A Guide to Photographing Tea

Part of blogging is also about showing off the visuals, and tea photography is particularly tricky to get right. However, pictures are essential. It’s hard to accurately picture what a tea looks like from reading wordy descriptions, and sometimes the best way to put it all together is with a photograph.

Here are some common photography tips to make sure your tea looks wonderful, illustrated by photos I took a photo of the same dry oolong tea leaf. I arranged the tea leaves on a white plate, and tried to take some photos of them, optimizing along the way.

First Version: Indoor Lights

First, this is the point and shoot version with indoor, incadescent lights and no flash lighting. As you can see, the white plate doesn’t really look white. It’s been washed to a dim yellow color. The tea itself looks dark and lacks detail.

oolong picture under incandescent lights

Second Version: Camera Flash

This is the second version with camera flash. I had to take this photo several times, because it’s difficult to find a good angle that doesn’t bounce the light around and create reflection and glare. In general, flash is very difficult to use. However, this is still an improvement over the incandescent lights version above. My camera’s auto balance did a pretty decent job of making sure that the white plate looked white (though if you look closely you can tell it isn’t), and the flash captured considerably more detail about what the tea looks like.

However, the big issue in this picture is that the tea leaves are washed out and actually not as brightly colored as the picture would suggest.

oolong picture under camera flash

Final Version: White balanced photo with flash

This is the final version of the tea, which included setting the plate as my automatic white balance and rigging up my very own diffuser. I was able to diffuse the flash light by MacGyvering my camera’s flash with three layers of napkin rubber-banded on top of the flash to create a homemade diffuser.

The effect of this was to create a true white on the plate, and also to prevent the colors of the oolong tea from getting washed out. In a direct comparison from my screen to the plate, this was the most accurate depiction of the tea. On a purely aesthetic level, I took this final photo at a slightly different angle than directly above like the flash version. I haven’t decided which one looks better, but you get a better proportional sense of the “mound” of tea this way.

Four Tips on How to Photograph Tea

Tip 1: Find Good Lighting

Natural light is always best, so try to avoid using your camera’s flash as it tends to create an unattractive reflection. If you do have to use the Flash, there’s some examples of people who create home-made light diffusers for your camera. This can be as simple as experimenting with tissue paper or plain paper over your camera’s flash.

Tip 2: Calibrate Your Colors

One of the biggest challenges with tea blogging is how to authentically photograph tea and stay true to its colors. It’s very easy to make a tea look greener or more oxidized than it actually is.

When photographing tea, it’s important to be color-correct. Try to find a location to photograph with a neutral color, like a gray or a white. If you’re using a light source other than flash or daylight, the light source can affect the color to make it green (flourescent) or red (incandescent). Digital cameras have a white balance function that corrects for the type of lighting that you use. You aim the camera at a white or gray surface and press the white balance button. Until you reset it, the camera will compensate for the lighting you have.

Tip 3: Zoom to Fill Your Frame

Getting in as close as possible and filling your camera frame is a great way to remove distracting backgrounds. If you have a more professional camera, you can also use a lens that allows you to have a more shallow depth of field that lets you make the background blurry but keep the subject in focus. Also, don’t be afraid to use a photo editor and crop the image to the right size. Many cameras these days don’t have great macro lenses but you can also take a larger picture (ensuring the tea is in focus) and crop it down to the part that you care about.

Tip 4: Use Props

As Alex Zorach points out on his blog, using fruit and other rich colors as props to show off your wine are a great way to demonstrate the contrast in color. If you’re looking for a feature image, a beautiful bowl or teapot can also enhance the composition of your photograph.

Bonus Tip: Take Consistent Photos

If you’re trying to photograph tea as a product for your tea shop or blog, try to be consistent in how you take your photos. Having consistent lighting, placement and decor can really help your tea photos look as professional as possible.

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