Anxiety-inducing Instagram is changing our lives at breakneck speed. In less than a decade, the mobile photo-sharing app has evolved from a harmless platform for holiday snaps, to a $1 billion advertising monster.
Whether your audience is influencer-sized or it’s just Great Aunt Jean watching, the pressure to prove you’re living your best life is real. Eating at the best spots, lounging by paradisiacal pools, and, of course, getting buzzed on the right drinks — you gotta do it for the ‘gram.
When it comes to wine, however, making your drink look Instagram-worthy can be tough. Unlike craft beer, with its artsy can designs, or instantly recognizable premium spirits, wine packaging is mostly homogenous.
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If your followers aren’t familiar with the ultra-rare bottle you’re snapping, your latest #winegram is essentially just a bottle of plonk in a poky kitchen. And if you do splash out on a well-known luxury bottle, once it’s poured into a glass, wine looks like wine.
Worry not, however, because help is at hand. Whether your goal is to inspire bottle envy among friends (we’re not judging!), or to you see yourself as a budding influencer, here are some top tips for instantly improving your Instagram wine shots.
Goswijn Simons is a Dutch wine blogger with more than 60,000 Instagram followers. Some might call him an influencer. The photos on his account, The Story of My Wine, are a mix of attractive bottle and glass shots, all taken using his smartphone.
“The new generation of smartphones are sometimes even better [than DSLR], and very simple to use,” Simons tells VinePair. After taking a snap, he uses apps to adjust colors, brightness, and contrast. “There’s no photoshop required,” he says. No fancy camera, either.
Winemaker-turned-photographer Gilbert Bages agrees that it’s “totally possible” to capture great photos using only your cell phone camera. Compared to complex DSLR cameras, he says, the added advantage of a cell phone is ”you just have to press one button.” When it comes to editing, however, Bages recommends avoiding the use of filters. “It changes reality too much,” he says.
Eleonora Galimberti works in digital marketing and communication and regularly collaborates with winemakers and with lifestyle magazines. For her wine-focused Instagram account, Enozioni, Galimberti takes photos using her iPhone and hails the importance of post-production editing. “Good editing is just as important as taking a good photograph,” Galimberti says.
The list of photo editing apps (many of which are free), is ever-growing, while there are a number of handy YouTube tutorials to help you master smartphone photography and photo-editing.
“My absolute favorite [apps] are Lightroom and VSCO,” says Galimberti. “They are quite simple to use, and with a few steps, allow you to improve light, shadows, contrasts, saturation, colors, and definition.” But be wary of over-editing, she advises, because (like filters) “the result may be too artificial.”
Smartphone in hand, one of the first and most important considerations is lighting. If you’ve ever tried to capture a special bottle during a candle-lit dinner, you’ll know that the scene never quite translates to photo. (But don’t even think about turning on the flash unless you want the whole restaurant looking at you.) Too much light, however, and glare is an issue. In overlit photos, bottles lack definition from their surroundings and all intricate details are lost.
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When indoors, Simons recommends daytime as the best period for photography, with no need for difficult-to-control artificial light. Later at night, Galimberti says to look to professionals for inspiration. “In photo sets,” she says, “professionals use artificial lights and panels to direct light. Try doing the same using large white sheets on the sides of the frame.”
When focusing an artificial light source directly onto a subject, the photo is filled with an unattractive mix of glare and deep shadows. By bouncing the light source off a reflecting panel, you simultaneously create a softer light source (reducing glare) and eliminate shadows.
At home, a reflecting panel could be anything from a white sheet of paper to a bed sheet, depending on how ambitious your photo is. When dining out, avoid using your phone’s flash (which causes too much glare), and instead reflect the light from a companions phone onto a white napkin out of frame.
With artificial light, practice is key to perfecting your technique and gaining experience, Galimberti says.
If you’re outdoors, natural light is the main obstacle. Sunlight intensity changes throughout the day. ”The hours at the beginning and end of the day will provide you with much better light,” Bages says, “and you’ll get beautiful pictures.”
Sadly, that means boozy outdoor lunches are not always as resplendent on film as they are in memory. Still, by keeping brightness levels in check on your smartphone, and utilizing editing apps, you can transform even the sunniest midday snap into something moody.
While bottles and glasses should be the main focus in any wine photo, keep your Instagram feed interesting by setting up different scenarios and using props and accessories.
“At home, you have handy objects that can be used to create a personalized context, or evoke a situation,” Galimberti says. “For example, a string of pearls and a lipstick left open near a glass of Champagne evoke the presence of a beautiful woman who is preparing for an elegant dinner,” she says. Other props might include fresh flowers, books, or appealingly rumpled (clean) cloth napkins.
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Food, too, can be a great addition. Many of Simons’ photos appear alongside well-presented home-cooked dishes and cheese and charcuterie platters. In this case, Simons uses food not only as a prop, but to offer his personal recommendations on food and wine pairings. His wine snaps are more than just beautiful — they’re instructive for aspiring home cooks and wine drinkers.
As for background, diversity is key. “Instead of just taking a photo of wine from your dining table, or the shelves of your wine shop, try to do something different,” Bages says. Even at home, “you can use colored or textured papers to create nice backgrounds.” Backdrop papers, such as this four-pack of “assorted wood,” can be used in addition to props to create an endless number of different scenarios, without ever leaving the house.
You can also add drama to a photo by creating action. “I know it’s bad to throw away wine, but you can get really impressive photos with wine blowing in the air,” Bages says. You’ll definitely want to head outside for these kinds of action shots.
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Bottles vs. Glasses
Choosing between capturing a bottle, glass, or both, ultimately depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your photo.
“I want to show the label of the bottle,” Simons says, so that people can recognize it if they choose to follow his recommendation and want to buy it. Simons adds a professional touch by using different glassware for different wines. Champagne is presented in flutes, and he has different stemware for light whites and full-bodied reds.
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Galimberti likes the artistic opportunities glasses offer. “The glass itself allows me to play with light and shadows, and stimulates my imagination,” she says. “They are the protagonists of special moments,” she adds, like intimate tastings with friends, or toasts celebrating special occasions.
There are, however, practical implications to consider when shooting glassware. “I always get crazy if someone touches the upper part of the glass with their fingers,” Bages says, “because, if you take a photo of a wine glass against the light, it’s always going to look dirty.” Take the shot from the base of the glass, he advises, to capture it in its entirety.
Social media is not as easy as it looks — just ask Great Aunt Jean. By following the practical advice of influencers and professionals, however, you can easily transform your feed and gain those all-important likes. “Above all, don’t forget to have fun,” Galimberti says.