One of the best things a bartender can do (once they’ve mastered their drinks, of course) is to improve their cocktail photography ability.

Being able to take better photos of your work can help boost your career in several ways. Building a portfolio of your work, attracting more customers for better tips, helping you do better in cocktail competitions, and improving your odds of having your work featured are a few of the many benefits of better photography. For most, it’s possible to take quality photos with just a phone, as long as you take these tips into account. Taking better photos is a subject with a lot to cover, which means this will be the first installment in a short series; let us know in the comments if there are specifics you’d like us to cover, and check back soon for more!

1. Pay Attention To Backgrounds

A bad background can throw off even the most beautiful cocktail. Fortunately, you don’t need a fancy set to get a good photo. If you’re not creating a background, give yourself a clean, clutter-free space. We often get sent in photos that show a perfectly nice cocktail with a trash can or dirty wall and switch plate that immediately grabs the attention away from the subject. It is possible to take good photos in front of a table edge; adjust your focus so that the background is blurred.

Blurring a busy background - image by yi-mun-loo

Blurring a busy background

Photo by Yi-Mun-Loo

You’ll still need to move any clutter away, but this keeps the focus on your drink. For an easy and cheap photoset, pop by your local craft store and buy a large sheet of black art paper; these usually don’t run more than $3 and give you a simple background that can be used for a decent amount of time. A more durable option is to buy and paint some plywood sheets, which is slightly more expensive but can still be done with a small budget.

2. Know What You’re Photographing For

Depending on what you’re taking pictures for, you’ll want to adjust how you’re taking your photos. One of the biggest problems with photos is when you take a great photo only to find that when you blow it up to the size you need, it’s blurry and distorted. When working with print, for instance, your image quality and photo size need to be higher so that the image retains its quality. For digital use on a website or portfolio, you can get away with lower quality and smaller file size, but this depends on the photo’s size and use.

Different publications have different photo requirements; always check beforehand so you can be sure you’re taking photos to the correct specifications. Most publications (Chilled included) ask for photos with a resolution of about 300 DPI (Dots per inch). For print publications, this roughly translates to 13MB. That said, depending on how the image will be used, you may be able to get away with a smaller photo size, but know that for print images taken with a true camera may be better.

3. Use A Tripod

While it is completely possible to take a good photo when shooting by hand, adding a tripod can help make your photos more focused.

Shooting with a phone tripod - photo by louis-hansel-@shotsoflouis

Shooting with a phone tripod

Photo by Louis Hansel @ShotsOfLouis

If you want to photograph with less lighting or get sharp details, a tripod is often necessary. Tripods also eliminate the risk of a shaky hand and reduce the number of takes you’ll need.

4. Light it Up

One of the best was to make sure your photos have sharp focus, clean colors and all of the details show is ensuring you have good lighting. A small lighting kit is fantastic, but if that’s out of your budget, aim for diluted natural light. You won’t want direct sunlight in most cases, as it causes shadows and can affect your color. Overcast days are the best for shooting most still-life style projects.

Utalizing interesting lighting - photo by dmitriy-frantsev

Utalizing interesting lighting

Photo by Dmitriy Frantsev

You’re looking for a medium bright, white toned light that does not cast shadows. However, once you get more comfortable with your lighting, you may want to play with adding different styles and colors. Once you stop using direct natural light, you’ll need to use a tripod and likely a slower shutter speed.

5. Know Your Way Around Editing

There are two things we wish every bartender; how to color correct and not to use a phone sharpness filter. All too often, we get photos in where a submitter didn’t get an in-focus shot and has tried to compensate by using the sharpness adjuster, creating an odd-looking image. If you are shooting your photos with a camera, investing in a photo editing program is a great way to improve. There are many different options in all price ranges. Adobe’s Lightroom program is a fantastic option, but there are plenty of others that are just as powerful for a much lower price. If you’re not ready to take that step, no worries; most phones offer basic photo editing that can get you started until you’re ready to make the leap into digital.

The two biggest things to know for phone-based photo editing are how to alter your colors. Most modern phones have advanced cameras, but they still tend to get colors a little wrong. To adjust your colors, begin by adjusting for white – if it runs to yellow or too blue, you can edit accordingly using your white balance sliders (different brands and editing apps call this different thing, including warmth). If your colors are a little lacking, you can also adjust your saturation and contrast slightly to allow them to pop.