From cold brew to matcha, the last couple of years have brought us plenty of mouthwatering beverage trends. Plus, with the recent rise of “home bartending,” we’ve seen newbie mixologists experiment with everything from boozy kombucha to spicy margaritas. Meanwhile, as people looked for new ways to get creative in the kitchen, searches for terms like “food garnishes”, “gourmet food plating”, and “tea recipes homemade” increased on Pinterest by 55%, 105%, and 60% year-on-year.

Beverage photography is a tried-and-true staple of the larger food genre, but trends can change quickly. For commercial photographers, it’s important to stay on top of what buyers are searching for in real-time, while seeking inspiration from artists and brands you admire. Below, we’ll break down just a few of the top trends defining the beverage industry in 2021 and share some tips to implement behind-the-scenes.

Spotlight on: Cocktails and mocktails

According to the 2021 Bacardi Cocktail Trends Report, 25% of US respondents say they’re making cocktails at home, and 40% of consumers in the US are interested in make-at-home cocktail kits. While classic cocktails like negronis and strawberry daiquiris remain popular, you can also get creative with non-alcoholic drinks, as the report found that 63% of US consumers planned to drink or offer more no- and low-alcohol options.

The age of the mocktail is here, with more bars and restaurants offering both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of their signature drinks. This trend has been brewing for some time now—in 2019, bartenders were already embracing orders like the Nojito, which relies on creative flavors, pretty garnishes, and organic ingredients in place of the usual rum.

Get creative in your kitchen with colorful or eye-catching elements like fruit juice, herbs, or florals. For inspiration, you can also check out popular recipe books like Julia Bainbridge’s Good Drinks, which is chock-full of sophisticated alcohol-free drinks (think: “blackberry-infused cold brew with almond milk and coconut cream”).

Quick tip: Spray your glasses with vegetable glycerin

Instead of spritzing your glasses with water alone, create the condensation effect by mixing water and vegetable glycerin at a 1:1 ratio. That way, those icy cool-looking droplets will stay in place and remain on the glass without you having to reapply them throughout the shoot. Experiment with different spray bottles to see which creates the best effect. Remember to wear gloves, and wipe off your glasses with a microfiber cloth before spraying to ensure there’s no dust or fingerprints.

Quick tip: Use fake ice

Like vegetable glycerin, fake ice will give you more time to get the shot, without having to worry about making a mess. Plus, they won’t melt and dilute the color of your drink. Some fake ice blocks can be expensive, but you can find cheaper alternatives or make your own. In some set or prop stores, you might be able to rent them out as well. Another handy styling hack? Use putty to balance or fix your glasses in different positions.

Spotlight on: Bubble tea

Bubble tea, or boba, first originated in Taiwan, but it’s since become a global phenomenon. If you haven’t tried it, it’s tea with tapioca balls, usually with some kind of milk (oat milk is trending right now!) or non-dairy creamer. In 2020, bubble tea became so popular that it was added as one of the official emojis. By 2027, the industry is expected to reach $4.3 billion.

Amid the pandemic, there was even a COVID-19 related shortage of tapioca in the US, and boba-lovers in the West Coast panicked (it made The New York Times). This drink is beloved by enthusiasts; it’s on-trend, and best of all, it’s photogenic. You can buy the tapioca dry and boil it at home when you’re ready for a shoot. You can also add toppings like lychee jelly, almond jelly, or red beans.

Quick tip: Make it seasonal

Advertising photography is often seasonal, with clients looking for pictures of mojitos and sangrias for summer campaigns or mulled wine and spiced chai for holiday ads. Most clients also think ahead of the calendar. For that reason, it can help to brainstorm winter photos in summer, or maybe you shoot some summery images indoors during the winter. That way, your session will be uploaded and ready when buyers start searching.

Quick tip: Get creative with props and garnishes

Propping is everything when it comes to beverage photography, so start a collection of pretty backgrounds and glasses of different transparencies. Garnishes can be especially helpful in conveying flavor, from sweet to savory. Burnt rosemary, for instance, is popular in holiday drinks, while bloody mary fixings can include celery, lemon, pickled okra, olives, radishes, and more. In recent years, microgreens and flowers have also become trendy.

When it comes to selecting props and backgrounds, remember to consult the color wheel. One timeless idea is to use complementary colors to make your “hero glass” stand out. For example, if you’re shooting a tart lemon drink, you might choose lavender accents or a violet-colored background for more drama. Finally, make sure your garnishes are fresh; you can keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to shoot.

Spotlight on: CBD and THC

We recently ran a story all about shooting cannabis content for Licensing, but it’s worth delving specifically into beverages here. “Drinkables” are rising in popularity with edibles. THC and CBD, the latter of which does not have a psychoactive component, are both found in cannabis. You can find one or both in various drink infusions on the market, at different ratios.

During the pandemic, nearly half of cannabis users aged 21 and up (45%) replaced or reduced their alcohol consumption with cannabis, according to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Curaleaf. Today’s infusions from leading brands include citrusy sodas and lemonades, flavored seltzers and sparkling waters, iced teas, non-alcoholic beers, and more. You can get tons of recipes to adapt and shoot using a book like Cannabis Drinks by Jamie Evans.

Quick tip: Include a model

Beverage photography goes beyond still life and product photos, so consider incorporating drinks in your lifestyle sessions as well. Capture some environmental portraits of friends by the pool, enjoying an ice-cold mocktail on a summer day, or photograph your family over steamy cups of coffee in the morning.

Even just a hand reaching into the frame to stir a drink or hold a glass can help imbue your photo with a human touch, improving its marketability. For an even more immerse feel, maybe you reach out to a bartender to see if they can consult on a shoot or even serve as your model. For recognizable people, you always need a model release to license your photos for commercial use and marketing.

Spotlight on: TikTok inspo

This spring, Starbucks staffers were overwhelmed with requests for viral TikTok drinks. In fact, many reported customers coming in with long ingredient lists for special drinks ranging from the “Twix” to “orange passion sunrise.” While we don’t recommend asking baristas to make you off-menu confections, you can make your own at home using colorful ingredients and pretty props. For a “pink drink” aesthetic, for instance, you can use strawberry puree, herbal tea, and coconut milk.

Similarly, you can make a sunset-themed drink with lemonade and peach tea or peach juice. You might try a DIY “unicorn drink” with pitaya and whipped coconut cream. Last year, TikTok popularized whipped Dolgana, while this summer was all about the Biscoff latte, made with espresso and Biscoff spread and topped with biscuits. These drinks are eye-catching and over-the-top, and best of all, you can put a unique spin on them.

Quick tip: Mix it up (pun intended)

Drinks can play a starring role or serve as simple props in a larger story. To add variety to your portfolio, shoot a mix of various genres: you can go minimal with color-block still lives or capture a wide-angle shot of a celebration with friends. Get close-ups, and then step back to show the context. Aim to capture as many different shots as you can out of a single setup. Swap out your backgrounds, or add new props to see what works.

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