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“If you’re gonna Instagram your drink, you might as well make it look good.” — A wise Philadelphia bartender

It’s not easy to make drinks look good on Instagram, even if the glass you’re snapping is your first of the night. Bars are often dimly lit, booze is usually some shade of brown and glasses just don’t offer that many good angles. However, if you’re going to risk side eye from bartenders or friends who just want you to take a sip already, you might as well make an effort.

Budding cocktail photographers, we’re here to help. Follow the Billy Penn guide to Instagramming your drink and start raking in the likes. Cheers.

Barman Vincent Stipo at a.bar has a deft hand with classics, like this Collins made with London Dry gin, fresh lemon and Angostura bitters
Barman Vincent Stipo at a.bar has a deft hand with classics, like this Collins made with London Dry gin, fresh lemon and Angostura bitters

Be smart with candles

Many bars use candles to enhance the low-light atmosphere, and it can be tempting to pull a tea light next to your glass before you snap. Hold that thought. If you put the candle directly in the frame, it’ll throw off the exposure, and everything that’s not directly around the flame will end up darker than it would have been otherwise. Solution: place the light source behind your drink, so it’s hidden but gives the liquid inside the glass a luminous glow.

Look for elegant garnishes

Ostensibly there to provide an extra flavor nuance, garnishes are also used for visual effect. A paper parasol or out of control mint bouquet can overwhelm your photo, but a curlicued twist, slice of orange or toothpick full of olives will add a point of interest and expand the color palette of your composition.

The Doldrum Denial punch at Oyster House lives up to its name, plus has a gorgeous pink hue from fresh cranberry juice

 Get rid of the napkin

Most bar tops have great textures, whether they’re marble, wood or polished metal — that’s why a protective coaster or cocktail napkin goes beneath your drink when its served. Pull it out of the way before you frame your shot and you’ll end up with less distracting shapes and better patterns in the background. This is especially true if you go with the often-popular overhead view.

Avoid chilled glasses

Unless it’s a swizzle, which has a garnish-bedecked mountain of shaved ice towering over its rim, a chilled vessel is going to hide whatever it is you want to shoot. As the glass frosts over, it not only obscures any cool ice or garnishes inside, its loses dimensionality — the lack of reflections will make it look flat.

Sara Justice is the new expert in charge of the underground tippling at Franklin Bar, where the cube at the center of the rum-based Mr. Palomar gets pockmarked from a sprinkle of sea salt

Play with ice

If you’re having trouble finding a great view, try a close-up. This works especially well at bars that serve drinks chilled with giant cubes or hand-cut orbs, because those blocks of frozen water act as prisms. Move your glass around to find the background that best creates a psychedelic motifs as it’s reflected through the ice.

Capture the process

Even when the finished drink doesn’t look that compelling, the process of making it can provide photogenic scenes. If you can get a good angle without disrupting the bartender practicing his or her craft, try a few snaps while the drink is being strained, stirred or garnished — they’re guaranteed to be more unique than just the glass sitting on the bar.

Are bartenders required to have perfect manicures, like Stipo shows of above this a.bar cocktail with an absinthe float? It certainly doesn’t hurt
Are bartenders required to have perfect manicures, like Stipo shows of above this a.bar cocktail with an absinthe float? It certainly doesn’t hurt

Make your bartender the star

If they’re willing and have time, you can go further and ask the bartender or server to hold your drink and act as a model. Closeups with tattoos are an especially fun way to add visual flair.


Include the menu

Propping up a menu behind your drink can solve a couple of potential problems. You can use it to block out a distracting background or to reflect more light on your glass. As an added bonus, it adds an automatic shout out to whatever establishment you’re patronizing (and it’s good for refreshing your memory).


Snap now, post later

Taking photos of your cocktail is one thing, but once you jump on Instagram to try to post, you’re taken out of the moment. Unless you’re out drinking by yourself (which, not a problem), it’s much friendlier and more courteous to stock your camera roll with shots, then wait until later to post them — you’ll have plenty of time the next morning, or even in the Uber home. Your tweaks (see below) will probably turn out better, too.

Skip the filters, use the tools

Valencia, Mayfair, Crema or Toast? For the grand majority of food and beverage shots, the correct answer is “none of the above.” Instead of applying a filter, click the wrench to access the row of photo editing tools. After a few rounds, you’ll find your own enhancement mojo, but here’s a good starting path: increase brightness and contrast, tweak saturation, add a vignette (darkening around the edges) and consider a “tilt shift” to blur items in the background. If your pic is overly yellow (it happens often in low light), play with the “warmth” slider to remove that cast. It takes a bit longer to prep your photo this way, but the gain in hearts is well worth it.

All photos by Danya Henninger

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...