Lighting the the most important thing in any kind of image, especially for photographing drinks. Light can enhance the most interesting parts of the image, highlight the texture of the drink, the consistency of cocktail, and this is what we are trying to tell through the images.

Direction of light for drink photography

Most of the time, you will find yourself working with backlight, as it helps to enhance the texture of the drink. It adds lots of interest, highlights the most interesting areas, such as the top of the cocktail, colour of the drink (if working with transparent glasses), and texture of the garnishes too. 

On the other side, side (or side-back) light is a great choice for images with blended cocktails for example. The backlight doesn’t go through a dense drink, therefore you need to find a new way of enhancing the texture and colour of the cocktail. 

It’s always better to experiment with lighting and take time to study it before creating your final image. 

Have a look at these two images below. You can see how the direction of light can change the feel of the entire image. Look at the differences the light creates and how it enhances the texture, colors and highlights the interesting areas in the scene. 

If you want to dive more into side and back light, and see how these images were created, click here to access this masterclass.

Type of light

Type of light depends on storytelling. What is the story you want to tell? 

Soft light adds a sense of relax, balance, while hard light creates a dynamic image and adds lots of interest. 

Have a look at these two images – the first shot is made with hard light, the second one is soft light. 

If you work with artificial lighting, creating hard light is not difficult – you simply let the light coming directly to your scene. On the other side, to create a diffused light, you just need any kind of diffusion material – curtain, diffuser, white sheets…

Natural hard light is impossible to create, as it depends on the sun. However, you can always find natural soft light. Each window will give you slightly different lighting, so I encourage you to experiment with the same subject and shoot it at the different window. There, you can choose which window creates the light you love most.

If you want to study light more, I recommend to visit our course about lighting, where you find all the lessons for knowing how to work with light.

Editing soft and hard light

Soft light gives you more flexibility in editing your image to create the right tonal contrast. Hard light creates a strong contrast – difference between darkest and brightest areas. That often leads to extremes of overexposing and underexposing. 

When shooting with backlight, make sure you don’t overexpose the highlights and underexpose the black.

You can control this from histogram, avoid the situation when your data are pushed to the left and/or to the right side. Make sure your histogram doesn’t look as this one:

Shadows as part of the composition

When shooting with hard light, shadows will have an important role in the scene. You can consider this as an advantage and incorporate them into composition of the image.

Key takeaway

  • Backlight is very important for photographing cocktails or other beverages, it can reveal the colour, texture and highlight the most interesting parts of the image
  • Side (side-back) light can be a great choice for photographing blended cocktails, or other subjects, that are not transparent
  • It’s up to you whether you want to use soft or hard light, both of them are stunning and they both contribute into storytelling
  • Soft light creates soft shadows, and the images with soft light are easier to edit – you have more flexibility to play with tonal contract.
  • Hard light creates a huge difference between darkest and brightest areas = creates a huge tonal contrast, which gives you less flexibility in post production (pay attention not to lose some of the data in overexposed or underexposed areas)
  • Hard light creates strong defined shadows, that become a strong element in images. Be creative, play with them and incorporate them into composition of the image.
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