Photographing Cold Drinks
26 Jul 2006

How do you make cold drinks look appealing? You need some condensation. And not just any condensation... condensation that holds up long enough to get your shots in. Typically, food stylists use a mixture of glycerin and water, carefully sprayed on, to make gorgeous little beads of water. But, I don't typically keep bottles of glycerin around in my kitchen and I certainly don't want to drink out of a glycerin coated glass. To stick with more common, real food, you'll give up some flexibility in shooting as well as the look of perfectly formed droplets. But, since I strongly prefer natural food styling, I started experimenting with ways to get the best looking condensation the old fashioned way - water and a temperature change. The basic chemistry of condensation is quite simple. Water vapour will condense onto another surface when that surface is cooler than the temperature of the water vapor (or when the water vapor equilibrium in air, i. e. saturation humidity, has been exceeded... but hopefully you won't be in an environment that is that muggy or you'll have some issues with your lens as well.) The simplest way to do this is by sticking your glass (your surface) into the freezer for about 5 minutes while you set up your shot. You won't have long with the glass once it's at room temperature, so make sure you know what you are shooting first. It's a good idea to take a few shots first to make sure you are happy with the composition... a glass with condensation is hard to move. When your glass comes out of the freezer, it should immediately fog - this is water vapor attaching itself to the glass. Handle it with care, or you'll disturb the condensation and end up without a clear side to shoot. I like to pick the glass up from one side of the rim if I'm shooting a side shot. If I need the full rim of the glass, I put it in the freezer upside down and grab it from the bottom. Move quickly and get the glass into position as soon as you can, filling it immediately. Then wait about a minute as the condensation beads. In my trial runs (with club soda and a bit of grenadine), I had about a minute to shoot before the beads turned into little running drips.
For bigger beads, try wetting the glass with water before freezing it. It will look a bit weird when it comes out, but the condensation will be more dramatic (it will also run more). You can either mist the glass, or simply wet it under the tap. I misted the first glass below, and simply let the water run in a sheet on the second. Also, the intro photo to this post was from a glass I froze wet.
You can also try misting the glass after the fact, but the drips will almost immediately run:
Finally, if you want a glycerin look without the special order, try adding a bit of clear oil to your water mister. I used Tea Oil, and sprayed it on a dry glass. The beads were more discreet and stayed formed for much longer without streaming down the sides of the glass. I still wouldn't want to drink it afterwards though:
Another hint: If you want the condensation to really stand out, shoot against a darker background and focus on the surface of the glass. If you try this with a white background, you'll have a heck of a time focusing as the beads just disappear. Do you have other tricks? Leave them in the comments! Technorati Tags: , ,

(In case you were wondering, I am an Amazon affiliate, and purchases from links in this post to Amazon may earn me a nickel or two... so thanks!).

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