Shakin’ Things Up: Cocktail Photography with Dave Imbordino

For this episode of Hobby Dabbler, we combined two loves of mine and Paul’s: cocktails and photography! Our guest, Dave Imbordino, joined us for an evening of tips and tricks for photographing some delicious drinks that we stirred, shaked, er… “mixed up” together with some friends.

If you ever have thought about hosting a cocktail party 1) listen to Dave’s pro tips after the podcast credits and 2) invite us!

Hobby Dabbler
Hobby Dabbler
Shakin’ Things Up: Cocktail Photography with Dave Imbordino

It’s better to call drinking a hobby than a habit.

-Dave Imbordino
@cocktailexplorer: The Cane & the Clove
@cocktailexplorer: Black Manhattan
@cocktailexplorer: Man About Town

Speaker 1 00:00:08 Welcome to hobby dabbler, the show dedicated to exploring hobbies for people who wouldn’t want to make their free time or valuable. I’m your host, Vanessa Cress. And today we’re talking about cocktail photography with my friend, Dave Imbordino. I can tell you right now, you’re going to want to stick all the way to the end, where after the credits, Dave is going to list four things that you can do yes, You, to operate a fun, fabulous cocktail party. Uh, so anyway, that aside now it’s time to welcome David Imbordino to hobby dabbler. He’s here to make a couple of fancy cocktails with us and then photograph them. And he’s going to show us his tricks to how to make fancy cocktails look even fancier. Hi Dave, thanks for joining us.
Speaker 2 00:00:55 Great to be here, Vanessa. Thanks for having me.
Speaker 1 00:00:57 So I do want to start because my husband and I were going back and forth on this. What part do you consider the hobby, making the cocktails or photographing them?
Speaker 2 00:01:09 I would say probably both. Um, it’s better to call drinking a hobby than a habit, I guess, but, um, I got into, uh, craft cocktails first, uh, and then started picking up photography and then I’ve always been kind of a foodie and just decided to kind of combine those as I was learning more about both.
Speaker 1 00:01:29 Uh huh. But I seen your other pictures. Like your travel photography is still good photography as well. Does that because you took up photography to shoot cocktails.
Speaker 2 00:01:38 Um, I took up photography, not specifically for cocktails. It was something that as I was just learning photography and going on, I just decided to start dabbling in food and drink photography as I was learning more and more about the camera and doing things. And by the nature of being at home, it was convenient. You know, travel, travel photography is fun. Uh, I don’t consider that my forte, but I’m not always out there traveling. And when you’re at home eating and drinking, it’s easier to just set something up and take a picture. Yeah.
Speaker 1 00:02:22 Uh, so yeah, so on that, I know lots of people take pictures of their drinks, especially when they’re at a restaurant and something that they wouldn’t ever venture to make. How often are you using your phone versus pro gear? Is it, are you intending to take the picture? Can you talk, talk us through your process?
Speaker 2 00:02:37 Yes, usually, um, I don’t take a picture of every drink I take and it’s been interesting as I’ve gotten better at photography looking way back at my pictures at what I thought were good pictures and then seeing them progressively get better. Um, I’m still by no means a professional. Um, but you know, just learning about the angle of light, uh, how you set up the shot, how you end up getting it. Look, I’ve kind of centered on kind of a, more of a simplistic look to, to, to my, uh, cocktail photography. Um, sometimes I’ll use my phone when I’m out, but I find that I rarely post those as much on my Instagram, just because I could tell such a quality difference. Uh, usually like if you’re in a dark restaurant, um, you know, the phones are taking good pictures these days, but if you could definitely tell a difference.
Speaker 1 00:03:24 Oh, interesting. Okay. Um, did you, when you were learning, did you actually take a class? Did you watch videos? Did you read a book? Do you have, I mean, you mentioned you’re a foodie. Do you have foodie friends who were doing it and kind of got you into it
Speaker 2 00:03:37 For the, uh, photography? I did have a number of friends who were into photography, but none specifically with food or drink photography. Uh, so when I was looking at picking up, uh, a camera and just learning more about photography in general, I talked to them a lot about it. Like, what camera should I get? Uh, they taught me a little bit, but most of my learning was through, uh, you know, YouTube videos. I bought some books and just dabbling around.
Speaker 1 00:04:03 Okay. Yeah. I watched a couple of YouTube videos last night about food and drink styling. And I think this is maybe one of the most, uh, enthusiastic hobby dabbles I’ve done so far. So I’m pretty excited. First of all, do you ever do dry January or abstain and then feel like you can just need to take pictures so you make a mocktail and photograph it?
Speaker 2 00:04:27 Um, I have, uh, when I haven’t been in the mood to drink, but I’ve been in the mood to take a picture. I have made cocktails before just to take a picture of it and then sometimes I’ll dump it or take a sip. And there’s a number of pictures of drinks that I have on my Instagram account that actually don’t taste that good. But the pictures look really good. So, um, it’s funny on my Instagram, I’ll put a coding system in, uh, in the hashtags for me to know if I liked the drink or not. And what style of drink it was because a lot of times I like the picture, but maybe not necessarily the drink.
Speaker 1 00:05:03 That’s interesting. Yeah. Cause you post the, um, the recipes often as well. Do you say if you don’t like it or?
Speaker 2 00:05:10 Um, sometimes I’ll say if I, if it wasn’t exactly my style, um, I definitely say if I really like a cocktail, most of the drinks that I post are from other people and I’ll sometimes tag them or, you know, give them credit for the drink. So generally I won’t pan a cocktail, uh, quite as much just for that reason. Um, just because if I’m getting credit or calling out something at home, I
Speaker 3 00:05:32 Want it to be like, I’m giving it a bad review.
Speaker 1 00:05:34 Oh, I get that. Okay. And I know like food photographers will have all kinds of tricks for adding fake elements, like clue instead of the milk. And, uh, actually I even saw a thing for cocktail photography where people use like a clear mat spray paint and then a glycerin water, droplet atomizer to make it look dewy. Do you ever do any of that?
Speaker 2 00:06:06 Um, I haven’t done quite as much food photography for that reason because it’s the food I’m styling and there’s so many tricks of the trade. And then, you know, getting some, uh, you know, unique silverware, just a lot of the props. I just haven’t gone into that quite as much. I know there’s a lot more tricks along that line. I did learn a really good trick from a food photography book once where I was always amazed that on soups, they would have these ingredients like sitting perfectly on top. And whenever I tried to take a soup picture, they would generally start sinking in the soup. Um, so the trick was you put an upside down ramekin and the bowl and have it just covered with soup. And then you put the ingredients on top of the ramekin. So I did do that once and I thought that was brilliant. And it was one of those tricks that I always wondered how in the world, those things stayed on the soup. And that’s how
Speaker 1 00:06:58 Tip. And is it on, is that one on your Instagram?
Speaker 2 00:07:01 Um, I believe, yeah, there is one on there where I have like these crew tons that are like sitting on the soup and they hadn’t sunken in
Speaker 1 00:07:08 That’s. Okay. I’m going to find that and I’m going to reference it in the blog post. That’s good. And actually, so that was one of my questions too, because I see a lot of like unique glassware in your pictures. And I was looking at our glassblowers we’re preparing for today and it’s like simple Ikea glasses. I mean, they’re, they do the job, but they’re not fancy. Do you just scout out a single glass?
Speaker 2 00:07:29 Sometimes most of the glasses that I’ve bought her from Etsy, um, there’s a lot of people who sell vintage glassware. So some of the glasses I have are from 1910, usually into the thirties, forties, fifties. Sometimes there’s a lot of cool glasses with unique stems or unique designs on them. So when I was getting into cocktail photography, I kind of went on a shopping spree on Etsy. I ended up, there was one seller there and Florida, they always seem to have some really good glasses and they usually sold them in pairs. Sometimes they were singles, but usually I’ll, I’ll buy them in pairs. Um, and I think, I think it’s cool to do that because they become con conversation pieces. If you have a cocktail party, uh, people will all have a unique glass and I’ll ask about it and it just a way to China generate a
Speaker 1 00:08:15 Oh, I love that. Yeah. I mean, I think did you, did you bring fancy glass?
Speaker 2 00:08:19 I did bring one of those and then one, I just brought a standard coup that anybody could buy on Amazon.
Speaker 1 00:08:38 Uh, so tell us about your most memorable experience of photographing cocktails, good or bad.
Speaker 2 00:08:45 Um, well I was starting to flame orange peels, uh, for drinks, um, which is always a fun to do. If you’re hosting a cocktail party, if you get a good flame off an orange people could appeal. People really enjoy that, but when I’m by myself and I’m trying to take a picture of it, I tried to attempt this. And, uh, so I had my camera on a tripod and I set the timer where it would snap, uh, five pictures. Um, and I think I went through a mountain, 15 orange peels Trying to catch the right moment of the flame bursting out of appeal, um, because it was just hard to time squeezing, you know, lighting the match, squeezing the peel, getting the flame and having the shot fire at the same time probably would have been a whole lot easier if someone was with me taking the pictures to actually snap a bunch at once as it’s going. Um, but doing that by myself, it’s difficult. And, uh, it was kind of amusing. I, I just went through so many matches and orange peels.
Speaker 1 00:09:48 I think we should totally try that today. I didn’t even think that was going to be on the docket, but can we try that? Okay. Jen brought oranges. So
Speaker 2 00:09:56 Yeah, I brought a couple cause one of the drinks I’m doing has a flame… a flamed peel.
Speaker 1 00:10:09 Uh, are, is there any lingo that people getting into this hobby you should be aware of or any things that might be a faux pas? That’s good for, you know, people getting into it to just know in advance?
Speaker 2 00:10:18 Um, I don’t know if I would call out any specific lingo. Um, I think for faux pas, one interesting thing I learned I was getting into drinks is when you should shake a cocktail or when you should stir a cocktail and a lot of people don’t realize that you should stir cocktail. So if it has all liquor based components, um, and you shake it, if it has a non liquor based component like lemon juice or lime juice or something along those lines, there are some little exceptions to that rule, but that’s generally the rule of thumb. And I hosted a cocktail party once and, and I was telling people this and that was kind of a first heard for them. And they said, well, it probably doesn’t taste that different. So I actually, it’s a great test to do with people. So I, I actually made two drinks, one stirred, one shaken, it was supposed to be stirred. I made a Manhattan basically. Um, and I made it stirred and I made a shake and I gave him the drink and it’s amazing how vastly different they taste.
Speaker 1 00:11:14 Oh, wow. I know like the emulsification is part of it too, potentially depending on what those other factors are, but I’ve never actually tried the two done differently with the same ingredients. Now. I’m really curious.
Speaker 2 00:11:27 Yeah. You could tell the difference for sure. Yeah. In theory, a martini should be stirred, not shaken, but, um, I actually liked my martini shaken though. So rules are meant to be broken sometimes.
Speaker 1 00:11:40 Interesting. All right. So we’ve had a little bit of this conversation in the chat as we’ve been preparing, but let’s just, can we talk about ice for a minute? Um, I like probably other people have tried buying different ice cube makers, the big round ones, the big square ones, a silicone, um, boiling the water and letting this slow freeze from there. What’s the trick to good photographic eyes.
Speaker 2 00:12:07 The trick to perfectly clear ice is the speed of freezing and boiling your water and just putting it in a mold and putting in your freezer. Won’t do it. You really need to freeze a, a large block basically for it to become clear or you buy a special mold that actually will, uh, is a little bit larger. So as it freezes, you end up chopping off the part that is cloudy because the, that, uh, part that’s inside freezes slower and is perfectly clear. So, um, what I ended up doing is I bought a tiny little cooler, um, and that fits in the freezer. And I fill that almost to the top with water. I leave maybe an inch or two, a space, and I put that in the freezer. And after 24 hours, you it’s mostly frozen through, but not all the way you take it out.
Speaker 2 00:12:56 You flip your, you, you leave it uncovered in the freezer. You don’t, you don’t cover the cooler. You leave the lid off. Um, you tip it over on a cutting board and it’ll slowly slide out the whole big block. Uh, the top part will still be water. So you just have to be careful, have it over a sink, get the water out and you will have a perfectly clear large block. Then I take a, uh, a bread knife to cerate the ice and then a little mallet to tap. I would let the ice sit there for maybe five minutes and temper. Uh, otherwise it cracks really weird. Um, let it sit for five minutes or so, and then cut. And then you could carve it into cubes from there.
Speaker 1 00:13:34 Fascinating. I am going to have to try that. I did just buy one of the special ones that has the deep bottom, so that it goes from the top down and it’s geometric. And so I’m kind of excited for that. I actually bought it for my husband, but we’re both excited to use it.
Speaker 2 00:13:49 Yeah. I mean, it’s probably, even though it costs a bit more money for those, it’s probably will give you a better cube. I mean, carving the cubes and getting perfect cubes is pretty tough sometimes, but, um, you know, I still do it. And then I just put, if I’m gonna host a party, I’ll do a couple of those blocks ahead of time a week or two. And then I just put the ice in a freezer bag, uh, and then just leave them in the freezer to use later.
Speaker 1 00:14:29 Tell us about the environment when you’re photographing cocktails. You mentioned sometimes, do you just do it at home? Do you have a studio lighting set up or just using a window light reflectors? What kind of VR are you using?
Speaker 2 00:14:41 The majority of my pictures are in one of three places. I do not have a fresh professional studio set up. Um, most of them are just on my kitchen table and I use a flash that’s on a stand, a little hot shoe on the table and I bounce it off my white wall to turn the wall into a soft box, basically. That is the majority of my pictures. Like people think usually that I’m in this huge setup. And then it’s just a cocktail on my little table with a flash bouncing off a wall
Speaker 2 00:15:11 And it comes out really good. Um, sometimes I’ll have it next to my window on a side table. And then another times I’ll put it on the ledge of my balcony and I have like trees in the background. So once you have those blurred out, it’ll give a good background. So sometimes I’ll do a natural light that way, if it’s cloudy, um, something along those lines. But there are times where I have been doing this more often is taking out a soft box, uh, setting that up or a strip box and playing around with that a little bit more. Um, it depends if I’m more in the mood to drink a cocktail or to take a photograph of a cocktail,
Speaker 1 00:15:49 Because
Speaker 2 00:15:50 It is a little frustrating where I’m like, okay, I really want to just have a drink, but do I want to set up this soft box? And if I had a bigger place where you just have this set up all the time, it would make it a lot easier, but I have, I live in a small place and I got to tear down and set up all the time when I want to take a picture.
Speaker 1 00:16:05 It’s funny. And have you ever done it as a side gig? Like have any bars you frequent asked you to do something for them? Have anyone I’m just kinda curious if there’s any side gig aspect of this for you?
Speaker 2 00:16:39 I haven’t done anything. Um, paid, uh, I have done some things for people. Uh, on the side, there was a bartender who, um, I went to, uh, new, up in Baltimore who was looking to start his own business, uh, doing at home parties and stuff. So I, I had taken a couple of pictures of him, um, just, uh, while I was actually at the bar, once I had brought my camera and then he had asked me, so I took some pictures while he was working there. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have a crazy setup cause it was the middle of it. We didn’t do a special photo shoot for that. Um, but he, he really appreciated that. Um, I’ve done, uh, some of the other restaurants I’ve been to I’ve, uh, you know, done a couple just to help them out. Um, again, no like real paid gigs.
Speaker 2 00:17:26 Um, but there have been some restaurants that I’ve used my photos on their feed and that’s um, yeah, so, um, they did one funny story. So Scarpetta is Scott Conant’s restaurant in New York, Scott Conant. And he’s a judge on chopped, uh, people who watch food network would recognize them for sure. And they make this phenomenal pasta in, in their restaurant in New York. And I have a recipe online and I made it and took a picture. And then there, the restaurant account hosted it as, uh, a couple of times once when they were just using it to say, you know, how good their posture was at another time was to promote a pasta photography contest. So, um, I was a little irritated that I didn’t become an automatic winner, used my picture for it. Um, they, they didn’t give me anything. I did write them basically saying, Hey, uh, I feel like I should be a winner of this contest considering you’re using my picture to promote it. But, um, They did not. They, I think they did credit me on the, um, on the, on the picture of It and they didn’t. Um, so it w it was definitely a faux pas, but I, you know, I let it slide.
Speaker 1 00:18:41 Well, good thing you have good pasta. Uh, so go ahead and tell our friends where they can find out more about your cocktail photography and how to follow you on social media.
Speaker 2 00:18:52 Yeah, so most all of my pictures go on Instagram, under Cocktail Explorer (@cocktailexplorer) is the account. Um, so you’ll see food pictures on there and cocktail pictures, and, you know, I have the recipes, I think, uh, it’s, it’s been a good way for, uh, to share recipes for folks. I, a lot of my friends have said they’ve tried them. Um, and generally like I’ll bookmark my favorite ones and put it into an album on Instagram. So when I’m looking to have a drink, I could easily go into the, uh, bookmarks and just say, which was the ones I really liked the most, or if I’m going to have a cocktail party, it’s an easy way to reference and see what I want to make.
Speaker 1 00:19:26 That is so smart. Do you have other, uh, cocktail photography, friends that you get actually get together with?
Speaker 2 00:19:35 Um, no, not really. They mostly just want to come and have my drinks. I have a lot of drinking friends.
Speaker 1 00:19:45 All right. Well, thank you for listening to this episode of hobby dabbler. I hope you’re inspired elevate your cocktail game and come away with photographic proof.
Speaker 1 00:20:06 Don’t forget to subscribe, leave a note in the comments and tell us what you think or drop me a line at Be sure to follow us on Instagram at @hobbydabbler_official and, where we post more hobby fodder throughout the week, sign up to join our email list at our website: to get notified when a new show drops and for insider news. Today’s episode is brought to you by Cress Consulting. From online hosting to complete website design, Cress consulting is your one-stop shop for your digital presence.
Speaker 2 00:21:00 So when I, uh, throw a cocktail party, a lot of people really enjoy them. And they usually will ask me later, uh, you know, some tips or figure out how to do something impressive for when they have a party. And I usually give a few different, uh, suggestions. One is the ingredients matter. I’ll make a drink and people really like it. And they’ll ask me for the recipe. Then they’ll hit me up later and say, oh, that drink didn’t taste as good as, um, when you made it. And so I ask them, well, what kind of removes did you buy? And then it’s the cheapest removed on the shelf, right? So, you know, it’s just like ordering a caprese salad at a restaurant, right? It’s a few ingredients. You gotta make sure they’re all good for it to be good. Um, number two, ice is an ingredient.
Speaker 2 00:21:41 We talked about ice already. Um, but using, you know, the ice that’s been sitting in your freezer next to food for the past three months, it will affect the taste of your drink. Um, number three, plan and print a menu. I can’t tell you how far this actually goes and impressing people. I’m kind of surprised when it helps you figure out what am I actually gonna make one ingredients do I need, sometimes you get batch a cocktail and advanced. If you’re having a lot of people you want to batch the cocktail, especially ones that are stirred, uh, it’s easy to then just pour it, stir it with ice, strain it into a glass, and you could knock out eight drinks really quickly. If you have a lot of people coming, you can’t make one drink at a time or people you’re gonna have a line. Uh, so printing out the menu, people come in, they usually smile and say, oh my gosh. And then it gives them something to kind of choose from and then go from there.
Speaker 2 00:22:39 Uh, and number four, I would look at twists on classics. Um, so a lot of people will come in and you say, Hey, what do you like to drink? If they say, oh, I’d like a Manhattan. Uh, and I say, let me give you one, that’s a twist on a Manhattan. And there’s so many twists on different drinks. Uh, we’ll be making one later called the black Manhattan. All it is doing is swapping out their vermouth for Amarro, and it just gives it such a different feel to it, a complexity to it. I really enjoy that drink. And then people will learn something and they’ll like it, same thing with an old fashion, shake it up with either maybe different types of bitters or a different type of syrup. And it could really elevate the drink to the next level. So those are, those are just a few things I would suggest for folks who are looking to host a cocktail party. Uh, that definitely makes things memorable. I mentioned the glasses, uh, earlier to having something that’s unique. It just starts a conversation. Um, and th and that’s always really what you want out of a party anyway, is generate a conversation and, uh, have drinks with friends and just make it memorable.
Speaker 1 00:23:43 So when you mentioned, uh, shaking of the Manhattan, did you mean actually shaking it or shaking things up?
Speaker 2 00:23:51 Oh, no. I meant stirring a Manhattan for maybe a bad choice of words there. Shaking things off in terms of like, shaking up what you do. Don’t shake a Manhattan ever. I’ve been to, I’ve been in a restaurant order Manhattan, and I saw him shaking it and I was so disappointed.
Speaker 1 00:24:10 Thank you for these pro tips, Dave, let’s go make some cocktails.

And, as promised, here is the trick shot mentioned around the 6:30 mark of the episode.

@cocktailexplorer: Giada quick and spicy tomato soup

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