I obsess over the verbs that ride shotgun with my hobbies. Beer is especially ripe with intriguing infinitives: to open, to pour, to drink, to toast. Each one carries the weight of all the inscribed actions, all those potential manifestations of the “to do” within “to brew.”
My most recent verb obsession (surprisingly unassociated with the 2nd Amendment) is plainly: to shoot. Beertography has become my favorite sub-love within my main love, and I spend more time than I’d like to admit thinking about how to set up bottles, cans, glasses, and caps.
I always look for those masters who’ve already done, or are doing, what I hope to do. I like having a point of comparison, something I can measure my own work against to see how far I’ve come, how far I still have to go, and how I might get there.
Ramiro Silva is one of those guys. His beertography (and other boozetography) is what I aspire to one day to with my own single lens reflectivity. If you were ever looking for the “how” part of excellent beertography, check out his blog at the end of the post.
I asked him some questions (forewarning: this chat has some technical photography jargon and stuff. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments):
1. Tell us a little bit about your self, your background, and what you do for a living.
I’m a supervisor for a utility company in Seattle, WA. My background is in electronics; I’ve worked as a designer for the Boeing Co., a bench technician for the California State Lottery, and an electronic technician for the US Navy. I’m married with two kids, two dogs, and an adorable granddaughter. My interests include photography, homebrewing, and cooking, and I’m a big fan of guitars, craft beer, whiskey, and cigars. I started my photographic journey in 1978 and began enjoying beer not long after that. I feel fortunate to have watched both industries grow into what they are today.
2. Can you describe a typical beertography shoot?
By the time I get to a shooting session the concept has been developed. I’ve selected my beer and glassware, gathered my props, chosen the surface and background and have a general idea of my lighting plan. I start by setting up the scene and loosely positioning my lights. Next, I work on my composition by finding my perspective, selecting my depth of field, and tweaking the scene. Once I have my composition set, I dial in my lighting. I setup my back lights first, then my main light, and lastly my accent lights. The last thing I do is remove any unwanted reflections from the bottle/glassware. When the session is over, I kick back and enjoy a craft beer.
3. What kind of equipment do you use?
What I use for beertography is a Nikon D700 full-frame DSLR. For lenses, I typically use a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 or a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, and occasionally extension tubes. Lighting equipment consists of Alien Bees B800 flash units, various light modifiers and reflectors. An often over looked piece of equipment is the tripod. I always shoot with one and I use aFeisol CT-3401 with a Markins ballhead.
4. You’re obviously a very talented photographer. Why take pictures of beer and other liquors?
It’s a challenge. It’s not easy making beer visually interesting; from a photographic standpoint it’s not a great subject. Great photographs typically have an interesting subject, but how do you make beer appear interesting? That’s the first challenge. Lighting is the other challenge. Great lighting is a key ingredient to great images and I approach this in a similar manner as I would portrait work. Because the subject is highly reflective the challenge is managing the reflections, eliminating those you don’t want, creating those you do, while creating interest and dimension.
5. Do you take photos of other things, too?
Of course. Over the years I’ve focused on different types of photography; portrait, landscape, wildlife, concert, sports. I enjoy them all, but not nearly as much as beer/liquor photography. I think it’s because I feel more at home in a studio environment where I have time to develop the concept, tweak the scene, and control the lighting. Plus, finding a subject is easier for me…they’re waiting at the bottle shop.
6. What do you think the most important aspects of good beertography are?
For me, it’s subject, composition, lighting. If these aspects are strong you will have a compelling image no matter what genre of photography you’re shooting.
The subject should be interesting and clearly defined, and the viewer should know exactly what to look at. Try to separate your subject from the background by blurring it or by making it brighter than the background.
Use basic compositional techniques. “Rule of thirds” places your subject off center and tends to makes your image more interesting. “Fill the Frame” by getting closer or zooming in. It draws your attention to the subject. Change your “Perspective”, move your camera left, right, up, or down and try to present a view not typically seen. “Simplify the scene” by removing distracting elements from the foreground or background.
Light is the most important – and often overlooked aspect – of photography (in my opinion). I break down light to three components; quality, color, and direction. “Quality” refers to soft or hard light. Hard light produces crisp shadows while soft light produces soft shadows. “Color” can be warm, neutral or cold. You can use this creatively to produce a mood. “Direction” refers to where the light is coming from; front, back, or side. Direction is used to define shapes, create shadows, and reveal textures. There isn’t a “correct” setting when it comes to lighting. You make choices to achieve the look you want.
7. If you had to pass along one piece of advice to the rookies out there, what would it be?
Keep grinding, there is a lot to learn. For me, great photography boils down to three things; interesting subject, strong composition, and great lighting. Focus your efforts there and your images will improve. Know this: you won’t master photography by reading a book or taking a class. It’s a lifelong journey of learning…enjoy the ride.
8. Are there any beers you really want to take pictures of, or do you just work with what you have available?
I work with what I can find at my local bottle shops. Knowing that great beertography needs an interesting subject, I select beers based on bottle shape, label design, beer color, or whatever I’m in the mood to drink. Once I select a beer I work on developing a concept. There have been times when the concept comes first then I hunt down the beer to compliment that.
9. Have you done any work directly for companies (or breweries) or is this just a hobby for you?
It’s just a hobby at this time. Breweries often compliment me on my work and if they want to work on a project together I would be thrilled. That goes for you beer bloggers and journalists as well!
10. Is there anything you’d like to tell the people of the craft beer world?
If you haven’t tried beertography give it a shot, pun intended. You never know what’s going to light your fire.
Follow me on my journey with your favorite social app:
Visit my blog for beertography tips and behind-the-scenes look at my shooting sessions.