Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by brooks short, Oct 31, 2004.

  1. In the past there have been several questions in this Lighting Forum about photographing food. I did a food shoot last week and thought it might be a good idea to use that shoot as this week's theme to talk about the lighting as well as share some of the techniques that the food stylist used. The food stylist plays an important, some would say the most important, role in creating a good food shot. This particular shot was an ad for an advertising agency that specializes in food and beverage advertising and marketing. The agency was the client and the ad was to promote their marketing services. The concept of the ad was that there's an art to creating effective food advertising. In this case the shot was an illustration of a hamburger on a bun with the ketchup being painted on the burger by an artist's brush. And they did want fries with that so there are french fries in the background. Often when working with an advertising agency the concept of the ad is well thought out in advance with the visual, headline, copy and layout already having been approved. To gain a consensus on these elements, the agency will often produce what is known as a Comp. Sometimes the visual on a comp is an actual illustration. Other times it is a photograph or several photographs which have been altered or combined in some way. Here's the agency's comp. Notice how large the stripped in french fries are.....
  2. For this theme I'm showing the final images with all the lighting and styling already completed, but the shoot starts with the client choosing a plate or surface and the stylist preparing sample or stand-in food which will be used for deciding perspective, lens choice and lighting. Once these decisions have been made the final "Hero" food is prepared and photographed. When doing the lighting, I always start with the Key light. The Key light is the main light and it's placement determines where the highlights and shadows fall. Careful placement of the highlights and shadows creates a three dimensional quality to the items being photographed. Almost always, in food photography, especially with "food on a plate" shots, a form of short lighting is used. Short lighting is placing the Key light to one side or overhead or a combination of the two, and slightly behind the subject so that the shadows are directed towards the lens. In this shot the Key light, which is a small 2'x3' softbox, is on the right side of the scene and slightly behind the subject about 2 ft. away. You can see the strong highlight and shadow modeling on the burger and the back lighting on the french fries that this light position provides. Imagine how much flatter the lighting would be if this Key light was moved around to the front of the set.
  3. Those shadows are pretty dark. A 3'x4' medium soft box overhead and also slightly to the rear, at 1.5 stops less exposure than the Key light, not only provides some much needed fill light but also lays a clean diffused specular highlight on the top of the burger, ketchup and artist's brush. Here's the light from the overhead softbox only.....Not very bright....
  4. But when you combine the Key light with the fill from the overhead softbox things are looking better.......
  5. Finally a white card is placed on the left and front of the burger to fill the areas where the overhead soft box can't reach. It's a subtle fill but you can see it in the left side of the burger and in the front edges of the plop of ketchup. It's a simple "two lights and a fill card" setup. The camera was a Kodak SLRN full-frame 14mp chip with a 105mm Macro lens. Exposure was strobe, ISO 160 at f-32. Here's the final setup with both lights and the fill card. The photography and lighting was relatively easy so let's check out the food styling.....
  6. None of these shots show any final retouching that might be done. For example, there are some cracks in the bun, ketchup on the edge of the brush, bad edges on some of the fries and the grill marks on the burger are a bit too dark. All of that stuff will be retouched digitally. Today that kind of retouching is easily done in PhotoShop. Years ago it required dye-transfer prints from a transparency and retouching on the print using the same dyes used in the dye-transfer print. Progress is good ! Here are some of the techniques used by the food styles in this shoot. The first step is buying the best food items you can find in large qualtities and as much variety as possible. On this shoot, the stylist brought 10 lbs of ground beef, 2 dozen baked hamburger buns from the local bakery which had never been bagged for retail sale, 2 kinds of lettuce, 2 types of frozen french fries, 6 tomatoes, and 3 varieties of onions. The shopping alone is a lot of work. During the shoot the stylist made four different burgers before the size and color was what the client wanted. She then created the grill markes with an electric charcoil starter. The ketchup was poured onto paper towels and allowed to drain for an hour so it would be thicker and stay in place on the burger. The lettuce was cut in individual pieces, trimmed with scissors to fit the shape of the round bun, and placed in position with tweezers. Additional sesame seeds were placed on the bun to cover bald spots. The ketchup was put on the burger using a baker's icing bag and tip. She swirled the ketchup in circles from the outside inward, building to a peak in the center of the burger. The bun top was propped on the burger with styrofoam under it's left edge and held in place with toothpicks. The fries were cooked in three batches to get just the right color. The edge of the tomato and onion were sprayed with just a tiny bit of glycerin for freshness. And the brush was suspended with a clamp and a Matthews articulated arm from the right side of the set. I was exhausted just watching the stylist work ! So...the next time you buy a burger and fries at the drive-through and the burger looks like someone sat on it...and the fries look sadder than a very sad thing...at least you didn't have to wait four hours before they were ready ! #8^) There's your burger with fries...Go play with your food and take some photos. It's fun!
  7. Hello Brooks, thanks for your great free lesson. keep up the good work. I find the lighting breakdown very informative. Could you perhaps tell us your preferred key/fill light ratios, especially for this image, including the approximate ratio of the light reflected off the bounce card to the front & left?
  8. Thank you for another excellent tutorial. I'm not a studio or food photographer, but these tutorials are still very interesting for the analytical understanding of light provided; and the work involved in production. Efforts appreciated.
  9. When Brooks told me that he was thinking of posting this theme last week I thought it would be good, and I'm certainly not disappointed!

    IMO it demonstrates that:<br>
    1. Food photography is as much about good ingredients and good preparation as anything else. we sometimes get asked about the 'tricks' used in food photography, no tricks were used or needed here, and now that just about everyone uses flash instead of hot tungsten lighting, using substitute materials is necessary far less often.<br>2. Simple lighting is simply the best in most situtations<br>3. As with all studio photography, success follows from a good idea, good preparation, good composition, good products, good lighting, good choice of camera position and care.<p>These 'rules' apply to all studio photography, not just to food, and not just to still life
  10. Thanks for this one Brooks, I've not done much in the way of food photography so this will be a bit of an incentive. I should be able to knock something up in my somewhat limited space.
  11. Kelvin,

    The overhead softbox fill was about 2 stops less than the main light. When I used to shoot film we always would shoot test Polaroids to check these things. Today I shoot digitally connected to the computer and it's easy to see slight changes in light ratios. The fill card was moved in until the shadows looked right. I never actually use a ratio. These things are best judged visually.


    By all means shoot a sample food shot for us. You might try something that doesn't require a lot of prep like buttered toast and jam, or salsa and chips, maybe a bowl of soup etc. Try this short lighting technique that was used in this theme. Have fun!
  12. Brooks and Garry, thank you so much for these excellent lighting themes. You must spend a lot of time and effort compiling them and I hope you know how appreciated they are.

    I have two questions for Brooks on the placement of the fill light and reflector in this post.

    Why did you choose to place the fill light slightly behind the subject, instead of directly overhead or even slightly to the front (i.e., why from the same direction as the key light)?

    Also, why did you choose to use an overhead fill and a side reflector instead of just an overhead fill located a bit in front of the subject and slightly to the left?
  13. Warren,

    I placed the overhead fill light slightly behind the subject, in a similar position to the key light, so that the lighting appeared to come from the same direction. It's a more natural look when the light seems to be coming from one direction. Probably has something to do with having just ONE sun in the natural world. #8^)

    The overhead fill was used so that it could be overhead and to the rear as mentioned above. Using a reflector just on the left and somewhat to the front allowed me to control the fill light on the vertical edges of the bun and burger seperately from the overhead fill which was primarily laying diffused specular highlights on the top surfaces.

    Garry, I did forget another food styling technique which was painting vegatable oil on the burger to keep it looking moist. By the way, the burger was only browned on the outside. Inside it was still raw. Undercooking for appearance is the way to go. If you fully cook most meats they look dry and nasty.


    Here's another idea for a food shot for you which requires little if any prep. How about shooting some pastries or donuts? Maybe create a morning light look as if you were sitting down to breakfast? Could be nice!
  14. "Garry, I did forget another food styling technique which was painting vegatable oil on the burger to keep it looking moist"
    Vegetable oil works fine for this but I prefer baby oil - especially when there's a Creative Director on the shoot and you can persuade him to eat it when the shoot is finished....
  15. Bravo, Brooks! - I think it worth while pointing out to all, that you used a full frame "35mm" DSLR with a 105mm macro @ f32. You did not use 6x6 or 4x5, and you did not need the perspective control of tilt and shift etc. So often I hear it said that good studio product shots need tilt & shift! You prove them all wrong.
  16. Garry,

    I'll try something other than vegetable oil next time I want to teach the art director a lesson. Perhaps a thin petroleum based 10 weight oil would have more effect? Any experience along these lines?
  17. Thanks Graham,

    The only time I find that I need tilt on a studio shot like this is if I want to make everything sharp front to back or if I want to do the opposite and create very limited depth of field. If either of those were required then I'd use my Pro Back Plus on the Sinar.

    In this shot f-32 was more than enough for depth of field. But getting f-32 requires more strobe light than a couple of 150ws Alien Bees. That's the real message here.
  18. Brooks "Any experience along these lines?"
    Sorry, never tried that one and I think my shotgun would be carrying things a bit far.
    For the benefit of those lucky photogs who have never had the pleasure of being advised by creative directors, they are not held in universally high esteem....
  19. Hi! thanks for the lesson, I like it! I'll try to play with food. It's my way naturally! A bank in front of the subject and a costruction of black polystirene around the figure. A second light for the background. The "food" is a plastic prop painted with fake blood and glitterized with glycerine. I have done also make up artist. I hope that you like it, best regards
  20. Hmm... a question -- you shot at f/32 which means the sharpness/resolution of your image is actually diffraction limited. While this is much more of a problem with smaller sensors, do you notice any loss in sharpness compared to shooting at f/8 - f/11?
  21. Ok here's my first attempt (not very successful but it was all I had handy till I go shopping again!) Of course - I had to make it more difficult for myself by including shiny things so I had to sort out the reflections as well Similar lighting setup to Brooks shot on a Fuji S20 Pro RAW at ISO 200. 1/1000 second at F11 (I really need some ND gels for my strobes.)
  22. Kaa,

    "you shot at f/32 which means the sharpness/resolution of your image is actually diffraction limited..."

    You know, there's a lot of talk here on PhotoNet about the sharpest f-stop on a given lens and how some sharpness is lost through diffraction if you stop down too far...etc.

    Here's the deal in commercial work. You shoot at the f-stop which provides the required depth of field. If your shot requires f-32 or f-45 then that's what you use. The client will complain about out of focus areas that should be sharp long before they talk about diffraction. It's about the requirements of the image, not some idealized "sharpest" f-stop.
  23. Marco,

    One of the food stylists techniques which I mentioned in this theme is that you must undercook meat so that it stays moist and doesn't dry out. That arm looks just a little bit too well done.

    Another tip when you're shooting a sauce with things in the sauce is to plate the sauce first then individually place the beans, herbs, eyeballs etc. That way you can control their look and placement. It takes more time but the results are worth it!
  24. Frank,

    Nice job. That overhead point of view is a bit awkward. It might be better to move in closer and choose a lower angle which more closely resembles the point of view that some one would have if they were sitting at that table.
  25. I would love to try out this theme, but I only have 1 softbox. 3 strobes, but I have umbrellas for the other 2. I also don't have a boom. Any suggestions on alternative lighting setup for this project, or should I just stick to portraits? ;-)
    BTW, thanks to everyone involved in setting up these weekly lighting themes -- they are an amazing resource of information, and the "real world" examples have been invaluable.
  26. Prescott,

    If your set is small you can use your softbox on a stand positioned behind to to the side just out of the shot with the soft box aimed downward. That will do for an overhead light. Or you could make your own boom out of metal pipe or pvc. You can also make your own soft box out of foamcore. You could also just use a scrim of tracing paper, velom or plastic sheeting.

    Give it a try and see what you can come up with.

    BTW I'm glad you're enjoying these themes. They're designed to get you thinking about the value of trying things you might not have done before.
  27. This is why Brooks is the master! :-o

    Do stuggling photographers typically have a clause in their contrat allowing them to take all extra props home? :p
  28. Shane,

    I once got to take home an unmolested spiral cut honey baked ham! Another time we had 10lbs of restaurant grade butterfly shrimp. Yummy!
  29. Brooks--thanks for the advice. As an extreme amateur, I admittedly need to be more creative with my shoots, and get out of the pigeonhole that I *have* to have x,y,z equipment to produce results.
    As you have reminded me with your softbox-alternative suggestions, we are simply talking about light and shadow, it doesn't matter what you use to put it on your subject if it gives you the desired effect.
    I'm certainly going to give this one a try. Now I just have to look around for some pretty food.......
  30. Prescott,

    "Now I have to look around for some pretty food...."

    Get thee to a Bakery ! Pastries, Breads, tarts dtop me before I hurt myself ! #8^)
  31. here is one I did some time ago, think I will revise and change my salsa and add some guacamole.
  32. oops, here is one a little lighter...
  33. Ken, that's awesome. It looks like the chips are floating an inch above the plate.

  34. "Do stuggling photographers typically have a clause in their contrat allowing them to take all extra props home?"
    Keeping the products isn't automatic, but it isn't at all unusual. We did a bra and knicker shoot recently and the model was given the lot, which were worth about 6 times her modelling fee. I got a very expensive bed once, there wasn't room on the van for it and as the client had driven 300 miles to my studio it wasn't worth coming back for it.
    The best I ever had, many years ago, was a shoot of fresh meat, for the Government agency that promotes meat. Obviously these were the finest cuts of meat obtainable. At the end, they asked us to do them a favour and dispose of it. I was just the employed photographer and got a third, my boss got 2/3rds. It completely filled my freezer and took up shelves in neighbours' freezers too - this was just after my daughter had announced that she was now a vegetarian!
  35. Brooks that was an excelent tutorial thanks for sharing with us, really picked up a lot from it. Here is a shot I took back in the summer not really the same thing but I thought others may like to look.
  36. outstanding, i appreciate the amount of time you've spent sharing your wisdom, priceless,
    thanks again!
  37. Like this?
  38. <p>Brooks,<br>
    Thank you so much to share your knowledge with us. Advertising Food photography is in the big demand, and I just shoot several covers for the restaurant and included food photography. I have done photography for 20 years, but not food photography. Thank you for your excellent food photography techniques. You have great images. I shoot food photos with lights, umbrellas, and reflector, but one book I read suggest only window light and natural light. I am not sure that it is correct. I start looking to answers, and I found the book Digital Food Photography (Paperback) by Lou Manna. Have you seen this book? What the best advertising food photography book you could recomended? I am a lot of selftought, and I have a great library at home. Three colleges degrees which I have couldn't answer my questions. Your advice as a master will be helpful.<br /> I have another magazine photography assignment very soon, and I am looking for your help.<br>
  39. I would look at a macro lens as well. The 105 might be a little too long, the 60mm would be better. If you already own the 105 then I would go with that. As with just about every type of photography lighting is key. The suggestions above should give you some great ideas on how to light the product.

Share This Page