When Dustin Hall walks into a bar, he never leaves without a pic. As a professional beer photographer and the artist behind Discovering Colorado Breweries and The Brewtography Project — a photo exhibition of the craft brewing industry in Colorado — Hall has been developing his unique, boozy style for more than a decade.
Let’s be honest, you Instagram your beers like the rest of us. And, according to Hall, it’s a darn good thing. “There’s a misconception that the brewing industry is this rockstar lifestyle, but it’s not. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it and that’s what I try to capture,” he says.
Hall shared with The Manual his top photography tips for taking better brewski shots. Get to your local brewery and follow these photo hacks before snapping and sharing.
Get Some Chopsticks
“I see people, and especially breweries, that want a photo of a new beer on tap, so they pour it, set up the beer at the right angle with the right backdrop, then the beer is flat,” says Hall. “One trick I use is chopsticks. Buy some at an Asian market — cheap wood ones you have to split. Wood chemically reacts to alcohol, so you can put it into a beer and it will build the head back up. When I’m doing a shot where I want the bartender to hand me a beer, I hit it with a chopstick and sometimes agitate it a little more so the foam spills out of the glass for more of a dynamic photo!”
Jump Behind the Bar
Yes, Hall photographs beer because it’s damn good, but his work is also an ode to the culture of brewing. “Capture the people behind the tap, who work hard and are passionate about what they’re doing. A ton of work goes into making beer,” he says. (Hall himself is a home-brewer.)
“If I’m going to a brewery, I try to utilize what’s there. I might say, ‘Hey can I jump behind the bar and shoot this into the taproom instead of the bar?’ They always say yes. It’s about trying to look at the scene differently. Don’t try to post that generic photo everyone else does. Capture your friends in the background, maybe blurry and maybe laughing, having a good time.”
Think Before You Drink
“Don’t wait for the beer to sweat on the counter,” Hall suggests. “Ask the bartender before it’s poured, ‘Hey, can I get a shot of you handing me that beer?’” Again, Hall attests that nobody ever says no. In fact, for most people, it’s an unspoken honor to be a part of the shot.
Choose Your Background (and Your Beer) Wisely
If you’re a heavy malt guy, have no fear — so is Hall. “I’m actually into stouts and don’t drink lighter beers, but if I’m out with a friend or my wife and they’re getting a lighter beer, I’ll take a photo of that,” he says. “I’ll shoot my malt if it’s in a killer glass with a white logo, or if the back of the bar area is stainless steel. A lot of front-of-the-house in taprooms is wood-driven, because it makes the room warm and welcoming. But there’s not a lot of contrast. If the back is stainless or open, the cooler color of the metal will contrast the darker beer.”
Tonight I'll joining @copperkettlebrewing , @act.foundation, and 30 breweries for the 6th Annual A Night to Remember. Tickets are still available. We've donated a signed copy of our upcoming book Discovering Colorado Breweries as well as a pair of tickets to the private release party for the silent auction. Hope to see you tonight.
Use the Right #Beer Hashtags
“Don’t go specific with your hashtags,” Hall says. “Instead of #stout, go for #beerstagram #ColoradoBeer, and #photography. The only time I get specific is if there are hops in the photo. You’d be surprised how many hop-heads there are scouring Instagram, so, in that respect, I’ll tag the specific kind. I also put hashtags in the first comment instead of the description of the photo. It’s less of a turnoff to viewers and still works the same for searchability.”
Become a Photoshop Pro
Hall primarily uses tools in Photoshop to get the desired aesthetic for a final photo. More often than not, his go-to rule is to spike the darks and lights and leave themed-tones the same.
“This is not the same as increasing overall exposure or brightness, which also changes the midtones. So I use curves and levels to make those changes,” Hall says. “And if there’s steam in a photo, I go black and white. It looks so cool.”
Hall continues to explore different editing choices by watching YouTube photography tutorials. His favorite: Peter McKinnon.