The Joy and Frustration of Tiki Photography

The Joy and Frustration of Tiki Photography

One of my favorite parts of Tiki Month is busting out my lightbox, and setting up a semi-permanent studio behind the utility curtain in the basement. Every time I make a new drink, or just a really good-looking one, I rush back to the box and yell “Work with me baby!“. I madly change aperture settings and move my KICK LED all over the place to try to get the light right. I usually take about 20-30 shots of each drink. Yay, digital photography!


Mug is the Bombora Blast from Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas

Tiki mugs can be gorgeous works of art. Combine with just the right garnish, whether five minute’s worth of knife work or simply the perfect piece of fruit, and a Tiki mug is a traffic-pushing photo opportunity waiting to happen. Sometimes they can be a pain to shoot, like this little guy below. All black objects, be they Tiki mugs or cats, will lose all contrast unless you wander quite far afield form any normal automatic settings.
Here’s a counter-intuitive tip: Use a dark or black background when shooting a solid black subject. A white or light background gives lovely contrast to your naked eye, but unless you have the time, patience, and money for a hand-held light meter, that background will cause your camera’s internal light meter to plunge every single detail of the mug into indistinguishable darkness. Also, while you are waving your meter around and calculating settings, your drink is getting diluted, or your cat has stopped doing that adorable thing and instead started licking his… well, you know. If you aim your lighting correctly, the lack of contrast with a black background will let the ceramic’s detail pop. It is not a perfect shot, but I rather like the way this one illustrates what I’m talking about.


Savage Tiki mug by Tiki Farm

I wish I’d figured this out back before my black and white cat died. If I had, I wouldn’t have a collection of photos that look like the CIA redacted all the cats in a begrudging FOIA response.

So the joy of Tikiblogging is that it is easy to have a great collection of arresting photographs, each different from the last, that your readers will hopefully enjoy and that may even tell a story….


Whack-Whak the Grumpy Headhunter here looks suspiciously to me like he might be John Boehner’s bartender….

The frustration is that you can’t tell a damn thing about the drinks in any of these pictures! Are they flash blended? Blended smooth? On the rocks? Brown? Creamy white?

What if they are a glorious, suddenly fashionable again blue?

What if there isn’t actually a drink in any of these pictures, just a mug and some garnish? I’ll give you a hint, that is exactly the case in one of these shots. What I’m saying is, don’t put away your glassware just because it is Tiki Month. And understand why there won’t be a super cool mug in every post.


  1. Doug Ford

    6 February

    Thanks for writing about this—I thought I was the only guy who thought this was a problem.

    I agree 100% about opaque serving glasses—no way to know what the drink looks like. Garnish, yes; drink, no. The same thing goes for colored cocktail stems, silver julep cups, and copper mugs for Moscow Mules. Very frustrating. Campy tiki mugs are a lot of fun at parties, but for photos, I’ll stick to the good old Collins glass!

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