When Beer Becomes Art

In the world of digital living, there’s probably a gazillion craft beer photos floating around out there on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. Just search on a variety of hashtags like #craftbeer, #drinkcraftnotcrap, #beergasm, #instabrew and even #girlslikebeer, just to name a few.

Lots of folks are documenting their unique craft beer experience… including me! It’s fun and it helps me remember what I’ve tasted. In the midst of all our snapping and posting, there are a few stand out photogs bubbling up to the surface. One of my favs at the moment is Mike Beach or you may know him on Instagram as: mbeach717.

I was able to catch up with Mike the other weekend while at Al’s of Hampden for Intangible Ales’ limited bottle release of Future Primitive. We cracked open a bottle of this tart and wonderfully, funky farmhouse ale. Sipping away as we chatted all things beer, bottle label design and photography. You know me. I geek out over good design. And, I geek out over craft beer. It was an intense, inspiring and just plain fun conversation.

We talked about creative concepting, props, lighting, camera models and shooting techniques. Note: By “shooting”, I don’t mean shooting a gun. It’s the industry term used interchangeably with “photographing.” There were no guns fired during this discussion but there was “shooting” going on. Have to document the experience!

Intangible Ales - "Future Primitive"
Intangible Ales – “Future Primitive”. What we were drinking at Al’s of Hampden in Enola, PA during our discussion. #ProperGlassware
~ Photo Courtesy: Mike Beach

Of course, I gushed about my love for his work. I mean, look at these photos. Not to mention, that the beers are most amazing, too.

Refined But Playful


Vintage Fabrics

Humorous Context

Trippy Lights

The Process
I think what I’m most intrigued about is HOW some of these shots were captured. Before talking to Mike, I was convinced most of this was Photoshop trickery. Even after he told me the trippy lighting effects were done while photographing, I still doubted his claim. Then he showed me a photo of his set up. He hangs strings of Christmas lights from his ceiling so they dangle into the scene. He then sets his camera shutter wide open while either he or his artist-girlfriend, Ashley Huckabee, wiggles the string of lights for a few seconds – being careful to stay out of the scene. Then the camera shutter is closed. VoilĂ ! Crazy, magnificent swirls of light and color.

NOTE: Mike uses a DSLR camera with a 50mm f/1.8 lens and a rotating head flash. Fancy! I could only dream of owning a camera of this caliber.

Another curiosity of mine was the bold backgrounds. They’re so intense and striking. Mike creates this effect by using a variety of elements. Sometimes it’s vintage fabrics. Other times it’s scrapbooking paper or artificial flowers from craft stores. Take a look:

Mike Beach Photography: Setup & Final
Left: Setup of the scene and lighting preparation. Right: Final photo captured.

The setup (shown on left) uses artificial flowers meticulously inserted into a piece of craft styrofoam then taped to the wall to create the background. A mirror surface is used to not only bounce light to brighten the scene but also creates an elegant fluid surface for the bottle and glass. This Hill Farmstead / Blaugies Le Sarrasin (saison/farmhouse ale) never looked better. Did you notice the proper glassware? I did. Proper glassware is important.

Although Mike never studied art, photography or design, he has always showed an interest in capturing a moment in time with a camera. Throughout his childhood, he felt the need to document events which lead him to really appreciate the power of photography. Mike calls himself “an archivist. A fun, neurotic person.”

His first experience in craft beer was at a friend’s house where a variety of Magic Hat beers were being served. His reaction was, “Craft beer is awesome! I don’t know what it is, but it’s awesome.” This moment of discovery set him on a course to explore various styles of craft beer to figure out what he liked and didn’t like.

It was only a natural progression to combine his love of beer and photography. In the beginning, “I had an intrinsic sense of design, but I had no idea how to create what I envisioned the shot to be.” Ashley, who has a degree in art, coached Mike to think about color, shapes, form, lighting and composition. It was a lot of trial and error to get the perfect shot.

A Photo is Worth a Thousand Words
I love how Mike’s photography tells a story or evokes emotion. He captures the essence of the beer. And most importantly, he remembers to have fun… to not take himself or the beer too seriously. Often, he incorporates his surprisingly docile and well behaved cat aptly named “Kitty.” Sometimes he even appears in the shot. Us ladies at Stouts & Stilettos especially love this playful shot of Mike in these incredible heels. Not to mention his Rogue Dead Guy Ale tattoo. This is great!

Stilettos & Beer
Be sure to check out more of Mike Beach’s photography on Instagram: mbeach717.

(Follow Me On: Twitter & Untappd: @dzyngrl | Instagram: @dzyngrl14)

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