The Rule of Thirds

Rule #3: Find your focal point.

Before snapping your photo you should first consider the composition. Where is the focal point -- the area where the eye naturally falls? Is it the lime wheel garnish? The ice ball in a rocks glass?

Once that's determined your next task is to compose your photo in a way that highlights your focal point.

On the grid.

Ever noticed on your camera there's an option to add a grid to your view finder or screen? Two horizontal lines intersected by two vertical lines. This grid is available so that you can apply one of the most well known rules of composition -- the Rule of Thirds. While it isn't necessarily a strict rule, I find that it helps to create for engaging photos. 

Originally used by painters, the rule of thirds helps to divide your shot into, well, thirds. Simply place your subject along the vertical and/or horizontal lines. Your focal point should fall at any of the intersecting points. 

Here's some examples of how I use the Rule of Thirds to compose my cocktail photos:

Example 1

Example 1

Example #1. In this first example we have a cocktail with a celery garnish. Notice how the celery lines up with the right vertical line. The cocktail itself is placed in the right two-thirds of the frame. The bar patrons are all lined up along the top horizontal line.

Example 2

Example 2

In example #2 the cocktail is placed along the first vertical line. Taking a nod from landscape photography, I've created a horizon by placing the bartop along the bottom horizontal line. By dividing the photo this way your eye naturally falls on the focal point -- the top of the cocktail.

Example 3

Example 3

Example #3. What if your photo has two focal points? In example #3 I've placed the two martinis at two intersecting points. The martini in the foreground is placed along the right vertical line, the martini in the background along the left vertical line. Your eye is guided from the front to the back taking in both glasses.

The Rule of Thirds is a great way to train your eye to compose great photos. With practice you'll gain the confidence you need to become a better photographer.

Taking Great Photos In Dimly Lit Bars

Always know where your light is. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I love posting photos of the cocktails I have around town. Shooting photos in bars is not always easy. Bars are notorious for being dark. A bit of creativity, combined with knowing your camera, can help to make for some great photos in the least ideal settings.

First, I never use flash! The second I got my phone I turned the flash off on the camera. Cell phone flash can make food unappetizing and individuals unattractive. When shooting glassware the flash reflects off the glass creating intense highlights. Shadows are created where shadows are not needed. 

Here are my solutions for shooting in dark locations.

Bookmakers Cocktail Club - Instagram: @cocktailcrafty

Bookmakers Cocktail Club - Instagram: @cocktailcrafty

When you walk in stop and scan the bar. Where is the light? Are there any windows you can sit near? Is there candle light or overhead lighting? Whatever the case may be, you want to sit as close to the light as possible. Pendant lighting -- lighting that hangs from the ceiling or a metal rod — is great for creating a spotlight effect.  Try sitting directly under one of these. 

In the past I’ve asked to be seated at a certain table because it was near a lamp. I’ve also gotten to bars just before sunset because I knew the light from a near by window would be hitting the bar at that time of day. 

Increase the exposure. If you’re using an iPhone, tap to focus then drag the sun upwards to lighten the shot. Some Androids have a numerical value for the exposure. If this is the case for your phone, increase your exposure to +1 or +2.  Whatever the phone camera, lighten the shot before you take it. 

Sugarvale - Instagram:  @cocktailcrafty

Sugarvale - Instagram: @cocktailcrafty

Use candles to your advantage. There’s a bar in my neighborhood that is below ground level. The bar is typically dark with most of the light coming from candles. The drinks are amazing and definitely worth shooting. To get around the lighting situation I try to utilize the candles. By hiding the candles behind drinks I’m able to capture the beauty of the cocktail without loosing the bar's ambiance.  

Bookmakers Cocktail Club - Instagram:  @cocktailcrafty

Bookmakers Cocktail Club - Instagram: @cocktailcrafty

White marble is an Instagramer’s best friend. There’s been a trend of bars using white marble in their construction. I love it! A white marble bar top acts in the same manner as a bounce card. The white in the marble bounces the light towards the subject creating a nicely lit photo. Give me a bar with white marble combined with pendant lights and I’m in heaven.

Get by with the help of your friends. Ask a friend to shine their cell’s flashlight over your drink. I’ve used this method in extreme cases when the bar is insanely dark. Like pendant lights, the flashlight creates a spotlight. Adjust the distance of the flashlight to get the perfect effect. If using this method, try to be considerate of those around you. Bright flashlights can ruin the ambiance and the experience of your fellow patrons. 

Now that you've gotten the shot, put your phone down and enjoy. Cheers!



Why the Best Camera isn’t Always the One That’s on You


Recently I was hired to do a workshop where I provided bartenders with photography tips and tricks for improving their Instagram feeds. I took the job but wondered if there was any real interest in the subject. To my surprise I was greeted with eager individuals looking to improve their “insta-game”. After receiving great feedback from my workshop, it got me thinking that maybe there are others out there looking for the same advice.

I started my Instagram account 3 years ago and today have over 11,000 followers. When I started I was fascinated by the accounts that had huge followings. Ordinary people who were able to grow their personal brands and receive great opportunities. How did they do it? Easy! They provided valuable content and took great photos.

I say easy. But if it were that easy everyone would be doing it. And everyone can! 

When I started I had little understanding as to how to take a decent photo. The term aperture and exposure meant nothing to me. It took learning my phone’s camera — then an HTC m8, and a lot of practice to create an Instagram feed worth following. 

I loved my HTC m8. (Disclosure: I’m a bit of a cell phone nerd.) At the time the HTC m8 was considered one of the best cell phones with a lack luster camera. The fact that I was able to take some pretty good photos with a camera that most experts considered subpar shows that it’s really all about knowing your tools. 

Anyone can point and shoot in the most perfect settings. Do you know how to adjust for less than perfect lighting? Which settings are best for the time of day? There’s the saying that the best camera is the one that’s on you. But what good is it (or any camera) if you have no clue how to use it?

I was given the opportunity to do my workshop in both my hometown of Baltimore and in Phoenix. One thing that surprised me in both cases was what little knowledge participants had about their phone’s camera. Many iPhone users didn’t know how to adjust their camera's exposure. Android users didn’t know the number of adjustments that were hidden within their phone’s settings.

You see, there’s no secret formula to growing a social media following. There’s no magical time of day to like and comment on a magical number of accounts.  It all comes down to work. It’s learning the tools you have at hand and putting in a little more effort than the next guy. 

This post is the start of my photography and branding series geared toward Foodies, Cocktail Enthusiasts, and the Spirits Industry. Each Friday I’ll provide tips & tricks to better photography and social branding. And each week you’ll have an assignment. These assignments are aimed at helping you hone your skills in hopes of growing your own brand. 

This week’s assignment? Explore your phone’s camera. Go into the settings and “tinker” with them. I've included Youtube links for instructional videos for the top three smartphone cameras as of the date of this post. If you don’t see your phone listed, head to Youtube and do a search.

I now have an iPhone 6 plus. It’s a great point and shoot camera. Other than adjusting the exposure you really don’t need to do much with the iPhone to take a good photo. 

Even though I’m a Apple user I am envious of the Galaxy S7 and its pro-mode. As a former Android user I miss have the ability to adjust and control my phone’s camera in any setting. In the end it all comes down to preference.

iPhone 6s -

Galaxy S7 -

LG G5 -


Next Week: Shooting in Dark Bars