October 12, 2015

5 Steps to Taking Eye-Popping #Coffee Photos


What got you into specialty coffee: the prospect of the most delicious cup you’d ever had or the incredible photos you kept seeing of it?

It’s no secret that coffee photos are some of the most eye-catching around. In fact, some heathens have been known to say the photography’s even better than drink… And while at Perfect Daily Grind, we can’t believe that anything’s better than our precious brew, we have been known to lose a few minutes *cough*hours*cough* on Instagram staring at beautiful pics.

Spanish Version: 5 Pasos Para Tomar Asombrosas Fotos de #Café

The thing is, there’s always something going on that’s worth photographing when it comes to coffee—whether that something’s a headline espresso machine like the Slayer, Strada EP, Black Eagle, Spirit or a barista with tattoos and a top knot brewing up a pour over.

Yet capturing these moments can be challenging, especially if you’re just getting into photography. The truth is (if you’ll pardon the pun) that taking a shot of coffee is much harder than pulling a shot.

However, there are a few things that can help you get started on your course to capturing some fine third wave moments. Read on for our top 5 pieces of advice.

latte art being poured

 Jacob Denaro pours some amazing latte art, but the way he positions himself when he pours means that you have to lean over his shoulder. That fuzzy out of focus area on the left? Yeah, I was inches from that beard!

1) Get on Instagram

Instagram and the third wave go together like coffee and water. It’s difficult to walk into a café these days without seeing someone bending awkwardly, iPhone in hand, over a few carefully placed coffees with a little succulent and a moleskine notebook. And you know where most of those photos are going? On Instagram.

It’s accessible, free and full of thousands of fantastic images. For a new photographer, it’s a great way to get (steal) ideas and find a style you want to try yourself. And as your photography skills develop and you want to put your photos out there, these day, Instagram is second to few as a way to reach people.

Instagram won’t just help you with photography, though. It’s also another avenue for learning about coffee. You’ll even be able to connect directly with farmers, many of whom are now seeing the benefits of social media. And believe me, that’s worth doing—if you haven’t seen a coffee farm before, you need to, because they’re stunning.

2) Get a Real Camera

Phones can take some amazing pictures, but they are still no substitute for a camera, especially if it’s a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex). I know, I know, they can be expensive. But you don’t have to go broke buying one as, unlike the serious pros out there, you aren’t shooting billboards that require the massive resolution and specifications of something like the Canon 5D or the Nikon D3. Think entry level, think secondhand—and most of all, think lenses.

espresso shot being pulled

No matter how much you might want it to, an iPhone just can’t take this photograph.

Lenses are key to taking beautiful photos—but you’re going to have to learn how to use them. Trust me, it’ll be worth it. You know those beautiful photos where the background is a blur of painted colour? That’s created by something us photographers call ‘shallow depth of field’. Without getting too technical, this means that a very small portion of your photograph will be in focus depending on where you decide to focus your lens. Have you ever seen the little numbers on the side of a lens or on your camera’s display? F 1.4, F 5.6, F11, etc.? Well, the smaller the number, the smaller the depth of field. Confused? Well, how about I just show you a picture?

moka pot and coffee
moka pot with coffee

The same shot taken with different lens setting. The top was taken at f1.4, creating that shallow depth of field and lovely soft, painted tones in the background. The other was taken at f11, creating profound depth of field and…well…boredom. 

SEE ALSO: Is Coffee & Music The Perfect Addiction?

3) Get to Know the Staff at Your Favourite Café

Even though part of a barista’s job is to accommodate requests, staff members won’t always be too eager to help you take your photos. Being a barista can be demanding, and an extra body asking them to slow down so you can take a photograph, or to move into a certain position—especially when they’re in the middle of the morning rush—can be more than a little annoying.

Make friends with them, however, and you’ll be less of an annoyance and more a welcome part of the crew. 

espresso shot being pulled

If you want to climb on top of someone’s bench during service to take photos like this, it’s a very good idea to be friendly with staff first!

Feeling shy? Not sure how to start a conversation during peak hours? Don’t worry. This is as simple as hanging out when things are a little quieter so that they have some real time to talk with you about coffee. Ask if you can watch them make a pour over or if you can see how they pull an espresso. Most of the time, they’ll be very keen to show you how it’s done. The once you’ve established a rapport, it’ll be much easier to ask if you can spend time taking photos of them doing their thing. 

pouring latte art

It’s going to be difficult to get shots like this if the baristas don’t like you at least a little bit. I asked this guy to come out from behind the machine where the light was better.

4) Become Your Own Barista

Short of getting a job as a specialty coffee barista, which I very much recommend, get yourself a home brewing kit. Choose a few pieces that have greater aesthetic value as well as making great coffee. The Kalita Wave, Chemex and, if you feel like springing a little extra cash, those copper v60s are very photogenic. Not only will you have the props you need to take some lovely shots, you’ll also learn how coffee is made. 

kettle in the woods

 I’m just guessing, but this probably isn’t something you can do at your local Starbucks…

This will give you photos some authenticity. Do you plan on shooting your favourite barista brewing up a filter? Well, if you’ve made a few at home, you’ll be able to document every part of the process: weighing, grinding, dosing, bloom, extraction and any of those little things some baristas do that’s different. Learning how to make coffee also means that you don’t always need to head out to a café to take great photos and when you do, you’ll have had much more practice. 

V60 coffee being poured

 Nevermind that I shot this on my bedroom floor, with the kettle in one hand and the camera in the other; practice makes perfect!

Having practiced at home, I knew that much more about how brewing works—so when it came time to shoot in a café, I wasn’t wasting the barista’s time or coffee because by asking him to repeat things for my sake.   

5) Technology Is Your Friend

There’s no doubt that editing photos can create beautiful effects; I strongly recommend Lightroom to anyone who is getting more serious about their photography.   

Learning how to use professional software like Photoshop or Lightroom isn’t for everyone, though; particularly if you’re travelling, carrying a laptop and a card reader around doesn’t have much appeal.

So the first thing I’d recommend is getting an Eye-Fi Mobi SD card for your camera. This little thing makes life much easier by allowing you to transmit your photos—or videos—directly from your camera to your phone without having to upload them to a computer. It’s easy to set up and there’s an app that goes along with it to make the transmission smooth. Just think, you could film your barista as they make you a filter coffee and upload it to their café’s Facebook or share it on Instagram immediately. You’ll be their most popular customer in no time.

espresso shotbeing pulled

Cafés often have subtle lighting and, while this creates a warm feeling for patrons, it makes it harder to expose images like this. Most of us have phones with flash lights, however. I turned mine on and placed an espresso cup underneath so the light would be angled at the group head. It took a few goes but it worked!

Photographers tend to be friendly people so don’t be shy about asking them for advice. And for some third wave photography inspiration, check out the following Instagram accounts:

Have you tried putting these five tips into practice? Share your pics with us on instagram; we’d love to see them!

Perfect Daily Grind.

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