How To Shoot the Perfect Instagram Cocktail Photo on a Budget


Mastering the art of the cocktail photo is like mastering the art of the cocktail. Equal parts art, science, magic. There’s no right or wrong. And it always begs the question, “could it be better?” While I am far from a professional cocktail photographer myself, I browse through thousands of photos every month and have gotten a good sense for what works. Not only that, I recently put out a question to the Home Bar Awards Instagram community asking for real tips on shooting cocktails on a budget, and here’s what we’ve come up with!


In every good photographer’s toolkit is their go-to editing program. It has the power to elevate, but it also has the power to destroy. Even the best photographers in the world edit their photos. But there really is nothing worse than an over-edited photo. And the line between these can be blurry at times. But seriously, go easy on the editing. Stick to adjusting for things like brightness, contrast, and warmth and avoid heavy filters or blurring effects than distort the details and make it hard to get a true sense of the cocktail.

Here are some free mobile apps suggested from the community:


Suggested by: @cocktails_by_tempus, @homebartenderuk

I’m a big fan and user of Snapseed. I especially love how you can easily toggle between the edited and the unedited versions by tap-holding the screen.


Suggested by: @onelog

This is a personal favorite of mine. What I love about VSCO is the templates which allow you to maintain a consistent feel to all of your photos on your profile.


Suggested by: @mcnicolmakes

I don’t use this much for editing, but know a lot of people who do. Lauren says to use this especially for brightness (this is a big one for inexperienced shooters), highlights/shadows and sharpness.

Adobe Lightroom

Suggested by: @Davidjapke2.0, @mrmuddle

I’ve only used the desktop version of this app at $9.99/month, but have heard great things about the free mobile version.


The most common - and easily fixable - mistake I see in people just getting into cocktail photography is proper lighting. Sure, it’s editable post-shot, but it’s always better to get it right during the shoot (more editing = more compromises on other aspects of the photo). The key to proper lighting is diffusion, as direct lighting is going to give you unwanted glare, reflections and uneven lighting.

Here are some tips from the community:

Desk lamp with baking paper

Suggested by: @clinkclinkdrink

I haven’t tried this one but this is clever, defintely worth a shot!

Mobile phone flashlight with napkin

Suggested by: @t_streetman

Another great scrappy way to diffuse the lighting against your beautiful cocktail.

Light through mattress sheet

Suggested by: @theamateurmixer

People get pretty inventive!

Natural light!!!

Suggested by: @cocktail_chris (that’s me - but it’s certainly not my original idea!)

There is nothing better than natural light! Most of us are just hobbyists which means we have day jobs so this makes it very difficult on work days, but take advantage of your days off and get some shots when you have natural light coming into your living space.

Candle lighting for interesting lighting

Suggested by: @elivnam

I’ve done this one or two times taking photos in dark bars, but have not tried this at home.


Suggested by: @Nickassaur

According to Nick, it’s the best $100 he ever spent. Not exactly “low budget”, but also not going to break the bank.


Do not underestimate a properly staged photo. There is so much work that goes into a cocktail photo before the cocktail is ever made. Take your time, think it through, even try sketching it out first!

Here are some tips from the community:

cheap backdrops on EBAY, Amazon, Craigslist, etc.

Suggested by: @cocktails_by_tempus, @sekmeister

I’d also add that you can probably find stuff on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist in the US.


Suggested by: @themixjulep

This is like a shadow box but for placing your cocktails in.

Sketch out your shot

Suggested by: @cocktail_chris

Sometimes it helps to just sketch out the shot on paper to get a sense of how everything works together and fills out the scene.


Suggested by: @cocktail_chris

Contrast is a very powerful thing. Almost all of the best cocktail photos I see have one thing in common – contrast. Whether it’s color, texture or a mixture of both, you have about 0.5 seconds to capture the attention of fellow Instagrammers, so make it pop!


Suggested by: @cocktail_chris

Speaking of contrast, garnishes can make or break your shot. Ideally, the garnish should be a different color than the drink itself. Don’t get all matchy matchy.

The key to a good garnish is less about the intracy and more about how well it complements the drink and therefore the shot.

Oh, and make sure your garnish is ready to go before you make the drink! There’s nothing worse than spending all that time staging and making your cocktail, only to remember you forgot to cut that perfectly sized orange swath.

Use the freezer to your advantage.

Suggested by: @cocktail_chris

If I know I need ice in my glass before the shot, I’ll actually add the ice before making the drink, put the glass in the freezer and take it out before the serve.

This also will create some nice condensation on the glasses, albeit, only for about 30-60 seconds (pressure’s on!).

Alternatively, for something like a stirred drink, you can make it in advance and store in the freezer momentarily while you build out the finishing touches of your garnish or staging.



Suggested by @Aginthing_

Even a cheap one for your phone can help, especially if you want to get some action shots and you’re a team of one.

iPhone portrait mode

Suggested by @jkershvt, @kinwhiskey

SERIOUSLY. The #1 best tool I had while building @Socktails_co was iPhone Portrait Mode. It’s a solid option as it mimics the bokeh effect (focused foreground, unfocused background). The technology is ingenius, it actually uses two lenses to get that professional look, but it has its limitations, especially with glassware. I can’t tell you how frustrating it can be to have this beautiful cocktail in front of you quickly getting diluted because portrait mode can’t detect where the glass ends and the background begins. But hey, we’re on a budget right?


Watch YouTube videos from The Bite Shot and other vloggers

Suggested by: @Wisecraft_mixology

I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s one thing to see the final product on instagram, but understanding what goes through a professional photographer’s mind during a photo shoot is invaluable.

Draw Inspiration From Others

Suggested by: @cocktail_chris

Pay close attention to the shots you like and those you don’t and write these down. Then go and practice this, become an expert!


Have other suggestions? Email me at chris@homebarawards or DM me on Instagram.


NYC’s Amor y Amargo partners with the Home Bar Awards to crown Home Bartender of the Year

The Home Bar Awards competition is excited to announce they've partnered with NYC’s popular cocktail bar, Amor y Amargo, to crown the Home Bartender of the Year. The 1st place winner of the annual competition will receive the honor of having their drink featured on Amor y Amargo’s menu.

2018 Home Bartender of the Year

December is the final round of this first annual home bartending competition. To cap off this exciting year, a winner will be selected for the highly coveted award, 2018 Home Bartender of the Year. This annual award is open to those who have placed 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in any of 2018’s challenges. The winner will get their own original drink featured on the menu at Amor y Amargo for a period of two weeks. Here's beverage director and owner, Sother Teague, talking about it on his radio show, The Speakeasy (starts at 4:25).

While the opportunity to win the annual challenge is only open to previous winners, Home Bar Awards will open the monthly challenge, with the same theme, to all home bartenders for a chance to win the month of December, and earn a nomination for 2019’s annual competition.

The Rules

Teague and the Amor y Amargo team are challenging home bartenders to put their best bitters hat on and create a cocktail that would pass their own rigorous menu test. Along with the customized barware from Sertodo Copper, all winners will receive a signed copy of Teague’s book, I'm Just Here for the Drinks: A Guide to Spirits, Drinking and More Than 100 Extraordinary Cocktails. Lastly, all participants for December’s challenge will be entered into a random drawing to win their own signed copy.

The rules for both the annual and the monthly challenge are the same, adapted from the menu development process at Amor y Amargo:

  • Drinks must fall under one of three templates

    • Old Fashioned

    • Manhattan

    • Negroni

  • Drink must feature a prominent bitter component (amari, bitters, or both!)

  • Drink must be stirred, not shaken

  • Drink cannot contain juice

Anyone interested in participating can submit entries by tagging #homebarawards on their Instagram posts.

About Home Bar Awards

The Home Bar Awards is a celebration of the vibrant community of people who love to create cocktails at home. Since launching in January, they've already made a big imprint on this community gaining over 11,000 followers and driving almost 4,500 submissions in their Instagram-driven home bartending contest.