By Michelle Chaplow

One classic iconic luxury hotel image is chilled Champagne in an ice bucket. It’s inevitable that the champers will creep its way into almost every luxury hotel shot list.

It can appear by the bathtub for the ultimate bubbly indulgence, as a welcome drink to show the excellent first impression of the establishment, to celebrate at a wedding reception, to enjoy on the lawn with some strawberries at a garden party – you name it.

A classic luxury hotel photograph.

A classic Luxury hotel photograph.
Chilled Champagne

If you start examining hotel images closely, before long you will come across a faux pas where a champagne bottle has been included in the picture – with no condensation on the bucket or the bottle, or on the bucket but not the bottle, or vice versa. The dream is shattered.

Photography represents the dream – good hotel photography will seduce the client with an ideal image. Instead of an appealing chilled glass of champers, seeing that there’s no condensation changes what we perceive as a “real photo” into a staged photo, and the viewer feels cheated. Who wants warm champers? Not me. We want the dream, the real deal, we want the full-on visual seduction, and in this case it has to include the fine film of water droplets to be authentic.

The fake champers image

This image looks contrived and unconvincing without condensation.

To achieve a shot which features both the bottle and the ice bucket with condensation can be a major challenge. Photographers have to face the ice bucket challenge head on.

Not every photographer has such high standards at Hotel Essence – just google “luxury hotel champagne” and you will see plenty of inauthentic images of unchilled (and therefore undrinkable) wine – fake props, in essence. Will glasses of room-temperature bubbly convey the excellence of a hotel? No, of course they won’t.

Indeed, we’ve heard stories of top photographers, who charge eye-watering fees, neglecting to ensure that both bottle and bucket meet the iced challenge. This type of crucial detail sorts the serious, conscientious, meticulous professional from ones who won’t go that extra mile for the perfect shot – like Hotel Essence.

Let’s turn to physics. What is condensation?

According to Wikipedia “Condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from gas into liquid, and is the reverse of evaporation.”

 What is condensation?

What is condensation?

In layman’s terms, the air we breathe contains water vapour. The moist air in the tropics has a high percentage of water vapour, while in other places, such as in the desert, the dry air holds very little water vapour.

As the temperature of the air drops, its ability to hold water reduces: this is how rain is formed in clouds, when cold air meets warm air.

Meanwhile, down on earth, when you have a cold surface like an ice bucket with ice inside, the ice bucket cools the air next to it, and if there is plenty of water vapour in the air, then water droplets condense and lie on the ice buckets.

We are all accustomed to seeing this, which is why the fake photo will kill the dream. Occasionally you may see a photo that will have taken hours to style – then someone has the bright idea to add a champagne bucket, and they will stand the bottle in the bucket and expect the photographer to magic in the condensation.

This particular shot is easy to obtain in places like Bangkok with both heat and humidity. Here is an image that I shot at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. Just look at those water droplets.

Just look at those water droplets.

Bubbles at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. Just look at those water droplets.

However on a recent shoot at a mountain spa resort in Switzerland, which gave me the idea for this blog post, shooting an ice bucket in a bathroom, we just couldn’t get any condensation as the air was too dry. The only way we could achieve our objective was to turn the hot shower on full, and close all the doors and windows, thereby introducing more water vapour into the air. We shut the crew inside the bathroom, and after 10 minutes, we were ready to go – everyone was hot and sticky, and a few hairstyles were ruined, but the shot was just perfect.

The ice Bucket challenge

Chilled bubbles, whole Ice cubes and condensation

Photographer’s tips and practicalities when shooting Champagne

Geographical location

Think about your geo-location: some countries like Spain – especially Catalonia, the region where Barcelona is located – will prefer their own Cava to traditional Champagne, and many German hotels elect for their own sparkling wines. For the French – ooh-la-la! – nothing else but the genuine article.

The brand

What type of champagne (or other fizz) you use depends on the specific market that the hotel captures or would like to capture – you can have everything from run-of-the-mill Moet to a vintage Dom Perignon. Some hotels will want to promote a particular brand, while others will want the brand to be non-identifiable, just a generic bottle – which is easier said than done, as distinctive characteristic shapes and design can define brands, even if the label isn’t showing.

The bucket

The bucket must be pristine – free of any fingerprints or scratches; this is easier said than done. The best-prepared hotels will purchase, with advice from the stylist, a brand new bucket for the photo shoot – well worth the investment.

The ice

The ice must be either crushed or in perfectly formed shapes – melted ice, or a mix of the two, will not work in luxury hotel photography. If the ice starts to melt, start again – ideally have a spare bucket ready.

To pop or not to pop the cork?

Some hotels will easily write off a bottle of champagne for a photo shoot; others will want to resell it and so will be reluctant to remove the cork. Once a bottle has been inserted into the ice bucket, the label can be ruined too, so the hotel needs to bear this in mind.

The ice bucket style

There are a plethora of different shapes and sizes available, from plain to decorated, straight to curved, classic to modern. Coordinate with the style of the hotel, make sure that the stylist doesn’t get carried away, and keep the dream real.

“Take me there”

Shoot the scene in the most appealing way possible – remember the client must be able to imagine that they are there, in the photo, being served a delicious glass of chilled bubbly.



So as you can see, there is a lot more to shooting a bottle of chilled Champagne in its ice bucket than meets the eye. But with a little planning and preparation, you can get a wonderful shot which will enhance the hotel’s image and tempt the viewer to come and enjoy a glass of fizz in those beautiful, elegant surroundings.