a 4 inch sparkler!
Once you understand the kind of client you’re working with, you can see how much easier it becomes to find a narrative for the photographs and style them accordingly. There are still a lot of decisions to make before you start shooting. For example, where in the venue has the best (or most recognisable) backdrop. What to include to give the right “feel” to the shots. Obviously as well as knowing physically what to put in the shot, you need to organise and arrange everything to ensure the looks complement each other and don’t distract from the cocktail as the centre piece. Also, you need to be aware that you’ll most likely be shooting the drink from multiple angles so you need to constantly be reviewing the scene and making subtle changes to keep the end product looking fantastic.
It is sometimes assumed that cocktail photography is super easy and that you’re essentially just getting paid to drink alcohol. Obviously that couldn’t be further from the truth. A vast amount of planning goes into this, with each tiny decision made with the client’s specific needs in mind. And we haven’t even touched upon the huge level of editing in post-production and the lighting set-ups in order to create the shots in the first place! It has been known however for the occasional taste-test to occur…how else can we recommend our favourites!
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