How I Photographed My Book: GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, a behind the scenes look at the trials, tribulations and successes of cocktail garden photography.
Cocktail garden photography is not for the faint hearted. They say never work with children or animals. I also say don’t work with cocktails in the garden, not when your resident birds behave like spoilt toddlers and demand your attention.
My book GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN was two years in the making and underwent several phases before I launched on June 26, 2023. You can read about how I wrote my book here. Photographing my book was a challenging and onerous task, a two-person job, the photographer (me) and the bird distractor (my other half). Seriously. I could be out in the garden tending to plants and the birds just perch and chill. The minute they see a drink and a camera, they fly towards it, glide and hover over the glass and position themselves beside it. And I’m not talking about just one bird.
My Cocktail Garden Photography Brief
My vision for the book was to have a full size page colour photograph for every cocktail. I’m not a fan of cocktail illustrations and I don’t like recipe books that don’t show a photo for each recipe. Botanical photos were easy as my phone provided a library of images throughout the years.
The brief for my book was as follows: Each cocktail photo was to be a full A4 page in colour and a key part of each of the botanical chapters. The 50 drinks were to be photographed on location in The Gourmantic Garden, throughout the seasons, using different glassware and locations, preferably alongside the botanical.
To achieve all this in a tiny courtyard, the challenges were numerous. There was lighting to consider, short days in winter, 50 different locations in a tiny space, botanicals that didn’t grow or collapsed after a storm, glassware for 50 drinks, the effects of La Niña and feathered friends to name a few. In other words, nature had other plans.
How I Photographed my Book GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN
The vision began in my head before I made a rough sketch of the garden cocktail photo on paper with the relevant glassware, garnish and setting. I then scouted for locations in the garden and the best time of day. Once I was happy with the allocated spot, I positioned an empty glass and took a dummy photo with my phone.
I then checked the weather forecast and if favourable, I prepared the cocktails in the morning for the photo shoot. I ensured all the spirits, syrups, shrubs, juices and liqueurs were made and the freezer was stocked with different ice. I made a batch or two of each cocktail and stored them in the fridge. Not all drinks could be premixed. For example, anything with egg white or aquafaba had to be mixed on the spot. Garnishes were prepared the last minute. Then work could start, quickly, before the light changed around sunset.
My other half, Kevin, also known as amazing husband and bird distractor, did most of the mixing, stirring, shaking while I set up the shot in the garden. He then carefully poured each drink into the glass, in the location where it was going to be photographed to avoid any swirling in the glass and a messy wash line. All I had to do was press the shutter, right? Then Murphy’s Law intervened.
Murphy’s Law & How I Photographed my Book
I’m no stranger to photographing cocktails having done so for several years on my website Cocktails & Bars. But this was a different task with different challenges. I thought I had it all planned, how I was to photograph my book until Murphy’s Law intervened.
- Pour a cocktail with the perfect egg white foam into a cocktail glass and watch it turn into a meringue under the hot sun.
- Capture the best angle under ideal lighting then spot an eager fly land in the drink.
- Use long tweezers to perfectly position the heartsease flower garnish only for a bee to poke her head inside it.
- A gentle sea breeze not only blows away your garnish, it creates a mini whirlpool effect in the cocktail glass.
- Work fast to take that ideal shot and birds will fly over the drink casting shadows the second the shutter is about to be pressed.
- Frame the perfect photo under a flattering light then dark clouds decide to roll in out of nowhere. And stay.
- Take multiple shots of the same cocktail, discover that the later snaps were the best but the drink had split in the process.
- Shoot a slushie in the middle of summer and watch the condensation form on the glass rendering it so blurry that you need to start again with a clean glass. Rinse, repeat and try again. Twice.
- Wait for the afternoon light to capture a soft, romantic mood and it starts to drizzle over the drink.
- You think you have the perfect shot after four failed trials and washing glasses in between, then a lizard can’t resist licking the egg white foam on the sage cocktail.
- Plan a massive photo shoot on the weekend (remember, it’s a two person job) because you’ve had a busy and trying week but the weather has other ideas.
- Last and certainly not least, when you think you’re alone in the garden, the combination of a cocktail and a camera is a definite bird magnet.
I lost track of how many photo shoots it took to get 50 cocktail photos that met the brief. Looking back, each photo took at least 1 to 2 hours, often more, from the concept and prep to the post processing and glass washing, and that’s if it has worked the first time around.
The day I finalised all the cocktail photography, I didn’t reach for a drink. I did a happy dance in the garden. No longer was I at the mercy of the weather, plants that decided to wilt overnight, flowers that were blown away by the wind and telling the resident birds who’s boss. Well maybe not the last one.
My book was finally coming together. A couple of weeks later, I gave a close friend a sneak peek at the book. The first thing she said was, “It’s so beautiful! All the photos are different.”
And there you have it. The trials, tribulations and successes of how I photographed my book in The Gourmantic Garden, over a 2 year period, throughout the seasons, using different glassware and locations, alongside the botanicals.
I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes series, How I Wrote My Book and this article. GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN is available as a digital book in pdf format HERE. Thank you for supporting an independent author.