Drinks and Dessert with Bob Coates

Text and photos by Bob Coates

I was asked to add some pizazz to my food and drink images. How do you do that? Motion is one possibility. Changing up the lighting is another. I used both techniques in my last shoot at Sound Bites Grill in Sedona, AZ.

The restaurant is busy. Since they've made their opening hours five days a week, I was asked to create the photos while they were open so the bartender and kitchen staff would be on hand to prep cocktails and desserts. That way no one would have to come in on a day off to support the photo shoot. If you have the option to say no and only work in uninterrupted times, do so. I didn’t. And it was Platypod to the rescue!

Since I was working during serving hours, I had to maintain a pretty tight footprint for my gear and shooting area. Having the Platypod Ultra to get the camera close to the subject made my life easier. In the past, I would have had a tripod leaning up against the bar with legs extended. Not a good idea with guests moving through the set.


I worked to use the ambient light in the bar to keep the mood intact. LED lighting is adding the color. One problem with LED lighting is there is no depth to the light. If the color is turquoise, it’s turquoise. If you lose any of that light by overexposure, it’s not recoverable in post-production.

There was a need to stop motion, which called for short flash durations. The flash needed to be quick to freeze the pour. I also dragged the shutter to allow some motion from the shaker cup for a bit more interest and to make sure the LED colors would read.

Here’s the complete set seen from behind the flash.

Godox AD-200 flash mounted on a Platypod MAX set on silicone pad. In order to adjust flash angle I used a Benro ball-head with the Arca-Swiss plate from the Platypod accessories kit screwed into the flash. A Westcott 20 inch reflector scrim was used to give a more pleasing light spread. The scrim was held in place with three goosenecks with clamps attached which were attached to the Max. The clamps I used were a little rough on the scrim material, and Platypod added some new clamps to their product line up which have rubberized tips.

This setup made it possible to quickly move to allow customers at the bar, but to just as quickly reset. There would be no easy way to have this light in that position in the center of the bar with a light stand.

Shooting the drinks

Missy the bartender was wonderful. Having a cooperative partner to photograph makes the job much easier. I tested lighting and movement freezing with some test glasses and practice before asking for my talent to step in. If this was a higher end shoot, many more things would be locked down. Talent and set would be under complete control. We don’t always have that luxury. That’s why we learn to create on the fly.

Note that because of the scrim placement between the flash and subject the reflection on the glassware is softer and more pleasing.

Flash setup was mounted on the MAX. The flash was raised using the aluminum spigot post and Arca compatible round mounting plate available in the Platypod Multi accessory kit. Three gooseneck sections were used with clamps to hold the scrim.

Once a set is in place, I try to get a few different images. Changing drinks, with or without talent, pouring, dropping olives etc. Each of these can have a different feel and will be used in regular print, online and Facebook and Instagram posts.

Watch your talent. They can use some coaching to get the look you want. many times the concentration needed to complete a task can result in a serious look. We went for a fun, smiling vibe in this pour shot.


A little movement is recorded with a fast flash output to also freeze the motion. A slower shutter speed shows the movement while the flash adds a still. AKA dragging the shutter.


Note the soft highlight on the right side of the beer glass. Created by using the scrim to filter the light. Scrim makes the light source larger which creates nicer highlights and shadow edge transitions. The drops of water add to the cold illusion. 

The Dessert

In photographing the cocoa powder being added to the chocolate truffles, I ran into the problem of the powder being too fine to register in the image. I had made some exposures prior to the powder being added. Post-production to the rescue. Photoshop "dust" brushes were employed to get the sprinkle look we were after.

Just as with the drinks, we moved different desserts and photographed at different angles to add to the variety to get as much from the shoot as possible. As noted above: when shooting when the business is open, the paying customers come first!

We were looking for motion and the chocolate powder falling from the canister. unfortunately, the powder was so fine I could not get it to register in the image. Post-production using Photoshop helped to rectify that situation.


You can see the server moving in the background. Adds just a bit of life to the image. A slow shutter speed is necessary to achieve this effect. (or a really fast person!)

For many businesses a square crop is helpful for the creation of Instagram posts.


I used:

- a micro 4/3rds Olympus E-M1 Mark III. Olympus 12-100 f/4 lens from wide angle to zoom. Great to help work fast framing in-camera.

- a Godox AD-200 flash triggered by wireless remote.

- my Platypod Ultra and Max for close-in camera and flash support. Goosenecks and clamps to hold the scrim. Westcott twenty inch reflector/scrim to spread the flash lighting.

Here’s a peek at some hidden parts from the Platypod Accessary Kit. The silicone non-slip pads keep things from slipping. The extra round Arca Swiss compatible plate allows the flash to be mounted on the Benro Ball-head. 

Below is the iPhone with the Olympus OI Share APP to control the camera allowed for not touching the camera once it was set. 

 Check out more of Bob's work at: successful-photographer.com or http://coatesart.net