Steam and smoke always seem to show up better when backlit, so maybe, like a microscope light hitting real steam from behind? I would suspect that it would not look right though. Maybe some dry ice. I know the steam from DI tends to go downward, but if you blew into the cup with a straw from above, you might be able to get it to swirl up.
Here's a totally different idea, like Galen said, use glossier beans, then have a single drop of thick coffee running down the side of the cup.
Glint the light off the drop so it mimics the reflections you'll have in the shiny beans.
It's an interesting challenge you've chosen for yourself. A cup of coffee is a common item, and to make a photo of it stand out isn't easy!
I just drew in some steam wisps on a layer. I drew them quite small and stretched them into their final size and shape with the Transform command. I used scale, distort and especially warp, which is new in CS2. Then I adjusted the transparency until it looked convincing. A darker background might have looked better for this type of paint-over.
The light on the beans was more straight forward. I selected the beans with the magic wand and lasso. Then used Filters>Render>Lighting Effects to place a spotlight that was the same width as the selection. then adjusted the intensity and angle until it looked right.
The drip was just gratuitous, I searched Google for a blood drop, took the very first image and again transformed it into the proper shape, desaturated most of the red color and placed it on the side of the cup.
I was thinking another way to get real steam would be to use one of those oil-steam generators that model rail-roads use.
I took PS - ART270 a while back (it was PS7) at Phoenix College from Pat Tenyek, who is also teaching it (and ART 117, beginning PS) this coming Fall. Tuition is about $150 for the course (plus a materials, ink and paper, fee), and it's one night a week (Wednesdays.) Class starts August 24 and run 'til mid December. Pat's the kind of teacher who lets you go where you want, but is there if you need guidance.
Disclaimer: I work for PC and want extra pay from the marketing department for the above paragraph.
Remember Critiques are subjective. Here is what I would do.
First of all change the camera angle so we can see inside the cup slightly,
so you know what is inside. Fill the cup to within 3/8's of an inch of the
brim with coffee. and a half drop of dish soap. Just before shooting use a
syringe and inject a couple of bubbles in to the cup. This will give the
appearance of freshly poured coffee.
Secondly your composition is too static, loosen up the beans a bit so it does
not appear that they have been placed around the cup so rigidly. like little
soldiers. Also don't be afraid to get closer to the subject, you don't need to include
all of the cup, saucer and beans to be an effective shot.
Next and biggest concern is lighting. Feather or Gobo your light away from
the background a bit to get some fall off. It will add depth to the shot and
allow you to add some steam to the coffee. Use a small mirror or a grid
spot to kick some light into the beans and the left side of the cup. If you
are using a grid spot, keep it as far back as possible. so all you add to the
cup is a thin line down the left side.
Every attempt should be made to do the shot photographically. Adding
the steam on system is a compromise but it is not realistic. Too many times
in this industry we hear "I can fix it on system" Why not do it correctly the
first time and save the computer time.
There are a couple of different ways of doing this. Behind the cup, but out
of sight of the camera. You can either put a small piece of incense. The smoke
from the incense will curl up around the rim and give a fairly effective steam trail.
The most effective way I have found of adding steam to the shot is by
(now you are going laugh! ) lighting the end of a tampon, blowing out
the flame and allowing it to smolder behind the cup. The smoke will
actually flow over the rim of the cup and give that hot coffee look.
I did not have much time to play today but I did throw this together
it illustrates some of the concepts that I am talking about.
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I have to agree with the fix it in PS. I don't ever get the look I want. I have always tried to get the "real" look in what I shoot. I will do some more playing with this. I was going for a darker coffee shop feel. However I believe you are right too ridged. As for the cup it is only a small espresso cup that is why the beans look so large. :wink:
Love the Steam idea I have go to try this (without burning up the table).
I am working with new strobes and am still learning how to feather with the soft boxes. I don't have a small spot yet however the small mirror looks like something I might need to get into the mix.
I knew it was not a bad shot, just not a good shot. I will do some more looking at what I want and try again. You only get better by doing and have people Critique. As for subjective how boring would the world be is we weren't?