How this unlikely craft beer lover developed a taste for craft beer photography.
Guest blog penned by Kristen Edgell
Growing up, I hated beer
I was not always a fan of craft beer, or beer period. As a kid I grew up with my dad drinking Yuengling on football Sundays, which he would always offer up to my brother and I, knowing full well we would both scrunch our noses in disgust run screaming away. “Yuck! That smells like horse piss!” (If you’re wondering what kind of kid would talk like that, it might help to know that I’m an opinionated southern gal from rural North Carolina).
Later in college, when everyone is supposed to fall head over heels for cheap beer and develop a lifelong devotion to PBR, I was instead, the queen of $16 Sutter Home Zinfandel that I would bring to parties to use for “wine pong.”
It’s not that I had a strong unyielding disgust for beer, it just…didn’t appeal to me. Sure, if someone offered me a sip of the latest ‘super awesome’ IPA, I would oblige and curiously have a taste. But nothing ever seemed to hit the spot. I was open minded about one day finding the miraculous beer that would change my mind towards all beers that came before it. BUT–I absolutely had no desire to spend $12 on some random beer that I *might* like when I knew for $14 I could get a perfectly decent gin and tonic that I knew I loved.
The Turning Point
In 2015, I reconnected with someone who was not only a beer nerd, but an avid home-brewer and soon-to-be beer sales manager. When on our first date I had to break it to him that I was in fact, the furthest thing from a beer lover I was surprised to be met with a twinkle in his eye, and the phrase that I still hear him tell people today when they say they don’t like beer: “I think you mean you just haven’t found a beer you like.” Insert eye roll. Externally I shrugged and smiled, internally I was thinking “Yeah right, good luck buddy.”
I should have known better. After one of our first few dates to Churchkey, one of the top beer bars in the world, the staff was so impressed with his knowledge and enthusiasm they offered him a job on the spot. Dating someone immersed in a world-class beer bar, who spent his days off home-brewing and chasing down rare and unique beers all over town, I found out just how determined he was to prove to me that there was a beer out there for me.
He would pay attention to flavors I liked (chocolate, coffee, sour fruits) and sneakily purchase beers with similar tasting notes, casually offering me a sample. He would cook us dinners, specifically with beer pairings in mind, gently nudging me to have sips with certain bites. He would bring home cans and bottles with beautiful and intriguing artwork, that would beckon to me from the fridge and pique my curiosity. Beer was just beer, right? Wrong. Soon, I found myself around beer styles I didn’t even know existed.
Photography + Beer = Beertography
While Ben was studying for the Cicerone exam (the wine sommelier equivalent of beer) it seemed as if by osmosis I too was absorbing craft beer knowledge. I guess being surrounded by such passionate beer lovers rubbed off on me, because now I’m the one chasing down beers all over town for my photoshoots. Like brewing beer, photography is part art, part science. And while loving craft beer is a more recent development in my life, I have been honing my photography craft my entire life.
I love the attitude and personality of craft beers, they often use artists for unique eye-catching label designs, and craft brewers themselves are full of interesting and sometimes wacky flavor combinations. Since they’re not pandering to the masses, craft breweries have the ability to experiment and push boundaries. Any and all of those elements serve as a solid starting point for my initial concept ideation for my photoshoots.
Interviewing the beer
Like any image, photos of beer tell a story. I believe there should be meaning composed thoughtfully within the frame so that the longer you study one of my photos the more you see how the environment, lighting, coloring and props all tie into the beer or convey a certain aspect of it.
When constructing an environment for the beer I’m photographing, I mentally interview it. As an inanimate object, it doesn’t really respond but I do study it intently and personify it as much as I can in my head. Questions like:
What are the ingredients?
What are the tasting notes of that beer?
What is unique or interesting about that particular style of beer?
What’s in the name? How could I bring that name to life in a visual way?
What’s the attitude of the brand?
What food or environment would people drink these beers in?
What kind of people drink these beers?
Whatever the most interesting takeaways are I try to combine as I build out the mini-world around my craft beer bottle or can.
Beer Styling and Art Direction
The great thing about photographing beer is your subject doesn’t move, and is small enough to be able for me to create an entire world around it within in my 700 square foot, 1 bedroom apartment (plus, there’s also the reward of getting to drink it afterwards, which is fun).
The benefit of a lot of the props I use is that they are edible. So after I use a bag of oranges for a shoot I usually just end up eating a lot of oranges two weeks afterwards. This can be tricky with an ingredient like cinnamon sticks (so let me know if anyone needs some fresh cinnamon bark for their holiday recipes this year, I have almost half a tree’s worth).
I’m not a professional food artist so I keep my tips and tricks limited to what I can accomplish with minimal accessories. One thing I have learned that I use on almost every shoot is that beer fluffing is essential. The initial head on a beer can often disperse after a few minutes. To keep the beer looking full I will stop down shooting every so often and agitate the top of the beer to revive it a bit. So if you need to take a more exciting Instagram shot of your next pint of craft beer, just take fork and ‘fluff’ the top of the beer. Voila! Instant refresh.
My Canon 5D Mark ii is what I use to shoot everything. Often my most important piece of lighting equipment is the sun, at the right time of day as my main light source. I will either bounce that light around to meet my needs or I have also used supplemental house lights, that I plug and move it to soften harsh shadows or add just enough of a glow.
So why do I like this world of craft beer photography? In a larger sense, beer is a great equalizer. It’s a drink that makes everyone gather around the table, and almost everyone who drinks it has an opinion on craft beer that they like to share. Additionally, I have found it to be a more accessible way to brush up my photography skills and learn new techniques with less of a strain on my resources. Finally, nothing has impressed me more than the inclusion and enthusiasm of craft beer brewers, marketers, and communities. The responses I have gotten (and free beers!) have made it one of the more rewarding endeavors of my career. The more I learn, the more I love–so you can bet I won’t be stopping anytime soon.
But that’s not all. Through my journey of craft beer photography I did find a beer I liked. Several. Even a few I loved. And by the way I also had that life-changing “aha!” beer moment, in the form of The Bruery‘s “Yount,” a beer-wine hybrid (technically an imperial stout brewed with cabernet sauvignon grapes). While I have learned that I typically don’t like American hops, to this day I am still consistently discovering new craft beers that delight and surprise me…but sorry Dad–I still don’t like Yuengling.
Kristen is a Writer/Producer and Digital Content Manager at AlterEgo. You can follow her photography on Instagram @kristen_edgell