Representing an entire nation’s beer with your Instagram account could weigh heavily on a person but, for Beer_Australia’s Tom Sheehan, the focus is more about having a nice beer once the kids are asleep. Downplaying things further, he suggests that he most enjoys "beer for being beer without being to critical about it" but is continually challenging himself to take better photos.
His photography style is synonymous with crisp, beer portraits, often with complimentary tones and occasional props. In the latest instalment of our Aussie Beerstagrammer series, Guy Southern finds out what it takes to be one of Australia’s best beer photo bloggers.
How did you get into sharing your beer love on Instagram?
I have always enjoyed photography, and beer was just another thing to shoot. I started throwing a few photos up on Instagram for no particular reason, and then I won a slab of The Continuous Daryl IIPA from Mornington for a photo and thought "this is not a bad gig!" So, I tidied up my account and switched it to beer only.
Since then I have had three young kids so star trails and landscape photography are pretty tricky to get to, but it is easy to take a photo of a beer once you have put the kids to bed!
What’s your typical setup like?
I shoot with an Olympus OM-D EM-5 MkII micro 4/3. Typically paired with an Olympus 45mm F1.2 lens and a couple of speed lights on occasion. This is essentially a portrait set up, which I feel works for the style of beertography that I do. I love the camera when I am at an event such as the recent Good Beer Week Showcase, because I can shoot a photo, wifi it to my phone, and throw it up on Instagram on the fly. It was great to meet the brewers, catch the spirit of the event, and have a photo up instantaneously.
The F1.2 is great for shooting low light so at breweries and events you can shoot without a flash and really catch the moment.
Modesty aside, can you describe your style and suggest a couple of images that best represent your account.
I always shoot the can or bottle and the beer poured in a glass. I think it is pretty important for people to see what the beer looks like. Generally, fairly front on to get a good understanding of the product, but sometimes I mess around for my own amusement with some light painting or long exposure.
Setting up a photo I am restricted to what I have within my house, so I have used every area and surface for photos including a shoot in the toilet which makes for a great light box! Christmas time is great because you have the fairy lights out which provide good bokeh backdrops.
I have started setting up a homemade studio for some of my shots, basically just extending my own knowledge of photography. I am happy to try new techniques to keep learning, while drinking good beers.
Changes to social media platform algorithms can create headaches when it comes to engagement. How do you stay on top of this constantly shifting digital sand?
I am mostly ignorant to it. I just do my thing and share my photos. Occasionally someone will say: "Try this" or "Do that" and I will add it into what I already do, but I am no Kylie Jenner.
I take photos for me, and share them with my friends. If they like them, or the breweries like them that is a bonus. I am always happy to talk beer, and engage with people, but not too worried about algorithm permutations.
What Instagram accounts do you follow and what makes them special?
@gotthard_beer is a legend and always happy to share his "behind the scenes" and photography tips. @brett_wilson and I met having a beer in a bar and decided to do a recent Star Wars collaboration photo. His #toyphotography is outstanding.
@melbourneandcheese and @jakemintonillustration are great inspiration and @millyjane14 is rad because who doesn’t like an Olympian who enjoys a beer after a race?!
Hashtags are synonymous with Instagram yet have zero influence on other platforms. What are some of your favourites and what’s one of the weirdest ones that you’ve seen or used?
I sometimes use the display purposes website to generate hashtags but mostly just copy and paste from post to post. #straya is always in there, and #beer (in any language) has got to be good.
Pop culture related beer hashtags are always fun, ie Holgate Millennium Falcon #fastesthunkofjunkinthegalaxy #punchit
A lot of businesses see social media as time-consuming. How long do you typically spend on your posts and what could a new brewery do to stand out on Instagram?
I spend the least amount of time possible on a post. Life is pretty busy and this is something I can do when I can pinch a spare moment. I generally don’t write a big spiel; I try to let the photos do the talking.
New breweries can be active and engage with beer photographers. A slab of pre-release beers sent out to 24 different beer photographers can get you thousands of views for little outlay.
How do you choose which beers to feature?
I aim to feature Australian Independent breweries. I generally shoot on trend beers and try to get them on release or soon after, to get the photos up while the hype is still there.
I try to get indie beers from every state to make the @beer_australia name relevant.
Instagram has the potential to engage brands beyond traditional marketing methods. What do you see as the benefits for beer businesses getting involved with Beerstagrammers?
People are going to take photos of beers anyway and share them with their mates. So, the breweries, bars and bottleshops may as well have a good relationship with beerstagrammers and support the visibility of their product.
People often ask me where I got my beer from, where to get a beer, where the best breweries are and how to get work in the industry. I am always happy to connect people with beer, or connect people with other people in my network if I can’t help. @slybeer has been a go to for this.
What tips do you have for anyone keen to, as they say, crush their Beerstagram game?
I think you need to enjoy what you are doing. I always try to tag the brewery, bottleshop or bar, and glassware where possible. I am pretty lazy with my post timing. Generally, my photo goes up minutes after I have taken it, while I am sipping the beer. This could be anytime day or night.
Style-wise, I keep my photos fairly consistent and I guess I have refined that over the years. I still love to see everyone else’s different themes, but I think the way my photos are set works for me. Try not to be all things to all people.
You have got to be active and building relationships through likes, comments, tags and follows. But if it is not fun then don’t do it. There are so many cool beerstagrammers out there who are just happy to see that you are enjoying a beer and are always willing to throw in a like or a comment. Also, don’t be afraid to slide into someone’s DMs. Most people are down for a chat.
And any Instagram faux pas people should look to avoid?
My thoughts are that if I have tagged the brewery in it, then they can share it without asking permission. But you definitely need to give people credit if using or sharing their photos. If you are a personal account or have not been tagged in a photo then you should ask for permission before using or re-posting a photo.
The thing that irks me a little is when people crop my photos, or put a crappy Instagram filter over it without my permission. If you like the picture, shoot me a message and I am happy to resize it for you.
All photographs published in this article are the work of Beer_Australia.
You can read other articles in the Aussie Beerstagrammers series here. If you would like to be featured – or have an account you love and would like to know more about – let Guy know. You can also check out Guy's beerstagramming at Goodtimes Craft Beer.