Just how do food photographers capture the appeal of an icy beverage on a hot day? These pros share their secrets for taking refreshing images of cold drinks.

There are few things as appealing as a great photograph of a cold drink. No matter the season, an icy, colorful beverage can evoke memories of faraway locations, tropical sunsets, the sand between your toes. Still, cold drinks are notoriously difficult to photograph. Take a picture too early, and you’ll miss that lovely condensation on the glass. Wait too long, and you’ll be stuck with a melted mess.

Food stylists have some extreme ways of tricking the camera, from using expensive fake ice to substituting drinks with a concoction of water and granulated gel. But, it’s also possible to get that perfect, refreshing shot with all natural ingredients. With experience comes a ton of little secrets for freezing ice, lighting dishware, and accessorizing beverages. We asked seven outstanding food photographers to share the best tips they’ve learned throughout the years.

1. “I normally have a spray bottle on hand to lightly mist the glass after I have everything figured out.”

Joshua Resnick

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Improvisation

Image by Joshua Resnick. Gear: I was using an old 39mp Hasselblad digital back. I hacked together my own adapter and sort of made a franken-camera by duct-taping the digital back to an ancient Fuji GX680 body. Even to get it to sync required all kinds of modifications and soldering. There were no electronic connections, so there is no exif, but I am pretty sure I was using the Fuji gx680 125mm 3.2 lens.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I was stuck in my house due to a huge snowstorm and could not leave to get the ingredients for some shoots I had planned, so I had to improvise with what I had. I found some cranberries in the fridge and a leftover juice pack from one of my kids. I also had some mint that was somehow still fresh looking. I put it all together, and it turned out to be one of my best-selling photos.

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Utilize Lighting

Image by Joshua Resnick.

Pro Tip:

For shooting beverages, backlighting is your best friend! There are very few situations where this is not the case. There are exceptions, of course, but they tend to be drinks that are more opaque, like milk, orange juice, or eggnog. For shooting anything carbonated or fermented, it is extremely important to keep everything as cold as possible. If you don’t, the drink will look flat and lifeless almost instantly. Also, it will be difficult to get realistic looking condensation. However, even this is not always enough. I normally have a spray bottle on hand to lightly mist the glass after I have everything figured out. Another technique I have is specifically for beer. If the beer is looking flat and has lost the foamy head, you can reinvigorate it by stirring it with wooden chopsticks. The tannin compounds in the wood naturally react with the beer to create foam.

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2. “Use back or side light for shooting transparent beverages to make your composition bright, alive, and artistic.”

Antonina Vlasova

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Keep Everything Clean

Image by Antonina Vlasova. Gear: Canon 5d EOS Mark III camera, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Settings: Focal length 100mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f6.3; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I always try to design my compositions inside the glass as carefully as I do with the entire stage set. I often prepare fresh greens and ripe fruits and berries, all of them well-cut and nice looking. To ensure my cocktail remains fresh, I set my whole composition first and then put the ingredients in with tweezers just before shooting. That allows me to keep the main object in perfect condition.

Antonina Vlasova.
Antonina Vlasova.

Pictured: [1] Antonina Vlasova. [2] Antonina Vlasova.

Pro Tip:

Use back or side light for shooting transparent beverages to make your composition bright, alive, and artistic. And wash your dishes before shooting. I always clean glass containers carefully, and I use latex gloves and microfiber napkins to avoid getting dirty spots on the surface. Sometimes you can’t remove all those spots using Photoshop, and even if you can, it takes hours of hard work that you could be using for another photo session or two. Also, food and beverages always look better in small containers. I try to correlate the size of the tableware with the size of the other elements in the composition.

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3. “You really don’t need to overthink the composition or the lighting; just enjoy whatever you are shooting.”

Hoda Bogdan

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Photograph What You Enjoy

Image by Hoda Bogdan. Gear: Nikon D750 camera, Sigma Art 1.4 DG HSM lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f2.0; ISO 160.

What’s the story behind this photo?

The 1920s and 1930s greatly inspire me, and this whole idea of a vintage, elegant bartender serving whiskey shots and whiskey-based cocktails in a rustic pub was something I needed to do. More vintage photo shoots to come, by the way. The bartender is a close friend of mine, and he owns a little pub downtown, so all we had to do was decide on a day for the photo shoot. I used continuous lighting instead of strobe lights because I wanted to make use of the slow shutter speed and try to catch the movement.

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Don't Overthink Things

Image by Hoda Bogdan.

Pro Tip:

In order to get the perfect beverage photograph, you always have to ask yourself one question: “If I were about to go through a magazine or a restaurant menu, what would I want to see?” A natural setup, as much natural lighting as possible, and a genuine, delicious, refreshing drink. I like to place the main drink first and add to the composition as I move on in the shoot. It’s always about the drink you are photographing. Everything matters: that special ingredient, that prop you used to make it, that metal or wooden background, that bar with lots of background lights.

One of the most important things about photographing a beverage, either hot or cold, is to photograph it in the first few minutes after the bartender delivers it. That way, it’s fresh and appealing! Never prepare your drinks in advance. My last, most important, go-to tip is to always let inspiration take over. You really don’t need to overthink the composition or the lighting; just enjoy whatever you are shooting.

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4. “Before starting a photo shoot, have some idea and vision about your color selection and composition details.”

Nika Art

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Plan Your Composition

Image by Nika Art. Gear: Nikon D80 camera, AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED lens. Settings: Focal length 60mm; exposure 1/13 sec; f11; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

When I bought these blue glasses, I already knew that the first photo session I did with them would be mojitos or lemonade. Blue and yellow intensify each other, and the blue glass at the bottom slightly changes the natural color of the drink, helping to convey its freshness.

Nika Art.
Nika Art.
Nika Art.

Pictured: [1] Nika Art. [2] Nika Art. [3] Nika Art.

Pro Tip:

Before starting a photo shoot, have some idea and vision about your color selection and composition details. Quite often, my future photo ideas are predetermined by an available set of props. I always tend to choose uncommon kitchen utensils, unusual backgrounds, and extraordinary textures.

It’s important to find the right light. I prefer to shoot in natural light. Sometimes a grey, cloudy day creates a beautiful, soft light from the window. If I know a day is going to be sunny, I prefer not to wait until the sun enters straight from the window; instead, I catch those moments of side lighting to emphasize forms, display textures, and create a kind of brilliance around transparent objects.

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5. “If I want to emphasize the freshness and coolness of the beverage, I choose a bluish scheme, whereas if it is a hot beverage, I prefer to use warm colors to create a cozy atmosphere.”

Julia Sudnitskaya

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Pick a Color Scheme

Image by Julia Sudnitskaya. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Canon EF 100 mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens. Settings: Focal length 100mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f9; ISO 100

What’s the story behind this photo?

This refreshing, low-calorie, and easy-to-prepare beverage is one of my favorites. Everyone can find a bottle of soda water, a couple of citrus fruits, and a bunch of mint in the fridge. When I am planning to take photos of refreshing beverages with mint and citrus, I leave the mint leaves in water overnight in the fridge, and by morning, they look very good.

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Start Simple

Image by Julia Sudnitskaya.

Pro Tip:

When shooting either cold or hot beverages, I try to follow some rules. Use fresh and natural ingredients. I plan the entire composition in advance, and at the last moment, when I have absolutely everything ready, the drink is poured into a glass, a mug, etc. Also one of the most important rules from my point of view is to light beverages correctly, as only the play of light is able to emphasize the gas bubbles in sparkling water or the thick flavored foam in a pumpkin latte. And, of course, color combination! If I want to emphasize the freshness and coolness of the beverage, I choose a bluish scheme, whereas if it is a hot beverage, I prefer to use warm colors to create a cozy atmosphere.

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6. “Take a few shots beforehand to make sure the composition is right. You will not have much time for this after the drink is ready.”

Ekaterina Kondratova

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Work Fast

Image by Ekaterina Kondratova. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L Macro lens. Settings: Focal length 100mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I often make different lemonades, cocktails, and other drinks and shoot them. I like the rustic style, so I used an old wooden background in this photo.

Ekaterina Kondratova.
Ekaterina Kondratova.

Pictured: [1] Ekaterina Kondratova. [2] Ekaterina Kondratova.

Pro Tip:

Take a few shots beforehand to make sure the composition is right. You will not have much time for this after the drink is ready. If possible, cool the drink before shooting, and freeze a lot of ice. You can also put glasses in the freezer for five to ten minutes before shooting. After a few minutes at room temperature, condensation will begin to form, and you’ll get drops on the glass that look very natural. You will need to shoot fast since this effect does not last long.

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7. “Contrary to all the convenience of artificial ice, I use only real ice, and it makes the pictures more vivid and bright.”

Rimma Bondarenko

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Convey Freshness

Image by Rimma Bondarenko. Gear: Sony Alpha A100 camera, Sigma lens 17-70mm lens. Settings: Focal length 40mm; exposure 1/50 sec; f16; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is a simple but very tasty summer drink: coconut water. I wanted to capture the mood of summer: heat, freshness, and a light breeze.

Top Photographers on Taking Irresistible Images of Cold Drinks — Think About Mood

Image by Rimma Bondarenko.

Pro Tip:

What works best for me is naturalness. Contrary to all the convenience of artificial ice, I use only real ice, and it makes the pictures more vivid and bright.

Top Image by Hoda Bogdan.