Can release hauls, destination-worthy taprooms, ultra rare bottles, brewers, bartenders, and barrels. Poke around Instagram's craft beer community and you'll find beautiful shots of all of the above and more, taken by pro photographers and enthusiastic amateurs alike, all of whom share a love of beer and a keen eye for a good photo. For the average beer drinker who might want to post a snap of the bottle they're drinking or a brewery they're visiting, It can feel hard to measure up by comparison.
Cory started an Instagram account for his beer shots as he was learning the ropes of craft beer as a way to keep track of what he was drinking – which just so happened to be right around the time that Instagram and its craft beer community were starting to skyrocket.
"It was this kind of Venn diagram of a newfound, really big interest in craft beer, and Instagram," he says. "Both of those two things were lining up just at the right time."
He wasn't a photographer by trade, but worked alongside many in his jobs as a creative director and art director, so had an above-agerage understanding of what it takes to create a great photo. He started with rough phone shots in dimly-lit bars, but began to improve his results drastically once he began to apply some of his photography know-how to his beer shoots, like when he bounced a remote camera flash off a black granite countertop in his home to get a reflective look for shooting cans and bottles at home.
And because he was able to track down cult favorite beers from breweries like Hill Farmstead – and shoot them in a professional style – his following started to grow rapidly.
Heather had no real photo experience, but started to think about photography when she started a cooking with beer blog several years ago. As she posted the food and beer shots to her personal Instagram, her account "gradually shifted to more and more beer related content," she says, "because that's where most of my time was spent – developing recipes, grabbing a beer with friends, visiting breweries."
In 2014, she moved from San Diego to New York for a job at Brooklyn Brewery, which pushed her photography focus further into the beer world as a way to explore and interact with the local craft beer community. Two years later, she realized she wanted to get serious after taking a beer-focused New England vacation.
"I wanted to share the experience, but realized all of the photos I had taken were pretty terrible," Heather says, which prompted her to invest in a proper camera and commit to improving her shots rather than relying on quick, haphazard phone photos.
Heather and Cory have both evolved their Instagram feeds into beautifully realized slideshows of enviable beer and the stories behind each pour. And while the level of skill that they bring to their photography takes a great deal of practice, even the most unskilled beer drinker can benefit from some simple tips they have to offer.
Frame Your Shot
"Take your time to think through and stage the shot," Heather says. And yes, it might be a little annoying and earn you some odd looks from other bar patrons, but it does make a major difference.
"I often seek out the spot with the best light, move dirty glasses out of the frame, and pay attention to the background," she says. That's easy enough for anyone to accomplish, no matter what kind of camera or skill level you're working with. Choosing a seat near the bar's window and moving clutter out of the shot takes almost no effort, but will result in a greatly improved photo, even if it's just a simple iPhone snap of a pint glass.
Choose a Central Character
Similar to the above, your shot should have a focus point – don't just go for a landscape of a bar top with no particular place to draw the eye.
"Have a central character," Cory says. "If you want to shoot a bottle, shoot the bottle. Don't give me the bottle, and the bottle cap, and the glass... give me one thing I can focus on."
And try to make that focus point unique, too. If you want to photograph the bar you're in, don't just take a photo of the bartop, since that could end up looking like any other bar. Instead, find something unique – like the bar's logo on the door, or interesting tap handles, or eye-catching artwork – that tell more of a story about where you are and what the bar's aesthetic is.
Learn How to Edit
Editing your photos, and not relying on pre-set Instagram filter, will improve your photography by leaps and bounds once you have the basics of framing and capturing a shot down. Heather uses Snapseed, a free photo editing app, though you can also use something more complex like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom if you have access to them and the know-how to make it work for your needs. Even if you love the shot you were able to get, you can improve it by balancing your color levels, adjusting the contrast, and cropping the shot.
If it's all part of a greater story, that's what interests me.”
Get a Good Camera
It's not strictly necessary, especially as the quality and capabilities of phone cameras continue to grow. But still, there's a major difference between snapping something on your phone versus shooting with a real camera that can handle more dramatic focal lengths, aperture settings, and other customizable photo details that make a drastic difference in photo quality. For both Cory and Heather, that was one of the biggest ways they were able to take their Instagram photos to an enviable level.
Think of the Story
As he started to get better and better at shooting beer, Cory says, his focus started to shift away from shots of rare bottles to the stories behind them, like photos of brewers, bartenders, taprooms, barrel houses, and all of the minutae that goes into making, serving, and enjoying beer.
"I often look at people's feeds on the basis of the information that they've given me," he says. "You can make it look beautiful or you can make it look not so great, but if it's all part of a greater story, that's what interests me. I follow a lot of people who just take it with their phones, and I'm ok with that because I'm not evaluating the photo. I'm asking if it's a cool story. Did I learn something?"
The lesson: even if your photo skills aren't at a professional level, you can capture something interesting – you just have to think about more than the beer glass that's in front of you at the bar.