The best part of winter is the hot drinks. Raspberry jam tea, lattes with whipped cream, hot cocoa and marshmallows—all this sweet stuff not only tastes fantastic, but is perfect for photos—especially if you add a little levitation spell!

Here’s how to create a hot cocoa still life with a touch of magic.


1. Gear and props

For this still life, you will need:

  • a light source (two speedlights in my case, but a window will also work);
  • cocoa powder in a strainer;
  • a way to suspend the strainer in the air (I used a glue gun, knitting needle, and Wimberley Plump);
  • marshmallows and any other props you want for a wintery still life (cinnamon, garlands, fairy lights, fir tree branches, etc.);
  • a camera and a tripod.


2. Composition

Start with a cup of hot cocoa and arrange your composition around it. Add a cozy knitted scarf or sweater, a couple of garlands, some cinnamon or anise stars, and lots and lots of marshmallows!


Use a glue gun to attach a strainer with cocoa powder to a small metal rod (I used knitting needle), and suspend it in the air with a special clamp or handy tools (a stack of books and a ruler will work perfectly well).


3. Lighting

On the triptych, you can see how the light works in this particular scene. I used two speedlights: one (the key light) is placed in a small stripbox on the right side (a bit behind the scene), the other (the fill light) is set behind a large diffuser on the left side. I also used a black flag between the key light and my background to make the boxes look darker (so they don’t attract too much attention).

5 Lighting_SbS

Also, both speedlights are set on low power, since I want to capture the falling cocoa powder while in the air (it works just like with splashes: low power provides a short impulse, so it’s easier to capture movement).


4. Shooting

Put your camera in a continuous mode, hit the strainer lightly (so it releases some cocoa powder and falls beautifully on the marshmallows below), and take a series of shots. Hit and repeat!


Don’t forget to take an “empty shot”: that is, a shot with the same composition, but without the strainer and any supports, so it will be easier to delete the supports during post-processing.

8 Everything_Step-by-step

5. Post-processing

Choose the shot with the most beautiful spoonful of cocoa powder. Now, retouch the supports that hold the strainer in the air: place your “empty shot” on the layer above and make the supports invisible, using a layer mask and a small, relatively-soft brush in Photoshop. Adjust color and contrast, and voilà! Now enjoy your cup of hot cocoa.