If you’re a fan of a good photograph and a good beer, understanding how one is made may help you understand the other. Beer and photographs are comprised of three active ingredients and one passive ingredient.
Recipe for Beer
For those that don’t already know, beer is essentially made using four ingredients: water, hops, barley, and yeast. They are the fundamental building blocks to what has become one of the most beloved crafts in the United States and around the world. I personally consider water to be a more or less passive ingredient, while the other three are often changed from recipe to recipe. While debatable, the simplest way understand how taste, texture, and aroma is constructed is that the three non-water ingredients contribute equal thirds to the final products. To have a properly good beer, there needs to be a balance between the three. While some beers may feature certain ingredients more than others, balance is necessary to achieve an optimal outcome. Take, for example, IPAs, the most hop-forward of beer varieties: they still need a solid malt backbone to ensure the end result doesn’t turn out to be an extremely bitter, tea-like drink. Conversely, a proper malty stout still needs hops to keep the beer from turning into a diluted molasses beverage.
Recipe for Photographs
Similar to beer, photographs are generally considered to be comprised of three items, collectively known as the exposure triangle, consisting of: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (a.k.a. ASA). Much like making beer, there must be balance between these three components. Too much or too little of any of them can ruin a photograph, unless one or both of the other two compensating. For example, if I’ve stopped down my lens to a point where the shutter speed needed for a neutral exposure is one step beyond what I can get without camera shake, I can simply open the lens up one stop and keep the shutter speed within a tolerable range. In addition, maintaining the same shutter speed and aperture, the ISO can be raised one stop to ensure the same balance.
Sensor/Film = Water
If you’ve read up to this part and you’re wondering why things aren’t adding up, you’ve been paying attention! That is, beer has four ingredients, while photographs have only three. The fact of the matter is that while good water is essential to making good beer, so is a good camera sensor or film. For beer, water is the blank slate that the beer is built on. Similarly, a camera’s sensor or film serves much of the same purpose. So, I would argue that water in beer is analogous to a sensor/film in photography.
ISO = Yeast
For those that still shoot film, changing ISO one frame to the next requires the ability to change film between shots, which most cameras are not easily capable of aside from some medium format cameras with interchangeable film backs. While digital cameras are more versatile in this respect, I personally find that in most situations, it is typically held as low as one can afford without sacrificing image quality. In many ways, ISO plays a similar role to that of yeast. Yeast limits the amount of alcohol that can be achieved and dictates the clarity of the beer.
Aperture and Shutter Speed = Malt and Hops
For my shooting style, aperture and shutter speed are the two settings I adjust most to achieve the desired stylistic outcome. Malt and hops play much of the same role. While certain yeast is associated with certain types of beer, many are essentially “general purpose” enough to use for multiple styles. As such, it is up to malt and hops to set the stylistic tone of the beer.
Digital Versus Film = Ale Versus Lager
Photography essentially boils down to two main categories: digital and film. While I primarily shoot film, I own a digital camera and still use it frequently enough. Beer has a similar dichotomy: ales and lagers. The primary difference between the two is that lagers ferment on the bottom while ales ferment on the top. Other than that singular distinction, there is not a huge difference between the two. Both ales and lagers can be dark, hop-forward, light and refreshing, or flavored with fruit or whatever you like.
Unnecessary Continuation of Associations
I have general thoughts as to what types of photographs and beers go together. I suspect many may disagree, and I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments.
- Sours = Instagram Fads. While I do love sour a bit more than even the best of IG fads, there’s just something trendy about both that make them feel like they belong together.
- Stouts = Moody Landscape Photos. Moody landscapes like those common to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Scotland remind me of a proper stout in a proper pub when it’s cold outside. I don’t know why.
- West Coast IPAs = National Park Wanderers. Think Joshua Tree, Acadia, Yosemite, etc. IPAs are the beer of those who love to shoot environmental portraits in national parks and wear flannel the second it isn’t too hot outside.
- New England IPAs = Studio Photography.
- Pilsners = Street Photography. Of the limited knowledge I have of street photographers, they love a good pilsner.
- Trappist = Cold Landscapes. This is certainly based on a bias, but I do love a good quad after an evening in the cold, photographing at sunset.
- Scotch Ale = Desert Landscapes. I’m certain this is based 100% on my personal experiences of photographing in AZ and having a scotch ale in the evening.
- Witbier/Saisons/Gose = Summer Travel Photography. All of those beers remind me of day-drinking in the summer, popping into a pub for some water, AC, and a cold pint before more adventuring.
Again, I expect everyone has a different take on what sort of beers go with what sort of photography. If so, let me know in the comments!