Flaming Vodka Cocktails

Flaming cocktail


After deciding that I wanted to do a flaming cocktail shoot for a “drinks” theme over at a Google+ food photography community that I belong to, I set off to the liquor store to buy some sambuca, as I knew (from my misspent youth), that sambucca produces a beautiful blue flame. But standing in the liquor store staring at all the different colours of sambuca and remembering it’s distinct aniseed smell (and my misspent youth), I just could not bring myself to buy a bottle. So after a quick google search, I found out that vodka flames too. Yay – I can do vodka. I could have used surgical spirits (rubbing alcohol) too, but too be honest I am not big on using weird (inedible) things in my food photography. I once used gel toothpaste to fake a jelly topping on a pastry case and every time I look at the picture my stomach churns. Not that I was planning on drinking half a bottle of vodka because I wasn’t. Well, I wouldn’t have been able to anyway, even if i wanted to, as the whole lot went up in flames –  big, blue, beautiful flames.



I set up the lights and composition before I added any vodka or fire to to glasses. The light source is a Canon 580exii Speedlight, set to manual (1/64th), triggered with Yongnuo wireless triggers, with a soft box attached. The light was placed directly behind the glasses. I used a piece of black vinyl (my downfall in the whole “studio on fire ” thing) to block out the light in the centre of the soft box, creating two thin strips of light on each side, to highlight the sides of the glasses. The most difficult part was getting the size of the “blocked out” centre piece correct. It took quite a bit of trial and error and adding (or taking away) a few pieces of vinyl to control the size of the highlights. Even in the final shot, I am not completely satisfied with the lighting. I used masking tape, as I did not have duct tape to stick the vinyl to the front of my soft box, which is a soft nylon type material. The masking tape did not stick too well and the vinyl kept falling away from the soft box. It was a bit extremely frustrating (not to mention being the sole reason my studio caught alight). Finally when I had highlights that I thought I could work with and the vinyl seemed to be stable, I added the vodka, and then the flames. The room was in total darkness as the shutter needed to be open long enough to capture the blue flames and if the room was lit everything else would have been overexposed. The quick burst of light from the flash lit the sides of the glass, while the longer shutter speed allowed the flames to be captured. On each side of the glasses and facing  slightly forward were two pieces of white cardboard to reflect some light back onto the cherries.The 5 glasses were on a piece of glass from an old picture frame and after all the glasses were flaming nicely, I poured vodka on to the piece of glass and then lit it. The flames on the glass did not last very long, so I had to re-light it a couple of times.


The Fire

After a few shots, the heat from the flames started to loosen the masking tape and pieces of vinyl slowly started to lean into the flames. I realised what was happening and had I not been waiting for the 6 second shutter, I would have quickly moved the light stand away and all would have been fine. But no, I had to wait for the shutter to close because….. well…. I had to get the shot. The vinyl finally tipped right into the  flaming vodka, knocking over one (or maybe more) of the glasses and spilling vodka (and flames) all over the work surface which was covered in black fleece. Needless to say the black fleece and the vinyl was now furiously burning. Somehow, in trying to put out the flames on the tabletop I knocked ALL the glasses filled with flaming vodka onto the wooden floor. Oh did I say that the piece of glass, with the 5 glasses was teetering on the edge of the table to allow the light to pass through and add a highlight to the full length of the glasses and not leave a gap. As the vodka fell and spilled all everywhere,  to say the floor lit up like a Christmas tree, is not an overstatement. It took me a few (panic filled) seconds to realise that it was just the alcohol flaming and the wooden floor was not actually burning (yet). My son, who was helping me with the shoot at the time, as my voice activated light switch, ran and fetched a 5 litre bottle of water (somebody has clearly NOT been very successful in teaching him how NOT to put out fires). At the same time my husband came in with a blanket (another fleece one) and threw it over the burning tabletop. The blanket disintegrated into a gooey mess and extinguished some of the flames. Next came some towels which we (ok my husband) used to smother the rest of the flames, first on the table and then on the floor. And the whole time during all this action, all I could think about was getting my camera and lighting equipment away from the fire. And I am very glad to report that we are minus a blanket or two and have some burnt towels but my camera equipment is completely fine. Oh, and the house is ok too.




The final shot is a composite of 3 images.  I used one image as my base image, one for the middle glass, which for some reason was a lot brighter than the rest, and another to add some extra flames on the right. I manually blended them using masks and layers in photoshop. There was a lot of clean up work and I cloned out many bright spots and lighter areas.



This shoot was a lot of fun and I will definitely try it again with different types of cocktails – but I think I will do it in the garage this time. (With a fire extinguisher nearby)





  1. Mich-in-French 5 July, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Wow Carla – what a shot! No more boring days in your household hey!

    Glad you are all still in tact -you, the house and the camera!

    • CM 7 July, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

      Heehee.Thanks Mich. It was a lot of fun.

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