Taking a decent photo of a cocktail or a bottle of booze isn’t easy, especially if you’re in a dimly-lit bar. But from using what nature gives you to investing in some basic equipment, there are some clever tricks whether you want to up your Instagram game or just take better pics of your drinks, finds Lucy Britner.  

First, some bad news: “I’m sorry to say that lighting drinks is tricky,” says food & drinks photographer Steven Joyce, who has worked with Bacardi, Diageo, and Nyetimber. “So cut yourself some slack if it’s hard to get a professional-looking result.”

Joyce says pro drinks photographers will often have five or more lights coming at the set from every angle – to light the glass, the liquid, the garnish and the bottle. Then there’s the post-production: “A drink photograph is rarely just one image, it’s often a composite of a few images, put together in photoshop,” he explains. Learning how to take better pics of your drinks is not straightforward. 

But before you throw in the towel and resign yourself to badly-lit glasses of brown liquid, unimproved by even the fanciest of Instagram filters, Joyce has a few secrets he’s willing to share.

Photo of drink

This was shot just with daylight from a window and a reflector

It’s all about the light

“There are some simple steps to take better shots if you don’t have £10k worth of lighting to throw at the image,” he says, outlining his top three:

– Having light coming through the back of your drink is important, if you are shooting in daylight. First turn off all other lights so it’s just one light source, position the glass on a table with a window, at a short distance, behind the drink. Play around with the distance between your drink and the window until you get the right balance, with enough light on the drink and in the background. To get some light on the front of your drink use a piece of white foam board, or even the back of a white menu, to bounce some light back onto the drink. If you’re shooting at night in a bar, move the drink around and see where you can get a nice bit of light coming through the liquid. Don’t use the phone’s flash, it will make everything look horrible

– Focal length – this is the length of your lens. Ideally you want a lens on a DSLR camera that is around a 100mm macro for close-up, but if you’re using your phone and it has a longer lens built-in then great, use that, or just the regular lens if not. If you keep the immediate background clear of objects and you shoot fairly close to the drink, you can achieve a relatively short depth of field with a phone, this will give you a lovely blurred background and focus your eye on the drink.

– Think about the angle you want to shoot at. If you shoot at the same level as the drink, straight on, this will give your drink a hero feel, whereas a 45-degree angle will let you see the garnish on the top more clearly. Shoot both and see which you prefer.

Beyond making friends (or interviewing) a professional photographer, Maria Coelho, account exec at drinks industry PR firm The Story, who is a dab hand at taking pics for the company or for Insta, says she learned most of her tricks on YouTube and TikTok. 


This Negroni was also just shot with natural light and reflector. Looks pretty tasty, doesn’t it?

You don’t need expensive equipment

“I’m a strong believer you do not need expensive equipment to get really good photos as most of the magic relies on editing – I use Lightroom for colour correction and Photoshop to remove anything I don’t need from the photo,” she says.

Like Joyce, she emphasises the importance of natural light but beyond that – and especially in the dark winter months – Coelho recommends a studio light. 

“Depending on the level of professionalism, people may want to get three studio lights so they can achieve three-point lighting, which is the basic lighting setup for video, film and photography,” she explains, sharing a quick YouTube tutorial as she goes:

“ Honestly, I have one softbox and that has worked pretty well for me.”

If you’re working with a phone, there are a few tricks you can use to get good quality images, says Coelho, outlining her top 4 tips:

– Record a video instead – iPhones already have incredible resolution, however, if you record your video in 4K (which can be changed in settings) your videos will have a better resolution than most photos.

– Use macro lenses – this isn’t necessary but it does make the quality fantastic.

– Change the brightness focus – when taking a photo on an iPhone if you touch the area that is the brightest, the iPhone will focus in that area and tone it down. You can also increase the brightness or bring it down.

Composition – sometimes it is easier for beginners to have the grid option on (which can be changed in settings) as this will help them with the angles they want to achieve.

Instagram hero

And here’s the hero shot. Why do they call it a hero shot anyway?

Don’t forget the garnish

And when it comes to the actual styling of a drinks image, Coelho recommends using garnishes as decoration. Utilising spare pieces of lemon, rosemary or mint, for example, and arranging them around a glass, can make a photo more interesting.

You can also play around with ‘wet look’ images. “Use a spray bottle filled with water and just before you shoot, spray the bottle or the glass for a refreshing look,” she explains. “For a more professional look you can mix glycerine with the water and ‘frost’ the bottle beforehand.” For further ‘frosting’ tips, she recommends checking out still life specialists Square Mountain.

Whether you’re doing it for the ‘gram, for your own website – or even just to show your mum – these hacks help you to get a decent snap.