What Goes Into a Cocktail Photo Shoot

Lillet Basil Cocktail

Lillet Basil Cocktail


When I was assigned the role of food stylist for our cocktail app, Martha Makes Cocktails, I was faced with a new challenge. After almost 10 years of work at Martha Stewart as a food editor and stylist, I thought I had jumped every food styling hurdle there was. But this one gave me the willies.

How could I possibly get 20 drinks to look fresh and beautiful all at the same time? And then I had to repeat that effort for a total of 80! Shooting just one or two cocktails can be a daunting proposition, but this was a whole new game.

These are some of the decisions that go into styling drinks:

First, in this case the long, horizontal view of 20 glorious drinks demanded that they be colorful and appealing, and the proportions and placement of each glass needed to be taken into account. You must also consider the glass or pitcher you’re using: short or tall, stemmed or not — each had to contain its designated drink in a way that made sense, but also had to work as an arrangement and stay within a theme.

Then there is the ice: You can choose to use large, perfect cubes or small ones; modern spheres; hand-chipped chunks or small ice-machine chips; bagged, crushed ice from the supermarket or classic ice cube-tray ice (I took to calling that kind “home-style” on the shoot).

The garnishes are a crucial consideration too. In this case we needed a variety, and the placement of each was critical to making the whole shot look balanced and of a piece.

And then there are the uncontrollable elements:  time and temperature; the physics of melting ice and wilting herbs. And, occasionally, digital malfunctions, dying batteries, and disagreements.

But luckily for us, it all went very, very smoothly.

This is what I learned:

1. Make lots and lots (and lots) of ice.

2. Have a freezer in the studio.

3. Arrange glassware before the shoot.

4. Figure out which ice you will use for which drink, and all garnishes, before shooting.

5. Make sure everything you need is within reach.

6. Arrange the garnishes in position before filling glasses with the drinks. Take a picture to see how it’s looking.

7. Break the drinks down into components and set each one up before mixing.

8. Be ready to top up at the last moment- especially anything sparkling.


Once I was finished with that cocktail shoot, I felt I could tackle anything!

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