Photographing Coffee with a Pro

Coffee is without a doubt one of my favorite things on the planet. My routine each morning requires a fair amount of time preparing a hot steaming drip coffee from my Chemex, or a deliciously smooth glass of cold brew from the Toddy!

I base my coffee preference on the season. I typically drink hot coffee in the winter and fall months and ice coffee during the spring and summer months. I find the process to be satisfying when achieved manually, without the help of electric coffee makers.

I also absolutely love having coffee outdoors while I’m camping. I use a GSI outdoors collapsible Java drip and a Jetboil stove to achieve the perfect cup.

As a professional photographer with a focus on food and beverage, I’ve had the pleasure of capturing imagery for some of the largest beverage companies in the country, and coffee brands are a part of that portfolio!

How to control and capture the uncontrollable

If it foams, swirls, sweats, pours, or bubbles, I enjoy the challenge of capturing it in the photo studio.

In a commercial photography studio, there is a certain amount of control that must happen to capture an image for a client. Coffee is a subject that continually challenges that control. By its very nature coffee is inconsistent – bubble’s settle, steam dissipates, ice melts, and parallax changes. So how do you control something that is uncontrollable?

I focus on areas that remain within my control such as, props, focus, lighting, and composition. I must accept the things that are outside of my control such as milk swirling, bubbles settling, or steam rising. These factors mean with every coffee image, patience is critical.

To capture something in such an active state, you most likely will not get the perfect shot on the first or even 50th exposure. It is better to think of each image created as a slice of organized chaos. I still control what’s happening in the overall composition, but I allow the coffee to take on a personality of its own within the vessel.

The “One”

How do I know when I’ve captured “The One”?

Photography, just like any other form of art is subjective. Opinions of what is “good or bad” make this type of shoot difficult. I try to react to how the image makes me feel. Go back to the first paragraph of this article for reference and see what sensations I describe.

Does this image remind me of my morning routine? Does it remind me of the smell of pouring my coffee after I’ve been waiting on it to drip slowly through the paper Chemex filter? Does it evoke the pouring of a morning glass of cold brew on a hot August day after waiting on the brewing process for the last 24 hours?

I believe the key to achieving any remarkable image is to be close to it and to be informed about the techniques required to capture such a photo. Next time you pour yourself a cup of coffee, observe it before taking the first sip. There is a whole world of process and physics going on within every cup.

HEY! If you have time check out this video of “When cream hits coffee” Scientists at MIT recorded the process at 2,000 fps