As a willing thrall of the blog-lords, I often stretch myself beyond my default medium of words. A blog offers a unique chance to flex groups of creative deltoids that traditional print media might not; as a blog author you get to write, photograph, video, and record your content with only yourself to answer to in terms of artistic design. The blog as a platform not only accepts the idea of multimedia, but actually encourages it.
I have included at least one photograph with every blog post I’ve written since mid-2010. The ancient adage of a photo being worth a thousand words still rings clear and crisp across the valleys of the internet, but they serve as an additional anchor to a post, a visual representation of your words that engage another of your reader’s senses.
I’ve always considered writing an auditory art: even though you have to read the words with your eyes, you’re sounding them aloud in your head, and, in a unnatural twist over the bar at the top of a mental pole-vault, listening to them to fully process their meaning. It’s weird to think about, but gives a nice tidy explanation as to why photos and other graphics are such an important companion to a wall of text.
And of course, this is a beer blog (mostly) and so I include pictures of beer/beer-paraphernalia. But they aren’t just pictures, they are meticulously plotted, planned, and purposed shots, John Kleinchester’s shutter babies, or more simply, just “beertographs.”
You could just whip out your Nikon Coolpix or your iPhone 5 and snap a blurry, poorly lit shot of whatever is about to go down your gullet, but to capture an image that really invokes the spirit of the beer, a flash and echo of the brewmasters art, you really need to commit the time and energy to setting up the shot.
Note: This is not a purist photography tutorial, and I won’t be getting too in-depth about white balancing, F-stops, or aperture. If you want to see how real photographers (not just guys like me armed with too much time and a DSLR) take photos of beer, check out this amazing post from Silvatone about his award winning shot for the Anchor Brewing Fourth of July Beertography contest.
How to take Beertographs
Things you’ll need:
-Beer (can or bottle, it matters little)
-A glass (usually representative of the style of beer you’re working with, but it can be anything that fits a theme)
-A bottle opener (to open the beer, otherwise it’s going to be hard to take pictures of it)
-A camera (more on this below)
-Assorted props (to accentuate the amber glow in the glass)
1. Gather your equipment
I shoot with a Canon DSLR. Originally, I used a standard EOS Rebel XS, but recently inherited an EOS Rebel Ti2, which has become my primary camera. For different applications I shoot with four lenses: the stock 18-55mm, a mid-range 28-70mm, a zoom 55-250mm, and a mega-zoom 70-300mm. Each has its place depending on the shot, and I’ll often change lenses in the middle of a shoot, just to see what effects I can achieve from different standing distances, zoom-lengths, and positions.
I know what you’re thinking. DSLRs are expensive, the lenses even more so. I have good news: you don’t need a DSLR to take great beertographs. You standard point-and-click camera or even your smartphone can take excellent shots, you just need patience and practice as to best set up the bottle and glass. Good photography, at its heart, is not about how expensive or fancy the camera, but about how well the photographer can see. You are basically just capturing a single moment from your field of vision, so if it looks good to you, and you can steal that moment from the gods of light and time, it will probably make a good photograph.
I prefer a DSLR because of its specific purpose. I like the heft of it in my hand, the feeling of the lens wheel under my fingers. Conversely, my phone is the same device I tweet and play Punch Quest on, and somehow, probably unfairly, I don’t respect it as a serious camera. I’m not trying to discourage those iPhonographers and Androtographers out there, as I’ve seen the quality that can come from phones, it’s just not for me.
Ultimately, when you’re out there, trying to get a shot, the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it. Shoot with what you’ve got.
2. Wander around looking at stuff
Because I shoot mostly outdoors, with “naturally found” locations, this is my single favorite aspect of beetography. The time I get to wander around my yard, my neighbor’s yard, their neighbor’s yard, sometimes all the way to the train tracks at the end of my street with a camera slung over my shoulder and a beer bottle in my pocket. I look at everything and anything, take in the light and how it’s sprawls lazily across the road and grass, checking out the hues of the trees and the flowers and the rainbow of paint colors that splatter my spectrum as cars and houses and trashcans.
You want to look for interesting angles and textures, especially for whatever platform the beer will be on (wood, stone, grass?), and on whatever will be in the background. Find patterns and natural lines that are just flat out nice to look at. Pay attention to how the light is cutting through the trees, and how shadows are forming based on the angle of the sun.
During this time you want to think about the style and name of the beer: if it’s a hoppy IPA, maybe you want an abundance of green in the picture to represent the hops? If the label is bright red, do you want to put it in a relatively bland and brown setting to make the vibrancy really pop? If it’s named “Swing”, maybe incorporate your neighbor’s porch swing somehow?
This is the time to get creative. Really play with the name and style and colors of the label. Try positioning the bottle and glass – unopened and unfilled – in several different places to see how they look well before you take any pictures. If you’re like me, you’ll have to actively fight the urge to drink the beer. A good picture will make the beer taste even better.
3. Take some test shots
Assume you only have one can or bottle of the beer you’re trying to shoot, even if there are 5 more snuggled in a 6-pack back home. Don’t go in for the kill with a quickly thrown shutter until you’re sure about the positioning and light. Patience is key here, and a joy of digital is immediate feedback without the worry of wasting film. Short of running out of daylight, you’ve got plenty of chances to capture that perfect exposure, so take your time, play around with getting a perfect balance of foreground focus and background bokeh.
To achieve this much coveted effect, you have to adjust your depth of field either manually on the camera, with the assistance of a lens, or by manually positioning the beer and glass in such a way that one will naturally blur if you focus on the closer of the pair. The result looks something like this:
4. Pour the beer and start clicking
It’s time to pour the beer. The reason for all the prep work is tied directly to the frothing fuzz of the head, which acts like a little timer, constantly counting down from the second you pour until it completely dissipates. To truly capture the essence of the beer, you’ll need to get your shot in that very brief window of “perfectly settled head” that last only a few minutes on some beers.
When in doubt, take more pictures than you think you need. A tiny difference in focus (with auto-focus on or off) may make or break the quality of an image. Take a bunch to make sure you captured that perfect one. You can delete the rest if you’re not happy.
Here’s another from the same shoot as the Avery IPA (above) that didn’t turn out as well because the auto-focus shifted on me at the last second:
5. Review, post-process, tweet to @beertography
The display screen should give you a good enough idea of how the shot turned out, but you can’t really trust the colors or the focus until you’ve uploaded it to the computer.
I try to choose the best one or two from the say, 20, I took, then throw those into Photoshop to correct any minor white balance or brightness issues that I didn’t manage to do with the camera. I use the Vibrance, Shadows and Highlights, and Color Balance options (under Image>Adjustments) to make sure the colors are as true to life as possible. I very rarely do any actual touch up unless there is a glaringly obvious thumbprint on the glass (always wash your glassware pre-beetography session!) or a big old cat hair ruining the shot.
And when you’re proud of your work, ready to show the world, send it out to John @beertography. He’s kind of a big deal when it comes to pictures of beer.