Trick: How to Photograph Coffee Steam Using a Chemical Reaction

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Shooting Coffee Steam tutorial (1 of 1)ISO 8001-80 sec at f - 1.4

Getting the perfect coffee photos involves a lot of work, but photographer Phillip McCordall has a neat trick that gives you the same look and sometimes even better.

For starters, if you want to photograph steam coming from coffee, it’s best to have some sort of dark background to add contrast to the scene and make the white steam stand out more. You should also try to shoot as soon as the the coffee or tea is poured for the maximum steam. If you shoot it any later, the steam will die down. Adding milk, cream, or half and half also kills the steam because it will cool the liquid.

Instead, Phil’s idea comes from the days before digital. In the video below, he tells you to use a combination of hydrochloric acid and ammonia to create a chemical reaction that creates lots of steam. When you combine this with soft lighting and a dark background, you get an image that stands out from the rest. Mr. McCordall warns that this is a chemical reaction and won’t smell good. Plus it can be dangerous, so you’ll need to be careful.

Another idea that he talks about is using a steamer–but that steam doesn’t last for too long. By using the chemical reaction, you have a bit more time to plan accordingly and shoot.

Just make sure that you open a window or two. Phil’s video on how to photograph coffee steam is after the jump. Also, be sure to check out our very own tutorial.