Scroll through your Instagram feed at any given time and you will be inundated by a smorgasbord of food porn. Whether it’s a steaming bowl of khao soi, overstuffed shrimp po’ boy, or twirl of fettuccine, mealtime is the Instagrammer’s most popular muse. But while beer might seem less thrilling than a cheese-smothered burger or gushing egg yolk, the pint glass is brimming with visual potential—you just have to know what you’re doing.
As the craft beer scene continues to accelerate, so do the number of pictures chronicling the dizzying array of breweries and beers. That’s because beer is a multisensory experience, designed to engage smell, taste, touch, and sight, from label to liquid. “The glassware, the labels and the glowing yellow, copper, and amber colors of the sun hitting the side of a glass of beer feel more like a still-life painting than a snapshot of your lunch,” says Good Beer Hunting’s Michael Kiser.
But not all beer pictures are created equal. Craft beer inhabits its own peculiar corner of the Instagram sandbox, complete with standards and signifiers. Whether you’re looking to flex your influences by flaunting that white whale, or simply make that barstool shot pop, we’ve enlisted some of our favorite brew-focused Instagrammers to help improve your pictures in a snap.
In Instagram, as in life, it’s not always easy to be liked. Here’s how to improve your chances.
Show the Environment
When it comes to photographing beer, some shutterbugs have a tendency to fill the frame entirely with a picture of a bottle or pint. While a close-up has its time and place, it’s also important to include the context, which might include the brewery, the bar scene, or your fellow drinkers.
“As much as I love taking my brew to the porch for a photo shoot, nothing beats the atmosphere and energy of a working brewery or pub,” says Matthew Ward, a.k.a. Bend Brew Daddy.
Atmosphere is also important for Good Beer Hunting’s Kiser. “I like to capture the ‘stage’—the vibe of the place and the people that make it awesome,” he says. “There are so many movements and sounds that make up a brewery or a bar. To create that scene in the viewer’s head, you have to get beyond a picture of an object.”
He suggests paying attention to small, yet telling details: a bartender’s hand, the instant beer hits a glass, or even the crowd’s geometry. “I like stepping out of the moment to capture it—just for a second,” Kiser says. “Take a couple steps back and look at the frame of view. Look at it like a scene, not just a picture of an object. We’ll all see the beer you’re drinking, but you can give us more than that. Make us feel like we’re there.”
Anything else? “Avoid the flash,” he says. “It’s never worth it. Any photo that needs a flash to be visible shouldn’t exist. Keep those memories for yourself.”
Master the Art of the Beer Selfie
When deployed judiciously, the beer selfie can deepen the connection between the photographer and the viewer.
For example, Ashley Routson, a.k.a. the Beer Wench, makes her reflective sunglasses and vibrantly dyed hair as much of a star as the beer she’s modeling. Believe it or not, even Justin Bieber can teach us a thing or two about the beer selfie:
“Beer is beer and people love beer, so the content sells itself in that regard,” says California’s Kim Schimke. a.k.a. Kim’s Bay Brews. “But how you choose to display the beer is where someone has the opportunity to really personalize a photo and engage an audience. My angle is making things fun, which is something that everyone can relate to.”
Schimke takes the selfie one step further by inserting herself into humorous images that often feature costumes that thematically match her beer, such as the Mexican wrestler mask that mimics the label for Clown Shoes’ Luchador en Fuego imperial stout.
“Being ridiculous and setting aside my dignity shows that craft beer, for those that are not familiar with it or are just getting into it, is not pretentious. It does not have to be intimidating,” she says. “Instagram is a social network and beer is a social beverage. It’s a beautiful and magical thing when worlds collide.”
Have a Sense of Humor
Too often, the beer world can be a humor-less realm where the obsessive hunt for rare brews overshadows the inherent pleasure of drinking. Remember, beer is supposed to be fun, a pause from the pressures of everyday life.
Some of the best Instagram beer pictures showcase a little bit of joie de vivre that makes the like button tough to skip. While drinking Golden Road’s 2020 IPA, Beer Aficionado sat in an optometrist’s chair; meanwhile, his shot of Lost Abbey’s Duck Duck Gooze was accompanied by graphics from the old Nintendo video game, Duck Hunt.
Elsewhere, Miami’s Dee Stecco creates clever, beer-inspired scenes that bring a smile to your face. On the eve of the Super Bowl, Stecco posted an image of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout with a diagram for a football play. (The winning move? A right-side rush to the bottle’s mouth.)
With Founders All Day IPA, Stecco made a short video with a paper airplane trailing a #FoundersSession banner, while a Lagunitas post features Brown Shugga’ telling Lagunitas Sucks that it, well, sucks.
For Stecco, devising fun posts creates a rewarding feedback loop. “It makes me happy to read people’s comments and know they are enjoying them,” Stecco says. “It keeps me motivated to continue to think up fun scenarios to photograph.” So you don’t forget your brain flash, Stecco recommends toting along a notepad. “When I get ideas for future posts, I doodle them on a notepad I have nearby,” says the IT consultant.
Regarding tips for taking good pics, Stecco echoes the need for good lighting. “If you can get outdoors or in a space where you have some good natural light coming, you will get a good picture,” Stecco says. “Avoid using flash if you can, because it makes it hard to appreciate the beer’s actual color and the colors of the label.”
I know, I know: You’re in a hurry and you really want to get that shot of that rare bottle up on Instagram right now. Before you snap willy-nilly, take a few moments to compose your picture, making sure that the background is free of distracting clutter. “Nothing makes me turn away more than a shot of a beer with a messy house behind it, or an electrical outlet with 10 cords sticking out of it,” says Bend Brew Daddy’s Ward. “Look around and remove things that might take away from the shot.”
Another of Ward’s favorite tricks is positioning his camera below the glass. “Make the beer look larger than life,” he says. “You can accomplish this by setting your phone or camera on the surface the beer is on. Also, don’t be afraid to take many shots at different angles and settings, to find which looks best.”
Beyond tidying up and positioning your bottle, think how you want to present the beer. “I like playing with depth of field,” says Cory Smith, who’s better known as BK Beer Guy. “Most of my shots have the bottle and the glass on different planes. I’ll put the glass containing the beer a foot or two behind the bottle to make it blurred a little, or sometimes I’ll reverse that and have the glass in the front; this breaks the plane of the bottle, leaving it out of focus as though you’re looking past it. The goal is to create some visual interest.”
Call in the Prop Department
As both a newly minted parent and a dog owner, I spend a ton of time with my daughter, Violet, and my dog, Sammy Bernstein. Our hangouts dovetail with prime beer-drinking time, which gives me an ample opportunity to incorporate my lovable creatures into my Instagram shots.
Shameless? Perhaps. But animals and offspring can supply an emotional resonance or lightheartedness to an image, giving it wider appeal than a beer on its own. A well-positioned child or pet can work wonders to enliven an average image.
Do More Than Just Brag
What’s more important: the beer haul or the picture? On Instagram, there’s a tendency for so-so images of rare beers, such as Pliny, Heady ,or Dark Lord, to rack up scores of likes, while gorgeous images of more widely available beers hardly get any love.
So what’s the right course of action for a fledgling Instagrammer looking to make a mark? “The image is the most important,” says Bend Brew Daddy’s Ward. “Sure, an underexposed and muddy image of a Pliny might get more likes, but that’s just the nature of being on a network based on peers and pressures. Many users just blindly double tap below-average shots so that everybody knows they like Pliny.”
“Sometimes I’ll take a photo that I think, compositionally, is great, but it might not get as much ‘love’ as a photo of a hyped beer that maybe I didn’t capture quite as well,” says BK Beer Guy’s Smith. “While many people love the photography on IG and love to see some care and art injected, at the end of the day, it’s all about the beer. If you show someone a so-so photo of Cigar City’s Hunahpu or a Cantillon and contrast that with a studio-lit, composed image of a shelf beer, the Hunahpu and Cantillon will win every time.”
Don’t Let Deal-Making Ruin the Fun
If you’ve spent any time on Beer Advocate’s forums over the last decade, you’ll know that beer trading is a huge part of craft beer’s underbelly. How can you call yourself a beer geek if you’ve never tasted the Bruery’s Black Tuesday or Lawson’s Finest Liquids Double Sunshine?
Previously, these transactions were accomplished via words on a page—classified ads for craft-beer hounds. But Instagram’s rise has changed the game. “I work in advertising, and I can tell you that the old adage is true: a picture is worth a thousand words,” says BK Beer Guy’s Smith. “The visual creates desire. You can see a beer and think, I need that, where you might easily scroll past it if you’re searching through a sea of words on a screen.”
“Instagram has become a important tool for people to showcase their trades, either bragging about it or simply sharing with others,” says the Beer Trekker’s Miguel Rivas. “It creates that desire on other people that are looking for that beer or have been wanting to try it.”
Though it’s easy to go crazy if you’re stricken by trading fever, the goal is to keep it in perspective, Rivas says. You want to share the liquid love, not hoard bottles like a cat lady. “It is just beer, people, made out of water and other ingredients,” Rivas says. “Drink it and enjoy it.”
And Lastly, Don’t Do This
Yes, it’s great when someone likes your photos. All of them. At the same time. But whatever you do, don’t take a screenshot of the likes and post them as an image. “It’s not a photo, and it’s not even a picture,” Kiser says. “It’s a screenshot of someone liking your photos and you thanking them for it. It’s a bizarre use of the platform, and I’m sure it is creating tiny black holes on the Internet that we’ll pay for later.”