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“The perfect food photography instructional book from a professional in the field. The exceptional visuals of food and tools used within the profession will improve the quality of food imagery for photographers and bloggers instantly.” —Amy Brooks Horn, Senior Lecturer of Photography, Northern Arizona University As a food photographer for 40 years, Joe Glyda has shot everything from appetizers to entrées to desserts. In Food Photography, Glyda brings his experience as a teacher and professional photographer to the page, instructing photographers how to light food, use unique camera angles and work with styles and trends to create timeless and mouth-watering images. Including setup diagrams, toolkits and instruction for shooting editorial imagery, recipe and cookbook images, as well as images for packaging, this book is an essential resource for taking photographs that creatively meet your client’s needs. Including invaluable advice on building your team and working with art directors and clients, this one-of-akind book is essential for students of commercial food photography, food bloggers and professional photographers alike.



Joe Glyda has been photographing food, architecture and aviation for over 40 years. He introduced digital photography to Kraft Foods in 1993 and has photographed images for a wide variety of food and for a broad range of markets. Since 1990, Joe has been teaching the art of commercial photography at various venues and institutions, including Professional Photographers of America conventions, Photoshop World, the Texas School of Professional Photography and Imaging Explorations in Canada.


“This book is an excellent resource, particularly for those interested in pursuing a career as a commercial food photographer in the advertising industry. The author has a wealth of knowledge and experience which present as a smorgasbord of tips, tricks and techniques to help you to make the most of your images. He also shares detailed insights into food photography teams, individual roles and how a commercial shoot takes shape.” —Fran Flynn, Food Photographer, Designer, Author & Educator



Cover image: © Joe Glyda Cover design: Asha Pearse

ISBN 978-1-138-50221-5 www.routledge.com

9 781138 502215

Routledge titles are available as eBook editions in a range of digital formats

A Focal Press Book

Food Photography As a food photographer for 40 years, Joe Glyda has shot everything from appetizers to entrées to desserts. In Food Photography, Glyda brings his ­experience as a teacher and professional photographer to the page, ­instructing photographers how to light food, use unique camera angles and work with styles and trends to create timeless and mouth-watering images. Including setup diagrams, toolkits and instruction for shooting editorial imagery, recipe and cookbook images, as well as images for packaging, this book is an essential resource for taking photographs that creatively meet your client’s needs. Including invaluable advice on building your team and working with art directors and clients, this one-of-a-kind book is essential for students of commercial food photography, food bloggers and professional photographers alike. Joe Glyda has been photographing food, architecture and aviation for over 40 years. He introduced digital photography to Kraft Foods in 1993 and has photographed images for a wide variety of food and for a broad range of ­markets. Since 1990, Joe has been teaching the art of commercial photography at various venues and institutions, including Professional Photographers of America conventions, Photoshop World, the Texas School of Professional ­Photography and Imaging Explorations in Canada.

Food Photography Creating Appetizing Images

Joe Glyda

First published 2019 by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business Š 2019 Joe Glyda The right of Joe Glyda to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him/her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Glyda, Joe, author. Title: Food photography : creating appetizing images / Joe Glyda. Description: New York : Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019. | Includes index. Identifiers: LCCN 2018053255| ISBN 9781138502208 (hardback) | ISBN 9781138502215 (pbk.) | ISBN 9781315144818 (e-book) Subjects: LCSH: Photography of food. Classification: LCC TR656.7 .G594 2019 | DDC 778.9/96413--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018053255 ISBN: 978-1-138-50220-8 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-138-50221-5 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-14481-8 (ebk) Typeset in Minion Pro and Avenir by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire

The dedication of this book is focused on two incredible friends, Carol Andrews and Tony Corbell. It was with their help, encouragement, and support that this book was possible! I am dedicating this book to both of you. Thank you so much!

Table of Contents Preface


1 Introduction to Food Photography1 2 Getting Started 13 3 The Players 31 4 Lighting 41 5 The Setup 63 6 Tools of the Trade 78 7 Postproduction 110 8 In Conclusion 134 Index135

Preface My career as a commercial food photographer started in a mock photography darkroom with my Dad as my so called chemical instructor in the basement. He was a machine parts inspector by day and a photographic hobbyist by night. I was instructed to carefully cover each window with black cloth and pushpins while my dad mixed the developer, stop bath and hypo in separate trays. He instructed me to be extremely careful not to let the different chemicals touch each other, let alone touch the chemicals with my hands. By calculating the timer on the enlarger for the exact amount of time and exposing the paper, he showed me the “magic” of having an image that he shot appear on a blank sheet of special paper before my very eyes. And yet, I could tell, there was a special science going on . . . and I loved it. My introduction to becoming a photographer started when I was given my first camera at age eight. It was a Kodak Star Flash. I remember intensely watching as my dad would instruct me to lick the bottom of the flash bulb before he inserted it into the flash dome. He said the saliva made a better connection and I wouldn’t have to waste a shot by a miss-fired bulb. As I got older I became increasingly interested in photography and in high school, took pictures for the school newspaper and yearbook. My dad gave me his Pentax and later started using his Leica III. After high school, I decided to go to work at a few different jobs instead of college, but somehow, I wanted to get a job in computers because I had a feeling that was where the future was headed. At 8:00 am, February 11, 1974, on one of the snowiest days in Chicago that year, I took a few buses and a train to meet with an employment agency to look for a new job. One of the workers came in and saw me sitting in the lobby and said, “What are you doing here?” I told him that I was asked to come back on Monday, and they would help me find a job. He said he was going to get his boss. The boss brought me in his office and said that anyone that would come out that early on a snowy Monday, during that kind of weather, deserved a job. They sent me down the street, to a company called Kraft Foods, where I got a job starting in the mail room. One day, while I was delivering mail, I discovered that they had a Photography department on the fifth and sixth floors along with a huge darkroom and audio-visual (AV) department as well. They also had an incredible test kitchen next to the studio where food techs created recipes for the company.

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I started bringing some of my black and white images that I was taking and processing at home, in the basement, to show the nine staff photographers my darkroom skills. They laughed me off and told me they look nice, and to keep it up. What they were saying was, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” I was persistent by hanging around the Photo and AV departments regularly, making sure I was the person delivering mail packages. The AV department had a sound recording room where they created slide shows using multiple projectors. Those photographers photographed hundreds of products for presentation slide shows, and I would ask to get them coffee while they were working on some of these projects. After two years in the mailroom, I was promoted to work in the duplicating department’s darkroom, where everything at that time was printed on a printing press. Kraft didn’t have a Xerox machine yet, so they designated me to work a Kodalith Brown 3000 STAT and a Kodalith enlarger, which was like a giant horizontal camera that made the Kodalith’s for the plates for printing that were used on the printing presses. A Kodalith is a contrast black and white negative usually containing words and numbers. Little did I know, the photography department at times needed Kodaliths for their AV department. Since there was a lot of downtime in the darkroom, waiting for the next Kodalith job, I would spend most of my time cleaning up and removing out all the little white specs of dust and rewriting the letters and numbers to be more legible on each Kodalith. After one year, Gene Sowa, the manager of the AV department, asked, “Who’s making these Kodaliths? They’re really clean.” Another photographer told him it was the kid from the mailroom who is always hanging around the studio. Fitz Lee, who oversaw the entire operation, invited me up to his office and said that he wanted to talk to me. He asked if I had any interest into working in the studio. I said, “Absolutely yes,” with enthusiasm. He said, “You don’t even know what you’re going to do.” I told him that I would sweep the floors if he needed me to. He said, “You’ve got the job,” and he put me in the darkroom with a photographer named Shorty. My first week in the darkroom was eye-opening because this photographer and darkroom specialist used his hands, instead of tongs, while dipping 150 pieces of darkroom paper into the developer, stop bath and hypo. I was shocked at first because of my experiences with my dad instructing me to be so careful not to mix the chemicals. Even though the ashes of his pipe would sometimes fall into the developer (which he noted to me sometimes helps the contrast), Shorty was an expert in the darkroom. He taught me how to make 150–200 black-and-white prints in two minutes. After about 43 months in the darkroom, Mitch Weinstock, one of the nine staff photographers, asked if I had ever used a view camera before. I said, “No, what’s that?” I told him that I didn’t, so he brought me into the studio and showed me how to set up the camera and lens and how to look through the ground



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glass. He explained the camera basics and gave me a few pointers on the swings and tilts of this oversized camera. It was a far cry from that first Star Flash! I noticed that everything was upside down and backwards. I realized right then why photographers were so creative. It was due to the fact that they had been looking at the world upside down and backwards for years! I was given unlimited access to the prop room and a few food items from the kitchen. I was told to play around and experiment with the camera to get a feel for it and create some images. Over the next one-and-a-half days, I picked props from the prop room and food from the kitchen, and I took three different pictures using an 8 × 10 Deardorf camera. When I placed the 8 × 10 transparencies on the light box on Monday morning, the staff walked in and started reviewing my images. They didn’t say much at first but later told me that these images were outstanding and incredible. They said the Professional Photographers of America had a photography competition every year and that I should submit these images. I was thrilled and excited at the same time. I just didn’t realize that they were all pulling my leg. To these professional photographers, the images weren’t as good as they led me to believe; they just wanted me to understand what it’s like to get criticized after feeling so good about the images I took. I guess they were trying to teach me a lesson. I did everything they instructed me to do and submitted my images, along with titles and the application fee, and I was on cloud nine. Three months later I received a letter from PPA asking if they could use one of my images for the Winona School of Professional Photography. Then two months after that, I was asked if they could use the same image on the cover of their PPA monthly magazine. They also wanted a portrait of me to put in a “behind the cover” story of this new up-and-coming food photographer! Needless to say, when the September 1978 issue arrived, I angered nine photographers so bad that they forced me back into the darkroom and out of the studio. They told me that I needed to learn how to suffer first before getting to enjoy the accolades of a cover shot! Now this seems a bit extreme, but it was their way of letting me know that it wasn’t always going to be like that. I was upset at first but was aware of the situation. I was sure they were asking, “Who was this kid from the mailroom walking in and getting a cover shot?” I was always asked early on, “How do you know who told you where to put things on the set to make it look good?” In other words, “How do you know about composition and design?” I used to just say, “I guess I was just lucky.” But one day in 1982, I was in a photography store getting some equipment and found a Photographic Annual magazine from 1965. I picked it up and as I turned the pages I was surprised to realize that I knew exactly what was on the next page before turning the page! At that very moment, I remembered that my dad had all kinds of photography magazines in the house ever since I was younger, and

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I was always looking through them not knowing that I was looking at Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Richard Avedon and other famous photographers. This was my initial subconscious photography education from these great photographers. My brain was a sponge and I soaked up so many images and learned about photography in a very different way. Later as I worked in the photographic darkroom at Kraft, I completed courses at Winona School of Professional Photography studying Commercial, Illustrative, Fashion and Photojournalism from established photographers across the country. I even took a continuing education class at RIT on slit scan photography. I also learned about lighting food from those nine photographers as I printed out thousands of their images on an 8 × 10 contact printer in the darkroom. I moved up out of the darkroom, through the department quickly, working as a photographer on all different kinds of media from Free Standing Inserts (FSIs) that came in the Sunday paper to brochures, cook books and National Ads. The computers that I was so eager to get into, when I applied for the original job, came in 1986. In 1986, I witnessed my first retouching job on a Scitex Response-300 computer and I knew right then that I had to get into digital photography. By 1993, I was using a Kodak DCS 460 digital camera, and I stopped using film in 1995. From that point on, I was instrumental in converting the Kraft Foods in-house photography department from film to a completely digital workflow by 1999. It wasn’t easy. Many of the photographers who were originally there told me that digital photography was just a phase. But once again I was persistent. I was tired of seeing beautiful color images from an 8 × 10 transparency that I had taken and later see them printed horribly. I wondered why it looked nothing like what I had sent them. I wanted to have more control over the quality of the final image using the digital process. With the art director on set, we could see instantaneously together what we were getting, and we made sure that the color and direction was correct. Color management in food photography is so important, and the digital technology helped us achieve that. One of the reasons for our success was the incorporation of the color separator company as a contractor into the studio and into our closed-loop process. By creating this new production process, we were able to have complete control over the color and output of the images while at the same time build an archive library that saved the company millions of dollars. This made the transition from film to digital easier and I had others on the team that were advocates of my vision. After 36 years with the company, I took an early retirement and continued my photography career through my own company Joe Glyda Photography, Inc., which I started in 1988. I am still photographing food and products along with teaching commercial photography across the country. I learned about photography quality very early on, and have carried that mind-set throughout my career, and that’s the reason for this book. I want



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to inspire and educate a new generation of food photographers to be technically proficient and engage other photographers to share and be successful in their professional photographic careers. Too many young photographers today look at an image and say, “That’ll be good enough” or “I’ll fix that later.” It’s so important to learn the craft of food photography and understand when and how to use Photoshop as another tool instead of a crutch. Today, food photography is “cool” but it’s always been “cool” to me, and I wanted to share some of my ideas to these newer photographers who are getting into the food photography industry. I hope you enjoy the book!



Introduction to Food Photography Food photography is one of the most difficult and yet rewarding forms of commercial photography. It has been said that food photography started around 1832 when a French inventor was given credit for composing a still life, which included a bowl, a goblet and a piece of bread. In 1906, WK  Kellogg ran the first Corn Flake print ads. And by the 1930s, companies like Kraft Foods, Campbell’s, Bakers and Nabisco were producing color  food advertisements showing recipes to consumers in magazines. During these early stages of print media around the late ’50s and early ’60s, food ­photography was changing the way consumers viewed food. By the ’70s and ’80s, photography was influential in the way the consumer observed food overall in advertising in the grocery store, at restaurants and at home. During the late ’60s and early ’70s, the food photography business had acquired a bad reputation because of reports dealing with food manipulation and instances that the food was fake and tampered with to make it look better than it was. The Federal Trade Commission was carefully watching what companies were doing when it came to food advertising. Truth in advertising had become increasingly important at that time because of a story about Campbell’s soup manipulating their food. Allegedly they were using charred glass or marbles in Chicken ‘n’ Stars soup to displace the ingredients. This gave the illusion that the stars were visible at the surface of the soup when in fact they would sink to the bottom of the bowl. When I started as a photographer at Kraft in 1977, this was still a hot topic, and I was told not to misrepresent the products. We had to use real food, and anything that was used on the food to make it look more attractive had to be edible. I was also taught to be aware of the product limitations and to not add or subtract ingredients to make the food appear what it was not. If there were 12 pieces of sliced pepperoni on the pizza packaging, there had to be 12 pieces on the actual pizza in the box. This represented the truth in advertising for the product. My goal was to make the food look as appetizing as possible without misrepresenting the product. That’s how I was taught and I abide by that same philosophy today. We spent hours as a team preparing and styling


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the food to create beautiful food images for photography. It was, and still is today, a team effort and an all-day project. It was also important to pay close attention to details and move and ­reposition items on the set before exposing a sheet of Polaroid film. The Polaroid was the test image to make sure everything was good to go before ­exposing three to five sheets of transparency film. These became the “1/3 stop” bracket of over- and under-exposure to ensure the correct exposure. The film was then sent out to a lab for processing, and the images were reviewed the following morning. Retouching at that time was also a true art form. This was performed by a retouching technician, who painted directly on the emulsion side of the transparency film. It was very expensive and time-consuming. The food stylist, which I will explain in detail later, is the person who had an artistic approach to food in the ’70s but who, later in the ’80s, changed the trends of styling from an artistic to a lifestyle approach. This was a look designed to sell the lifestyle and not the food. The perfect looking food that was so popular in the ’70s became more relaxed and less styled by the ’80s. Larger table spreads of food were in almost every food magazine in the late ’80s. So, the stylist had to prepare multiple dishes at one time.

Multiple dish table setting was a trend

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During my 40 years as a food photographer, styles and trends throughout the years keep changing and then appear recycled. Every few years a new trend emerges, and some of those styles and trends return just like fashion. When I started in 1977, ceramic tile and tablecloths were the backgrounds of choice. In tabletop food photography, the surface that the food is placed on is most likely referred to as the “background.” In traditional photography, the background is a vertical surface that the subject is placed in front of to create dimension.

Ceramic tile


Black Plexiglas


In the early ’80s, black Plexiglas was the background rage. The bright colors of the food against the black Plexiglas just jumped off the page. The clients as well as the art directors loved how vibrant the food looked. As of the writing of this book, black backgrounds are back! More and more packages in the grocery stores, as well as some fast food restaurants, are going back to that glossy black look. After the Plexiglas craze, came the stainless steel phase inspired by the food service trend. The industrial look of the food service kitchen was becoming very popular in the mid ’80s. The next trends were Formica, gradated backgrounds, and then on to the natural looks of stone, water, glass, woods and paper. During the ’90s, more real estate was given to the props and not to the food. Even though the food was smaller on the set, darker and more dramatic lighting portrayed a classical look. By the 2000s, a clean and white look was influenced by trend setter Martha Stewart. Linen tablecloths and vintage props were used on simpler sets with brighter lighting. The mid 2000s brought on selective focus and white plates. Painted woods like faux finished backgrounds were used with ­high-key and even brighter lighting. The next few years used a combination of rustic and modern props to create a fusion of earlier styles. By 2010, a world mix of global flavors came, which included international props and sets. There was also a return to the trend of straight down camera angles. The current trend is still presenting the color of fresh food on white. The white plates bring a



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freshness and clean background for the food to be showcased. However, the influence of the black background is resurfacing. The camera angles also changed with the times and trends: From a bird’seye view, high camera angle to a lower table perspective and to one of my favorites, the ECU or extreme close-up. I fell in love with this kind of food photography because this style brought the food visually closer to the consumer for a more intimate experience.

Stainless steel

ECU, extreme close-up

Portion control

These different types of angles and backgrounds were driven and inspired by consumer demands and attitudes toward food. By the ’90s, portion control sizes were more important to consumers. It used to be “the bigger, the better.” Larger-than-life slices were cut to show more product surface. However, the trend later turned to smaller portions with products showcased in healthier surroundings. Lighter plates, pastel colors and smaller serving sizes became the new normal.

The bigger the better

Portioned size with sugar-free chocolate

Today, careful preparation and styling of the food and dishes provide the viewer with the impression that the image was just photographed prior to being consumed. Good food photography needs to have a sense of freshness and a sense of “home cooking” while appearing appetizing. This gives

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the viewer aspiring ideas for making the recipes themselves or having them delivered. Even though most food photography is captured as a still life set, or tabletop as it’s called in the business, it represents food at its best. Food photography was only seen and displayed for advertising in magazines, cookbooks and store displays. Today, food photography is found everywhere. Besides the normal places where food was viewed, such as grocery stores and TV, food is now showing up in more public places like gas stations, train stations, at the airport on mobile food trucks and certainly on social media. Food photography is more important now than ever because it is a vital element of our everyday lives, and it is being displayed 24/7. In global terms, food is portrayed differently in worldly cultures. Internationally, smaller sizes represent luxury and being expensive. Quantity is associated with quality in the American food culture. The American consumer would think that the garnish on the right is more abundant compared to the one on the left, which looks skimpy and cheap. Their European counterpart would feel that the dessert on the left was considered more expensive and more appetizing.

Compare the chocolate garnishes

French European styling uses less food and is more artistic

Because of the internet, we are now able to view food imagery and trends around the world easier than before. The majority of food photography falls into three categories: Editorial, Recipe and Packaging. Even though different trends and styles play an important role in portraying the food, it’s the category of food photography that the photographer needs to understand prior to designing the session. But like anything else in life, there are always exceptions. There will be an occasion that these categories may cross over, but the end usage needs to be identified in case the images are multipurposed. Always have the end result in mind. A nonspecific layout will help a photographer with setting up knowing the end result is more important. Careful consideration of how the food is styled and positioned on the plate will also make a difference in the way the food is photographed. Editorial photography is viewed in magazines, websites, blogs and other media that is quick and fast paced. These images are seen quickly by the



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viewer or reader and the food is usually portrayed in an environment, such as in the home or in a location setting. It displays the food as a feature item with other supporting foods around it and is sometimes shown as the hero in focus while the other dishes or foods surrounding it are blurred or have a soft-focus effect. Most photographers start out by photographing this type of food category. This photography can be flexible and adjusted easily during the photo session depending on the client’s wants and needs. There is usually no formal designed layout for this type of photography, but it is recommended to have some sort of idea of end usage before beginning to photograph the food. Bon Appétit, Gourmet and Southern Living magazines were one of the first magazines that I remember looking at to see Editorial food photography at its best. With the introduction to the Food Network and other cooking shows, food bloggers arrived on the scene shooting Editorial images to demonstrate cooking ideas and to showcase recipes from all over the world. Food bloggers utilize this type of photography primarily. It is more casual and relaxed hence the food does not have to be perfect. Ingredients that are used to prepare the food may be displayed in the background showing authenticity of the recipe. A trend today shows the food and recipe preparation in quick time progression as the camera angle is looking straight down on the food. It gives the viewers a sense of what it would be like if they were making the recipe themselves. It’s fast paced and easy to watch and gives the audience confidence that they too can make the dish. Video is a trending tool to show these recipes as a “how to” method. ­Editorial photography also creates a road map for the viewer. Most Editorial work is lit from the left side because most people read left to right, and our eyes will always go to the lightest part of the image. The eye will focus on the brightest part or highlights on the left side of the food and move to the right shadow side. In most magazines, the reader will continue to the next page where the highlight is already in place on the left side of the next image. As stated before, the eye will normally be directed to the lightest part of the image, unless there are words or type. The eye will always read the words or try to read the type first.

Where does the eye go?

The eye finds the brightest part of the image

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Take this image of a dessert and coffee. The lightest part of the image is located at the number 1 position. The eye movement follows to the next brightest spot, which is location number 2. From there it stops at the raspberries because of the bright color of red at number 3. It jumps down to number 4 then follows the white front edge of the plate to number 5. Now the fork points towards number 6 so the eye follows the pattern of light and shape then repeats itself. This is known as leading the eye around the image.

The eye will always find the words in an image

The eye will bounce between the words and the berries

Notice where the eye is directed if there are words within the image? Even though the words are subtle, the brain tries to read the word or words before moving to the next light or brightest part of the image. Then the eyes get confused where to look next and a battle of looking towards the bubbles and the raspberries gets tiring of battling back and forth and it still wants to go back and read the type. The eyes get tired and quickly move off the page . . . to the next image! Most Editorial images were predominantly photographed as vertical images because of the use in magazines and/or newspaper articles. This format is changing to horizontal due to the increased usage of images on web banners, computer screens, television monitors and social media formats. I continue to get requests to photograph in a vertical format. The vertical images fit magazine covers with extra room left at the top and bottom for headlines and type. They also fit well into columns of text when placed within newspapers and magazine articles. It is a good habit to ask if extra space is needed at the preproduction meeting so that the set can be properly arranged for the extra background. In some cases, if time permits, an extra horizontal image will be taken allowing more cropping flexibility. I will also photograph just the background before setting the food on the set. This gives me insurance to know that if I need to shift the image one way or the other, there will be extra background there to use in digital postproduction. The examples below are vertical and horizontal images created from one single setup. It provides flexibility for the client.



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Vertical format for magazines

Horizontal or square format for the web

As a blogger or camera phone user, pay attention to this type of photography. Editorial photography is a good way to make your food images more appetizing on the blog or as they are posted on social media. Be aware not to get in the habit of photographing the same angle. An interesting trend that did not last long was the trend of the tilted plate. It filled the frame diagonally and the consumers called this “the falling food.” This trend didn’t last long the first time because once everyone was copying the trend, the consumer’s eye was scanning the pages like a rollercoaster. The eye movement created visual chaos that distracted the appetite appeal of the food. Use a cautious eye and reposition the plate and/or the camera angle to feature the food within the framework of the image. Use the negative space to your advantage.

Note: Plate angles create visual chaos of falling food

Recipe or cookbook photography is exactly what its name suggests. These images are displayed in a cookbook, recipe leaflet or a recipe website. They are a bit more defined since the viewer needs to visually see what the food will look like when the recipe is complete. These images will be scrutinized over and over to make sure the reader won’t miss a step or ingredient while making the recipe. The image is usually observed throughout the recipe process on the kitchen counter along with the ingredients. Many times, this type of photography is used as a blueprint for how the cook wants the food to appear.

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Recipe images are viewed longer during the process

Recipe testing and development are done prior to the preproduction ­meeting to ensure perfect results are brought before the food stylist on the day of photography. After recipe development, the food stylist will usually have a test day to recreate the recipe and ensure its correct results. Sometimes the stylist may encounter a defect in the recipe process. In which case, they might have to alter and change the recipe, then contact the recipe source for approved changes. Again, this should all happen prior to the day of photography. The food stylist would rework the recipe and adjust the ingredient measurements while creating the recipe. Depending on the recipe’s owner and their flexibility to work in conjunction with the food stylist or chef, in some cases, an entire recipe may be changed, and thus rephotographed. It’s important to know that the photographer can’t just change the recipe to make the food look better for the photo. It is the photographer’s responsibility to make sure the recipe image looks as close to the recipe described as possible. Communicating with the food stylist and having them prepare a test recipe before the photo session will always give both the photographer and the food stylist an advantage during the session. This Recipe style is also used in restaurant menu photography. The consumers in a restaurant will sometimes choose their meal from the picture depicted on the menu. Some restaurants will use the photo as a guide for the cooks to match. I was in a restaurant where I had photographed the menu and, to my surprise, the food that I ordered looked exactly like the picture on the menu that I had taken. After our previous photography session, the


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Final recipe image

chef and owners were so impressed with the design of the photographed plate that they actually changed how their plates were presented to match the design of the photograph that the chef, food stylist and I had created. Out of the three categories (Editorial, Recipe and Packaging), Packaging photography, is the most difficult. There are various limitations to this kind of photography. The image must fit within a certain space, which is determined by the package designer and client. A layout must be provided prior to the photo session so that the appropriate dish size will fit within the parameters of the logo, brand name and other ingredient information on the package. The lighting may have to match other packages within that family of products. Packaging photography is very time-consuming and very tedious. It takes hours just to get the food to be in the exact position and angle to feature the product. This type of food photography used on the package will be sitting on a shelf in a store, displaying the product for a consumer to see, and selling to the consumer. A fair representation of the

Package layout without image

Final package

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product must be shown on the package. As in the case of the Roasty Potatoes on the previous page, both skins and insides of the potatoes are shown as well as cut and whole parts of the potatoes, which will be featured in this product per the client. What makes Packaging photography more difficult than the other two categories is working on the food within the parameters of the package design. Some foods will fit perfectly in a layout, and some require a different angle or positioning of the food or plate to make them fit. In the case of the fruit cookie image below, the client wanted the orange wedge to be the hero in the middle, standing up on the set of these three different fruit cookies. But once we set up the orange, we couldn’t get the apple slices to look good because of the shape and color. We spent the entire morning positioning the apples in multiple variations to make the apple slices look just right. The problem was the apple slices. After lunch, we changed our strategy to working on placing the apple slices first instead of the orange. Once the apples were in place, the orange could be placed anywhere, and it would have looked good. Within 20 minutes, we had the composition, and the client was thrilled. By placing the primary elements in position correctly, it gave a more pleasing composition to the package requirements. Notice the white napkin and dishes in the background. These were placed to give dimension to the food and to be non-distracting textures behind the brand name.

Fruit cookies with corresponding ingredients

Whether Editorial, Recipe or Packaging photography, photographing food takes patience and communication with the client and food stylist throughout the process. It takes an entire team of professionals working with you to create the image you can all be proud of. Bouncing ideas back-and-forth



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during the preproduction meeting and prior to the photo session with the other team members is so very important. This gives the photographer as well as the other team members a cohesive understanding of the direction and creation of the final image. During the photographic process, the photographer’s role should be to coordinate and be the central focus in utilizing all the talents of the team to the final result.




How does someone get started in food photography? Prior to picking up a camera, spend time looking through food magazines, cookbooks and other printed food-related material. These can be found at a library, at bookstores, at grocery stores, and at the local corner drug store. Pick up a variety of these items and go through them for a few weeks. While researching through food related magazines, pay attention to the lighting and composition elements. Look for the style and design elements that are appealing. Think about how the photographers achieved their results. How do you think you would have done the assignment? Does the food look too perfect or over-styled? Can you tell the difference and can you tell whether it was photographed in a studio or on location? What would be different and what would be the same if it was not photographed in a studio? Does the food look appetizing? Pay close attention to the props and backgrounds. Do they complement the food or is the background too overpowering? This may be overwhelming at first, but it will get to a point where it becomes second nature to know and see the difference of good food photography. I recommend researching printed media due to the fact these are clients that have, in most cases, paid a professional food photographer to complete the assignment. There is plenty of information regarding photography on the web including food photography. Before looking at photography websites, research the photographer. Search their background, work history and expertise before investing time and money imitating their work. Spend time studying professional food photographers to see what made them successful. Proper specific education of food photography is essential in building a successful and profitable business. Be selective in your searching to find the right fit for you. Food photography is a challenging yet rewarding form of photography. Behind the scene of a beautiful food image is a series of events and talents that come together and make a complex image look so simple. After a few weeks looking at food images, certain styles and trends will become familiar. Walk through a grocery store and compare the images on the food packaging. Take notice of the background color of the packaging


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as well. Also, be aware and observe the food displays in the store, such as the ones on the walls for the different departments like Bakery, Dairy, Meats and Produce. These images are strategically placed not just for the location of the products in the store but to sell appetite appeal to the customer. After researching through food images, and a few trips to the supermarket, there will come a time to experiment. EXPERIMENTATION

Upon starting out during this experimental stage, don’t get bogged down with elaborate equipment. Keep it as simple as possible. Learn to first look at the food with your eyes. Think about the great artists and how they created incredible works of art. Studying a famous painter like Paul Cézanne, the French Impressionist painter, it’s obvious that he didn’t have expensive photo lights to position next to the table before he painted. What he did was place the food as the subject and background on a table and positioned the set near a window. His paintings were a representation of what he saw through his eyes and not a camera. The one thing he had was a canvas on a stationary stand that didn’t move.

Artwork by Paul Cézanne

Another piece of artwork by Paul Cézanne

Observe the highlight and shadows on the fruit and on the table cloth then pay attention to the background. Notice the quality of light that was coming through the window while he was painting. The strong sharp shadows and high contrast of his painting on the left gives the sense that it was a sunny day. The painting on the right has a different look and portrays the feeling of a soft diffused light with soft shadows and low contrast, which is similar to an overcast day. Practice looking at food just sitting on a table next to a window. Observe the same food at different times of the day and watch how the light and the appearance of the food changes throughout the day.

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As photographers, we have a great advantage to see and record what we see instantly. If we don’t like what we see, we have two options: changing it on the set or changing it later on the computer. When it relates to food photography, get in the habit of changing or adjusting the subject on the set before capturing the image. Many photographers say, “I’ll fix it later,” and don’t realize the power of changing the subject prior to capturing verses fixing it later on the computer. It will save hours in retouching afterwards. The best way to begin taking pictures of food is by testing with basic foods that do not need to be prepared or styled. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of food to experiment with. However, the first trip to the grocery store when buying groceries for photography is eye-opening for many photographers starting out. Shopping for eating is very different than shopping for hero food to be used in photography. The sizes of certain foods will be different at different times of the year. Here is a short list of fruits and their seasonality to getting them at their prime.

Spring: Mangos, Pineapple, Strawberries

Summer: Blueberries, Peaches, Plums, Raspberries

Fall: Apples, Grapes, Pears

Winter: Grapefruit, Lemons, Oranges, Tangerines

Unfortunately, photography sessions including fruits aren’t always scheduled per the fruits’ seasonal freshness. Take berries for instance. Desserts that show a raspberry or strawberry as a garnish need to be small and petite so as not to overpower the dessert or the dish itself.

The size of raspberries varies during the year

Size relationship matters


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A summer photo session is often done months in advance, and the availability of smaller berries are difficult to find in the winter months. Multiple packages need to be purchased to find the one or two hero berries needed for the final image. So, if a bowl of raspberries is required for a photo session, be prepared to buy five times more packages than normal. If there is enough advance time prior to the photo session date, another solution is to talk to the produce manager at the local grocery store and ask if they can have extra fresh berries sent in from another location of the country.

Granny Smith apple purchased in the summer

The same apple looks smaller in comparison

The size and shape of fruits and vegetables also play an important role in picking the right fruit for a set. Take, for instance, this single green apple on the left, that was purchased during the summer months. It looks like a normal Granny Smith apple. However, place a prop on the set or an actual Granny Smith apple purchased in the Fall next to it, and it appears to shrink. It’s always a good idea to have multiple props in various sizes for this very reason. Look for the “best looking� foods or ingredients when starting out. Mention to the cashier that the food being purchased is for photography and have them place the groceries in separate bags. This will prevent dents on the food, and it will keep them looking fresh. PICKING HERO FOOD

There is a method to picking out good-looking fruits as hero foods. Hero foods are the ultimate subjects and final choice that will be featured in the actual photographic session. Hero food is the term that is used in the photography industry to refer to the perfect food for the final image. Looking for the hero food takes more time during the shopping process because multiple stores may have to be visited. The perfect apple may be the right color but not the right size. Careful consideration needs to be taken when picking hero food for food photography. Look for fruits and vegetables free from blemishes and avoid oddly shaped fruits. Look for apples and pears with stems, and it is a bonus when there are a few leaves still attached. If leaves are attached, place the leaves in a bowl of ice water as soon as you can

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after coming home from the store. This will keep them fresh for a longer period of time, and they will be ready to use when you need them. Plums should also still have stems. Peaches with some fuzziness and grapes that are plump and still on the vine are ideal to photograph. Strawberry tops should be green, and their outside color should look even. Once the groceries are back at the studio or in the kitchen, sort them out, clean them and organize the fruit so that they can be picked and brought to the table or set quickly. Some items may need to be refrigerated. By having them on cookie sheet trays, they become easier to organize and pulled in and out of the refrigerator. Spray water on them with a spray bottle. Occasionally, a wet paper towel can be placed over them to keep them cool if they are going to be in the studio all day long. Use the not-so-perfect foods for your dummy setup and save the best for the final hero food. These dummy foods get replaced by the hero food at the last minute to ensure freshness.

Sort food out on cookie trays for easy access to the set

Keep it simple by using window light and a piece of white cardboard as a fill light with the subjects on a tabletop. It is also very important to use a sturdy tripod. As I stated earlier, the one piece of equipment that Paul Cézanne had was a painter’s easel. It stayed in the same position and didn’t move while he created his masterpiece. When you use a tripod, get in the habit of tethering the camera to the computer and record every change that you make along the journey. There will be compositions that you like and compositions that you’ll hate. But watching things move on the screen because the camera and background don’t move will be a tremendous learning tool and benefit for



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you to see where the composition started and how the final image looks. This also is beneficial when having to move one or more ingredients in small increments. Toggling back and forth between two images on the computer creates a much smoother workflow if the images were captured while using a sturdy tripod. Once the composition is pleasing, set up the lighting. To replicate the great artist Paul CÊzanne, start by having the light direction come from the left side of the table (see Illustration A). After taking a few images with the light from the side, observe the ­highlights and the shadows on the food and look at the light relationship on each of the items. Now move the camera and the set so that the food is illuminated from behind or back lit. Backlighting is a modern photographic technique and was not used by artists because the front of food was too dark by using this backlight technique. Pay attention as the light transitions from the side to the back. Be observant of the quality and direction of the light. Place a fill card to fill in the shadow area of the food. A fill card is nothing more than a white piece of cardboard that reflects the backlight into the

Start with window light from the side

Move camera and tabletop with light behind food

Illustration A: Window sidelight

Illustration B: Window backlight

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Sidelight: Observe the highlights and shadows

Backlight: Notice the overall lit edge of the food

shadow areas of the food. Move the fill card closer and further away from the subject and observe the changes of the transition of the bounce light that opens the shadow area. Notice that when the light comes from behind the food, a second fill card is usually needed, which is shown in Illustration B. Use these two fill cards to open the shadows and balance the light that is coming from behind the food and wrapping around to the front. Compare these two images and look at the highlighted edge of the food on the right. These are acceptable lighting variations but the lighting on the right is more pleasing to the eye. Pay attention to the little details. Look at the difference between the little lone grape on both images. Notice the stronger shadow of that grape in the image on the right compared to the image on the left. It’s there and it’s important, but the eye doesn’t go directly to that grape like it does in the image on the left. Lighting plays such an important role in food photography, and it is very important to use the light to feature and highlight the food whenever possible. I have always said that the secret to great food photography is backlight! Backlighting places the shadow of the food towards the front and below the food which gives the food a place to rest. The rim light or highlight across the back of the food separates the food from the background. What’s great about experimentation with food is that there are endless possibilities for you to create an image. Even though you will know what looks good and what doesn’t, there is no client criticizing your decisions or putting pressure on you to capture an image. But once you start working for a client, everything will change, so practice on your own. Once the set is complete, ask yourself, “What If?” “What if I move the apple?” “What if I remove the  grapes?” “What if I use a different background?” and then just do it. Change the green apple to red, take out the grapes, make the grapes bigger and replace the pear! Don’t be afraid to try anything! Now, compare your images with some of the printed materials that were researched. How do the images compare? Apples, pears, bananas and peaches are foods, which have skin and can endure an entire day of testing under any lighting situation. Their shapes



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visually help in seeing the light variations as the light is moved around. Vegetables like peppers, which come in various colors, help with exploring composition. Experiment with the peppers standing up and lying down, then mix and match colors. Try blocking the light from the background behind the peppers, which will pop the colors of the peppers off the background.

Backlighting peppers

Blocking the light hitting the background

Try to work with foods that are all similar in color and work with moving them around in different configurations. Pay attention to how the different shapes, colors and sizes all relate to one another.

Using same colors with different shapes

Experiment with multiple and similar shapes and colors

The great advantage of digital photography is that there are endless images that can be taken without any additional costs. Try cropping the images by moving the camera further or closer to the subject then observe the

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differences in the viewfinder. Take multiple exposures and angles to make the food look better and different every time. This is a refinement process using the camera, the subject and the lighting combined to create the final image. When I started out, I would go through boxes of Polaroid test shots just to physically see and record what I was getting. If it didn’t work I would rework the subject until it looked perfect. Then I would record the image on film and wait the next day to see the final image. The digital age changed that for the better. Fill Cards

As a side note on the fill cards I’m using, there is nothing fancy here. My “go to” fill card setup is a piece of black and white 30 × 40 standard mat board from a local frame store that I cut down to about 9 × 13 sizes. I tape two boards together with heavy-duty tape with the white sides facing each other. By doing this, there is a white reflective side and a black nonreflective side. I keep them folded together and they are always near the set ready to be used. Foam boards can be used as well but I have found that they turn yellow after a few months, which will reflect a warm-toned fill light back onto the subject. This might seem like a great idea at first, but as the fill cards get more yellow, the actual white balance will be altered. There will be occasions where a new fill card will be made, and shortly afterwards a variety of sized fill cards will be available to the photographer. I keep them sorted and close to the set so they can be used at a moment’s notice.

Two 9 × 13 – sized fill cards taped together

Variously sized fill cards from white cards to mirrors


Effective composition is based on certain design elements that should become second nature to a photographer. One of these elements of design is



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balance and its relationship to placement, visual flow and space. Placement is usually the first item that is discussed with photographers when learning about good composition. Photographers are taught to place the main subject somewhere within area of the “rule of thirds.” The “rule of thirds” concept is created by visually dividing the blank area of an image into thirds from top to bottom and left to right.

Placement of subject

Rule of thirds

Reading quadrants in order

By placing the main subject on or close to one of these four points, it will create a pleasing position for the human eye to focus on. These quadrants read left to right and top to bottom. This can be used as a guide to help the photographer while composing an image. One of the original rules of classical artistic composition is known as the divine proportion or the golden triangle. This guide is created by visually dividing the blank area of the image with a diagonal line from corner to corner and then a perpendicular line towards each other corner. Again, with this guide, the eye would read left to right. In this case, the photographer would position or place the main subject in these two points instead of the four found in the rule of thirds.

Diagonal line from corner to corner

Perpendicular to each other corner

Intersecting points

These guides, plus a few more, are found under the crop options bar in Photoshop and in the Tools menu bar in Lightroom. Use these tools to guide you in placement of the subject matter for better composition when cropping in postproduction.

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Crop guide in Photoshop

Crop guides in Lightroom

Balance deals with multiple subjects and how they relate to each other and to the negative space within an image. There are two types of balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical. Imagine a line which divides the space in half either horizontally or vertically. Symmetrical balance is evident by placing the subject in the center. There is equal distance around the subject and the negative space around the eggs. By moving the camera off center to the right, the subject now falls to the left of center causing an imbalance in which the subject draws the eye to the left half of the image having more negative space to the right.

Imagine splitting the canvas in half

Symmetrical balance

Move camera right of imaginary center line

Asymmetrical balance



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The balance in the previous images demonstrate balance between the subject and the area surrounding the subject. Observe the examples below of balance among the subject itself. Having the two brown eggs on the left and the one white egg tucked in is unbalanced because the two brown eggs have more weight (in their color) overpowering the white egg. In the example on the right, the two brown eggs behind the white egg balance out the brightness of the white and the doubled brown eggs together. These examples also show how contrast and color play an important role in the visual flow of the subject.



Another way to look at placement in composition is through unequal spacing. The measurement of the strawberry to each of the four edges of the image are different. With unequal spacing the subject is spaced in a position that gives the eye a place to scan around the image without getting  tired.  Once  another element is added, the eye will continue to look at both elements back and forth until it becomes tired and stops scanning.

Unequal spacing

A, B, C and D distances are different

A second element added

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This is one of the reasons for showing odd numbers in composition such as 1, 3, 5 and 7. The eye will follow the elements in a pattern but with a bit of conflict. It sounds crazy but think about looking at the three elements in the following image. Which element do you look at first? Do you look at the brightest one first or the one that is at the unequal spacing position? The brain tries to decide which one to start looking at. Once it picks one, the eye will move around to the other two and follow the three elements around the image like a three-ring circus! Three-ring circus? Coincidence?

Eye moves around strawberries

Eye is directed to white chocolate

Now let’s place these three strawberries into an image with other elements. Where does the eye go first? Does it go to the lightest part of the image, the white chocolate? Or does it look at the color and contrast of the red strawberries? Where does it go next? The vanilla bean with the curl points to the next strawberry. Then the brain just goes crazy and circles around but keeps coming back to the chocolate, and the cycle continues. This is important especially in food advertising because you want the viewer to stay on the page as long as possible. This visually and subconsciously helps the consumer continue looking at the page creating the desire for purchase. Once you start composing different foods, it will be obvious what looks good and what doesn’t. Remember to place the larger subjects in the back and bring the smaller subjects to the front. The balance of both the small and large will help with the size relationship when working with food.



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Let’s explore some compositional negative effects that will happen while starting and setting up during the experimentation with food. One of the terms known in food photography is called a tangent. Tangents occur in all types of photography, but they’re more prevalent and obvious in tabletop food photography using multiple objects that are close together. The most common tangent happens when two objects touch each other on the very edge. This is referred to as a fused or glued edge in  which it appears  that two objects are glued together on their edges. To fix this, move one of the objects forward or back, or left to right, to overlap slightly. The reason tangents are discouraged is the fact that the eye will be forced to stay fixed on the point of contact where they touch.

Fused tangent-glued edges

Fix tangent by overlapping

Another tangent is one that appears as a glued edge but this time with the object touching the edge of the frame or part of the tabletop background. To correct this, move the object away from the tangent point, or crop the tangent out of frame.

Apple’s edge fused to the background line

Move subject or camera slightly

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Apple’s edge fused to the frame’s edge

Move subject or camera slightly

Another tangent is referred to as a closed corner tangent where an object fills a corner of the image. This tangent tends to draw the viewer off the page. A redirection of the subject matter can be accomplished by using another color that will help build contrast among the subjects and will draw the viewer to stay on the page. These are all simple fixes to change while on set.

Closed corner tangent

Adding the red apple draws the eye from the group

A visual tangent is something that draws your eye away from the key subject element. In the case of the potato image on the next page, the highlight behind the fork is a visual tangent. Looking at the image on the left, the eye struggles between looking at the sour cream and the bright reflection from the light on the plate. It’s directed towards the sour cream, which is next to the hero potatoes. Unfortunately, the fork handle, which has a bright highlight behind it, is pointing to the right of the image, which will force the viewer back and forth between the highlight and sour cream and then onto the next page. There are two possible solutions that can focus the eye back to the sour cream. Move the light or remove the highlight in postproduction from under the fork. Now, the eye has only one lightest part of the image to focus on.



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Visual tangent between highlight on plate and sour cream

Remove highlight to focus on sour cream


After a few days or weeks of working with fruits and vegetables move into breads and desserts that are premade. This will be more challenging because of the time limit of the freshness of these types of foods. Pick up a few muffins and start by photographing one muffin and add another and another and work with them to create a series of images. Move the camera so that the photographs are from a different angle than when you started on the fruit shots. Use a different lens. Try using a longer lens to create an out-of-focus background.

Use a single food item

Use two items

Use multiple items in an image

A suggestion when photographing breads: keep them in their transparent packaging while setting up and take them out of the bags and reposition them as the hero food into the shot. It will keep the hero breads fresh during the photo session. Working with different kinds of foods is challenging for anyone especially when just starting out. Before working with a food stylist, try your hand at photographing desserts. Stop by the local coffee shop and pick up a few premade desserts. Buy two or three, pick the best one out of the bunch and use that one as a hero food to photograph. Use the same type of lighting as used on the fruits and vegetables as shown on the next page.

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Keep wrappers on bread to keep fresh

Final image

After picking up the premade desserts, stop at the grocery store and pick up a few garnishes like raspberries, strawberries and mint leaves. They will add a certain touch of color and style to the image. Go ahead and add a drink, such as coffee, orange juice or milk. Working with these types of food products together will bring on new challenges. Getting the right angle of the food, keeping the food in focus and composing the different elements together while keeping the focus on the hero of the image – the food – is

Adding a garnish to a premade dessert



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crucial. Time becomes a critical part of the equation when photographing perishable types of food. Dessert garnishes will start to wilt faster than you think, and the bread products will turn stale and not look as fresh. These foods will change rapidly while the clock ticks away. This will be a lesson in time management and patience. After a few weeks of experimenting with different types of foods and the interest and/or desire is still there, contact a local food stylist. Ask if they are interested in doing any test photography. Don’t be vague or beat around the bush. Explain that you are starting out and you would like to get some experience of photographing food. Trust me, if you don’t tell them you’re starting out, they’ll know it right away, so why take the chance? Be honest and ask if they have any ideas that they would like to work on with you. If a few of the images are good, you’ll both be proud to display them in your portfolio. As the photographer, your knowledge of food and food styling will grow faster than you thought possible. Working with a good food stylist is a treat and a blessing in disguise. You will also learn how to work with different kinds of food and how to keep them fresh on the set while getting ready to photograph them. After setting up your test shots with the food stylist, photograph the final hero food, and make sure you’re both happy with the final image. Then take some additional images by moving the camera without moving the food. This will vary the composition and give you both multiple images.



The Players

The players


T h e P l ay e r s

Whether you’re a food enthusiast, a chef, a restauranteur, a food blogger or a photographer working for an agency or corporation, there should be a professionalism that is associated with the work you’re producing. On the professional side of the food photography industry lies a group of very talented professionals that make a food photography assignment successful. The photographer is like a stunt actor who creates a believable but unlikely scene that appears as if it happened by accident. Yet the actor’s every move is choreographed to perfection by a team of professionals. I would be remiss in implying that the photographer alone creates these mouthwatering works of art. Just like the stunt actor, it takes this team to create believable food photographs. A good team along with the photographer will consist of a food stylist, a prop stylist and sometimes an art director. The food stylist has the skills to see the food from the camera’s perspective and expertise to create a plate of food that will satisfy the most discerning palate. A prop stylist can bring new ideas of design and style to the background settings. And the art director comes with a vision of what the final image will look like from the client. This list describes the players and normal job responsibilities for the team members whether it’s a small team of two or a larger team of eight. Hopefully, after reading this, it will make more sense to you who is responsible for their part in the food photography process and how they all relate to each other in a team effort. By identifying the decision makers up front, your role as a food photographer will become clearer and more concise. If you know who the players are and their roles and responsibilities, you will be more professional. THE CLIENT

Let’s start with the client. This is the person (or persons) who initially hires or contracts an agency and who is ultimately the decision maker. The client may also work for the marketing department of a company that has provided a budget for advertising towards a product campaign involving all types of media, including photography. The client rarely contacts the ­photographer directly. They call the agency with a concept. The agency then looks to the art director to come up with a plan or layout. The client is usually at the preproduction meeting but may, in some circumstances, send a liaison, such as an intern, to take notes and report back. The client may or may not attend the actual photography session. In this electronic age, the internet can be a wonderful tool, but it can also hurt the creative process. I have personally witnessed both extremes. Sometimes, the client is too busy to attend the photo session, and other times, they are there for every move that’s made on the set. The key here is to get to know the client and what their parameters are. Get them involved, but let them know that

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you, the photographer, and the art director have discussed the project and are prepared to create their concept. Keep the client in the loop via the art director and account manager as much as possible. Trust is most important at this level. Be cautious of the client that doesn’t want to be involved in the creative process. They will demand an electronic file and then pass it around to others, including secretary, assistants and even family members. These uninvolved parties are judging and criticizing the final image without having the creative and technical information that the photographer and the art director received prior to the photography session. They in turn would relay this bad information to the client resulting in a repositioning of the original idea. Keep the lines of communication open between the team. Ultimately, the client is the person who is responsible for the entire job or project. THE ART DIRECTOR

The art director works for the agency, either as an employee of the agency or as an outside freelance contractor. Their responsibility is to create a series of ideas and concepts of the client’s vision, presenting them up to the head of the agency for approval. The two priorities of the art director are to create a positive impactful campaign and to give direction to the photographer who is implementing the creative idea. Media advertising is vast in scope and includes logos, branding, TV ads, radio, web, digital media and traditional print advertising. The art director stays involved with the entire project from inception through completion, continuing to direct throughout the process. As the photographer, your goal is to give guidance and support to the art director’s visual concept. It is important to note that the art director most likely has influence in choosing the photographer. Therefore, it is important that you, the photographer, build a strong partnership with them. The art director is trusting you to solve his problem by communicating with all the parties involved to create the client’s vision. Gather as much specific information prior to the preproduction meeting as well as the photo session. The two of you have to be on the same page when the client gets to the set. This creates a unified presentation to the client. THE ACCOUNT MANAGER

The agency hires an account manager as the liaison between the agency and the client. It’s their responsibility to make sure that the funds allocated for the job are used wisely. Their ultimate job is to create harmony among the client and the creative team while maintaining the integrity of the project and staying within the budget. They are also responsible for keeping everyone on task, utilizing the correct resources within the projected timeline.



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Once multiple layouts have been reviewed and revised, and only one layout is finally approved by both the client and the agency, it is the job of the account manager to schedule a preproduction meeting between all the players involved. This meeting is ideally, but not always, held a few weeks prior to the photography session. The account manager will facilitate the meeting to discuss the final layout and how it will be executed with the art director and the photographer. He will coordinate with the client to review each of the steps along the way through the final approval. He is also a part of the agency team that is there for the duration of the production. It is important to keep the account manager in the loop as much as possible because he is the one to see red flags coming from the client. The account manager assures the client’s confidence that the job is going smoothly. If there is a problem with a client, it is the account manager’s responsibility to mediate the situation. Let your account manager deal with client issues, that’s what they do best. THE PHOTOGRAPHER

The photographer hired to create food images should be a commercial food photographer. Originally, the commercial photographer was hired for photographic product documentation, in other words, things that don’t talk back. The “I can do it all” (i.e. wedding, portrait and commercial) photography is overwhelming and has blurred the lines of the term commercial photographer. These are all very different categories of photography, each having their own set of standards, policies, philosophy and pricing. Portrait and wedding photography in particular are the only forms of photography that are created and sold directly to or for the subject within the image. The portrait photographer is hired due to their photographic vision and how it relates to the personality of the subject. With regards to a commercial ­product photographer, it’s all about the product. They are hired for their ability to problem solve and capture a photograph based on the direction of an art director, which in turn, is predetermined by the client’s vision. This type of commercial photographer needs to understand color management, postproduction in CMYK, day rates, estimates, contracts and usage rights. The photographer needs to wear many hats during the entire process while maintaining control on the set. It is most important to listen to all parties. There will be multiple opinions from both internal and external sources. The photographer needs to pay attention and discuss any changes or other ideas with the art director and sometimes, depending on the circumstances, the account manager. As a team, they should come to a consensus. Once a good established working relationship with an art director is formed, trust becomes second nature for both parties.

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The food stylist is the person who positions and creatively designs the food to create an appetizing and appealing dish for photography. The food stylist’s background may be in food science or culinary training but their skills need to include a creative sense of design as well as a tremendous amount of patience. The food stylist will prepare the food from the camera’s point of view, and needs to make it look three dimensional. He or she follows a recipe or a layout with precision until the image is captured by the photographer. Having the food stylist at the preproduction meeting is important because they can determine how a recipe of a food product will work in conjunction with a layout, package or design. Working with a talented food stylist is beneficial to the photographer because the food can be placed perfectly on set at the beginning of the shoot. There will be times when the food isn’t just right. The photographer and the food stylist need to communicate and determine what the next course of action is: spend time to redo the food, or try and reconfigure the food that’s on the set while being aware of the time that will be spent wisely or wasted. Most foods don’t have the longevity on a photography set and the food stylist and the photographer will be aware of that timetable. The communication with the art director and the photographer is an ongoing process throughout the photographic session. THE PROP STYLIST

The prop stylist gathers props for a photography session according to styles and trends and the design of the layout supplied by the art director. He shops for dishes, plates, glasses, napkins and tableware, and he creates or rents backgrounds and surfaces. They will acquire other props that will showcase the food in a way that is creative and appetizing. The prop stylist’s job is to source supporting objects for the main subject, not overshadow it. Additionally, they are in charge of shopping and organizing all the props used at the preproduction meeting. Some jobs do not have a budget for a prop stylist, so the photographer will determine at the preproduction meeting who will get props for the session. Some clients require that a prop stylist stays on the set for the duration of the session, while some would rather have the stylist drop off props and not be involved due to cost parameters. This needs to be discussed at the estimate stage prior to the preproduction meeting. Communicate with the art director and the account manager and ask what their preference is. Increased costs will incur if the stylist is retained on set and they were only budgeted for a predetermined time. It’s important that the account manager is aware of the situation. However, if the client doesn’t like a certain prop on the set and the stylist was released, there will be increased costs for the stylist to buy props again that day while the crew is waiting for a replacement.



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A preproduction meeting is scheduled when the photographer is contacted and given a date and a time for the meeting. It is also at this time, before the preproduction meeting takes place, that the photographer should request an approved layout. The layout is a design guide in which the photographer builds the set. After the photographer reviews the layout, it is the photographer’s responsibility to contract a food stylist and/or a prop stylist depending upon the layout needs. If there are models involved, the photographer will collect model composites for the agency and art director for approval. This sometimes can be delegated to the prop stylist depending on the situation and the photographer’s workflow. Get as much information about the job and prepare as much as possible before the meeting. There is a saying, “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” Thorough preparation creates a smoother workflow for the meeting and will be beneficial to the photographer as well as the entire team. Once all the members are in attendance at the preproduction meeting, ask all the pertinent questions. For example: What is the end result? How many images and or variations will they need by the end of the day? Is there product being photographed with the food? Who is bringing the product? Will it be an actual package product or a mock-up designed package? Will it need new labels? Who is supplying the final labels and packages? Have a variety of ideas to discuss with the team regarding layout specifications. There is usually a color scheme associated with the layout from the art director, which is sometimes called a visual style guide, which is used by the stylist to purchase or rent props. With advance notice of layout elements, the photographer will sometimes have most of the props on display at the meeting and then again on the day of the photo session. It makes a difference if you can keep the team on the same page and going in the right direction. Having discussions with the art director prior to the preproduction meeting works well to know that you both agree or disagree about what props might be needed or changed prior to the client’s arrival. This helps when the client shows up and the two of you have a positive combined effort. THE PHOTOGRAPHIC SESSION

Once the session is calendared, the setup should be assembled the day before the actual photo session takes place. The setup should include a tripod mounted camera tethered to a computer and the use of double calibrated monitors. Using a double monitor system will help the art director see the image as large as possible. The set or tabletop built with backgrounds are predetermined at the preproduction meeting. The lighting is strategically in place with a test image on the screen creating a professional work environment prepared for the team no matter what time they walk in the door.

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On the day of the session, independently and simultaneously, the ­photographer and the stylists arrive earlier than the agency or client. All of the team members discuss the schedule and timeline of the day. The prop stylist organizes the props, the food stylist prepares the groceries and the photographer is tweaking the set. Once ready, the prop stylist hands the food stylist the approved plate for the first image of the day, and the food stylist starts preparing to build the dummy food. The dummy food is prepared in the kitchen while the photographer captures an image of the X-Rite Color Checker to achieve accurate color along with the props and tabletop background surface. The stylist then places the dummy food on the set, and the photographer, along with the art director, refines the position by taking test shots of the food and lighting, showcasing the best possible angle. The photographer has permission to touch and move the dummy food to match the layout and lighting. Once the dummy food is set and approved, a final test image is taken. The plate is marked with place holder blocks and a piece of tape is adhered to the front of the plate, referencing the position of the plate to the camera lens. The food stylist creates the hero food in the kitchen using the dummy food as a guide. Once the hero plate is completed, the photographer, art director and food stylist agree and approve the food. The plate is quickly inserted onto the marked set. The food stylist then fine-tunes the final food by spritzing it with water, repositioning a piece of l­ettuce or whatever the food needs to stay looking fresh. The stylist remains on the set, constantly observing the food until the final image is taken. Once the final image is taken and processed through the software, the image is placed into the layout for final approval. Fine adjustments are made, and food is readjusted by the food stylist while lighting is readjusted by the photographer to make the image work perfectly into the layout. The client is usually called by the account manager prior to the final food being placed in the set. This gives the client a small window to view the final image in the layout for approval. Once in the layout, all parties approve the final image. This is sometimes done through instant message, text or email if the client is not available in person. If the image is not approved, steps are taken to reposition the props or the food to show the client an alternate or additional version. If the client is not available, the team is usually empowered to make changes that will effectively change the part of the set that was not approved. An additional version may be taken as a backup to be used for other purposes which were possibly determined at the preproduction meeting. The time between the hero food being placed on the set and the final capture could be from 5 minutes to 20 minutes with the shortest time being the preferred. If there are multiple dishes or foods to be photographed, the above process is repeated until all images are photographed and approved. While some days go more smoothly than others, more effective communication will create a smoother day. Normally, six to seven dishes can be photographed with the



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above process. If there are products that also need to be photographed to go along with the food, the products are photographed on a separate set where the lighting would be adjusted for the individual product or products. This entire workflow goes smoothly as long as the players all know their roles and responsibilities. It is like a well-oiled machine when it all comes together and everyone is pleased with the results. When things don’t always go according to plan, that’s when your professionalism takes over. It could result in negotiations with the account manager, the art director or the food stylist on next steps, but the photographer should take charge and come to a consensus with all the players involved in completing the assignment. BE PROFESSIONAL

By being a professional in the industry, a photographer can set themselves apart from the competition thus attracting and retaining better clients. ­Professionalism is something that needs to be practiced, and using the correct language during your conversations about photography can make a ­difference in the way others see you. To polish your professionalism, polish your language. Choose your words wisely. For example: Say this, not that Use the word “image.”

A professional photographer captures an image. It’s not a picture or a shot. An image is a technical and artistic creation. The word “image” has a higher perceived value compared to the casual term “shot” in American culture. As an international side note, the words “shoot” and “shots” may be used very differently because of vocabulary customs. When in doubt, use the term that fits your level of clientele. Use the word “capture.”

In American culture, a photographer captures an image. They don’t shoot their subject. Choose and use appropriately. Use the words “photography session” or “photo session.”

It’s a photography session. The word “shoot” has a negative connotation these days, and it’s outdated. It should be referred to as a photography session and not a photo shoot. Use the word “client.”

The photographer works for a client. Customers appreciate being called ­clients. A “client” is a more upscale word than “customer.”

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Use the word “enhance.”

To enhance an image is to add value and expertise by using technical skills and artistic experience. Enhancing makes alterations in order to improve. Retouching connotes a simple action without any value. Use the words “file retrieval.”

File retrieval is the act of utilizing resources to reproduce an image that has already been taken and archived. When a client misplaces an image in their files, they rely on your expertise to locate and resend it. As a professional policy, a fee may be added by providing this service. Reprinting is perceived as the simple act of pushing a button. HOW TO WORK WITH A LOW-BUDGET CLIENT

The previous information is essential when working on a larger scale. But how about the small local restaurant that wants to get new photographs done for their menus? Where do you start? I recommend using the same workflow but on a smaller scale. Follow these five steps: 1. Schedule a preproduction meeting with the client. 2. Review the benefits of using a professional staff including a food stylist. 3. Establish the client’s wants versus the client’s needs. 4. Provide expectations, costs, timeline and results. 5. Always provide any client with an estimate. Schedule a meeting to discuss the overall scope of the project. Come prepared with samples of your work to showcase your ability and expertise to complete the job. Educate the new client on the importance and benefits of costs and processes compared to their return on investment. Establish a budget and provide the client with an estimate of the services provided. Include as much information on the estimate as possible. Do not “quote” a job. When a client is given a quote, that is the price agreed to. Images taken can be added without any changes to the quote. The difference between a quote and an estimate is that the quote is a firm agreement with no changes. An estimate can be updated and changed throughout the preproduction before the photography session. However, make sure that when changes are made, a revised estimate should be issued to include the additional images and/or postproduction work. Provide an estimate describing all costs, including the food stylist fee, the start time, the length of the session and the total amount. Don’t forget to ask the questions that matter and include them in the estimate: Where will the session take place? What are the agreed results? How are the files to be delivered?



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In some cases, a client’s chef or cook will be involved in the initial process. Show respect to them while explaining the benefit for the food stylist. Have the chef prepare dummy food dishes ahead of time to give the food stylist a guide to remake and reposition the food while the photographer uses the same dummy food to set up the lighting and camera angles. Discuss the difference between the client’s desire for ten to 12 dishes completed per day by the chef and the realistic quantity of six to seven dishes completed professionally by the food stylist. Help them understand that the time spent building the plates correctly for photography will cost less than the alternative of hours enhancing the food to look fresh. All of the above processes will help a photographer understand how to work with a smaller team or client. No matter what the size of the job, the production, the policies and the procedures, professionalism will play an important and valuable part in the food photography process with a smaller client. As a food blogger, think about the public as the client, and social media is the platform in which you portray your food images. By using the previous ideas, your images can look more professional and bring more likes, followers and financial sponsors to your sites.



Lighting Lighting is one of the most important factors of photography in general, because without light, photography doesn’t exist. It goes without saying that every photography book has a chapter on lighting. But lighting for me is so much more than just a photographic essential. It’s a way for a photographer to learn how to observe light every day in every situation. He then takes that understanding into the studio or on-location and replicates it for others to see. When I take students out on a photo walk, the first thing I tell them is to put away their cameras. I explain how important it is to look at the light that nature supplies. Paying attention to the highlights and shadows helps a photographer see light in a very different and professional way. These two images are of the same baseball bleachers viewed from two different angles just minutes apart. Notice the difference?

Light from the front

Light from the back

Lighting from the front (with the sun at my back) as shown in the image on the left, flattens out the contrast and compresses the colors into a monotone scene. The bleachers are silver but reflect the color of the blue sky. The shadows also fall away from the subject and disappear behind the bleachers. The image on the right (sun in front of me) has more contrast with the shadows falling towards the front or camera. Notice the color of the silver bleachers. They are highlighted from this vantage point and look silver, not blue. The background is also darker, which puts more emphasis on the bleachers, which is the main subject of the image. Walking around the subject always


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gives the photographer the opportunity to see the light as it changes and how it affects the subject. This is no different from working in the studio before photographing a product or food. Walk around the set, look at the light and watch and learn how it affects the subject. Pay attention to the direction and the quality of light. It will make a difference in every photograph. Once a photographer sees how light works and understands its qualities, it changes the way they use light as a photographic tool. When observing outside natural light, it changes hour by hour, day by day and season by season. It is so important for photographers to spend time outside and notice how the light changes and how it affects the natural surroundings. Once you can see how different light works outside, then you, as the photographer, can bring your experience into the studio and replicate those different qualities of light. My first real understanding about light took place on an early morning bike ride before the sun came up. As I started down the forest preserve bike trail, I noticed that there was no color on the trees or bushes, and yet I could see in the partial darkness exactly where I was going. It was just light enough that all I saw were shades of gray. As the sun came up, the highlights, shadows, contrast and colors became more visible. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was like I was seeing the bike path through the forest for the first time, and I had taken this path multiple times during the past few years and never saw the path the way I did that day. I was watching and experiencing how the shades of gray or contrasts of lights and darks changed into color. Ever since that day, I have looked at lighting from a very different perspective. Light has many characteristics, but these are the four that are important in food photography: intensity, direction, quality and color. INTENSITY

Unlike our adjustable eyes, which can observe subtle shades of gray ranging from bright light through darkness, today’s digital cameras are limited to seeing much less. In photography, the intensity of light is determined by two factors: (1) the light source and (2) a camera. A photographer can control the intensity of the light with the camera’s shutter speed or the lenses’ f stops. It’s essential to understand the comparison between the intensity and the dynamic range of light. It is the photographer’s responsibility to capture the intensity within the camera’s workable dynamic range. Each of the following light sources has a different intensity depending upon the power or brightness of the light and whether a diffusion material is used with it. The sun, for instance, seems to be more intense at high noon than during the early morning or late evening. A 1000-watt tungsten lamp seems to be just as intense as the sun but the brightness is much less powerful. Sunlight at 3:00 pm is measured at ISO 100–125th sec at f16, whereas a

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1000-watt tungsten lamp measures at ISO 100–1/30th sec at f8 from 4 feet away. Granted, the sun is 92.6 million miles away, but the intensity of the sun seems to be brighter than the 1000-watt quartz lamp from 4 feet. This is a list of exposure settings at ISO 100 with daylight and a Profoto D1 flash without a light modifier. Sunlight

ISO 100

1/125 sec


Light overcast/some clouds

ISO 100

1/125 sec


Open shade

ISO 100

  1/60 sec


Flash/Profoto Full Power

ISO 100

1/125 sec


@ 3 ft.

Profoto Half Power

ISO 100

1/125 sec


@ 3 ft.

Exposure settings

These are just baseline exposures that will give the proper exposure with different intensities of light. By paying attention to these various intensities on every photo session, a photographer will learn and understand how the intensity of the light is measured and getting the right exposure will become second nature. I have always used the Sunny 16 rule as my base when shooting in outdoor conditions. The Sunny 16 rule uses the formula of matching the ISO with the shutter speed at f16 on a bright and sunny day. As the intensity of the light diminishes the wider the f stop is needed. Just as the human eye readjusts when entering a dark room from a bright sunny day. The intensity also depends upon how close the light source is to the subject. Now, here’s where a bit of science comes into play. It’s called the Inverse Square Law. As the distance from the light source to the subject increases, the light intensity decreases. Hence twice the distance is equivalent to

Inverse square law

Standard sekonic light meter



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one-fourth of the power. In layman’s terms, the light will become less intense the farther it travels from the light source. So, when lighting the subject and the desire is to have an evenly and well illuminated subject and background, the light should be placed in a significant distance to both. Intensity can be measured by using a light meter. By setting the light meter’s ISO, the light meter will supply the f stop and shutter speed needed to capture the correct exposure for the subject and the background. The following diagrams relate to the light being in front of the subject. For food photography, the light should be placed behind the subject. The objective is to always backlight the food, which creates a highlight around the back edge of the food and a shadow towards the front, to give the food a visual base to sit on. By moving the camera in each of the diagrams to the opposite side, this will demonstrate the intensity of light for food photography. The light formula will stay the same but the position of the camera changes. Just as I had stated before, learn to walk around the subject and observe the light when setting up. The comparison of light intensity between front and backlighting is demonstrated below.

Example of light intensity on a given product from the front

Example of light intensity on food or product using backlight

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Since the light source is now originating from behind the food, the light intensity will be greater on the back of the food and the shadows will fall on the front of the food. This is the reason for placing one to two white fill cards between the food and the camera, leaving space or room for the camera to capture. Depending on how close these fill cards are positioned from the food, the greater the reflected intensity is going to be. DIRECTION

The direction of light in food photography is the most important part of the equation. The direction of light in portrait photography compared to food photography is demonstrated below. Photographers are usually taught early on that three or more lights are needed to make the perfect portrait.





Main light

Main and fill light

Main, fill and hair

Main, fill, hair and background light

A main light is used to illuminate the face, a second light is used to fill in the shadows, a third light is used to create a glow around the subject’s hair or shoulders, and then possibly a fourth is used as a background light. This combination is a good lighting solution for people and certain kinds of products but is not flattering for food. Never light the food from the front as in using an on-camera flash. Lighting from the front eliminates depth, reduces contrast and flattens out all the details in the food. Like the bleacher image



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at the beginning of this chapter, notice how the lettuce on the left looks flat with no dimension or contrast. The head of lettuce doesn’t look bad in the three-light setup, but look how the texture and the contrast of the lighter and darker pieces of the lettuce in the following images stand out. The third setup has a card blocking the light behind the lettuce, creating a gradual lighting effect on the tabletop. Once this lighting setup is complete, other objects can be added without changing the lighting position. The highlights fall on the back and the shadows fall forward and under the food. Food photography is all about featuring the shapes, textures and depth of the food, and lighting has everything to do with it.

Three lights portrait setup

Diagram 1

One light from back and fill cards in front

Diagram 2

One light from back with back card blocking light

Adding other food; no need to change the light

Diagram 3


Once more, the secret to great food photography is backlighting. Illuminating from the back or behind the food creates the ultimate appetizing appearance. I can’t say this enough. The backlight produces a highlight or glow across the back edge or rim of the food while forming a shadow at the base, which gives the food a visual resting place. Using fill cards on either side of the food helps accentuate the shape of the food. It’s simple when you think

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about it. When sitting down to eat, the food is usually in front of you and the light comes from straight down or from behind the food in most cases. The light doesn’t come from where you are sitting. We’re accustomed to viewing food in this type of light direction every time we eat. Pay attention to the highlight and shadow details on the jellyroll in these three desserts samples.

Sidelight example

¾ backlight example


Diagram 1

Diagram 2

Diagram 3

Notice image 1 has a fair amount of light to the left and a medium shadow to the right. At first glance, it appears to be correctly lit and clearly shows the shape of the food. But look how this light, compared to the colors of the food, flatten the overall image. It makes the food look unappetizing, as if it’s been sitting on the plate for hours. Pay attention to the color of the plate, which are gray and mundane. Now observe the middle plate or image 2, in which the light is placed at a 45-degree angle from behind the food. This direction of light creates a line of contrast between the two desserts. The highlight on the back edge of the front dessert separates from the front shadow of the dessert in the back. Look at the difference between the jelly itself; notice that it’s starting to look transparent. The plate is also starting to take shape. Now compare image 3 to the other images and see how the food looks like it could be picked off the page. The jelly roll has a highlight



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running across the top and the drizzles have contrast and dimension overall. The plate looks white and fresh with the shadow and reflection of the food creating a base for the food to sit on. These examples truly display the difference in backlighting compared to sidelighting, and yet so many food images are shot this way, with the light to the side and passed off as, “That looks good enough to eat!� Now with this backlighting example, you know the secret. Sidelighting

There will be circumstances for which sidelighting is another option for food photography. Sidelighting creates an effect in which the intensity of the light is closer to one side of the food and creates a brighter side compared to a heavy shadow side. The shadow side can then be controlled with a fill card by moving it closer or farther from the shadow side. Adjusting the fill card farther from the food will result in the shadows having less light thus producing a stronger contrast. See the example of the burger below. The sidelight features every ingredient on the burger because the light and shadow relationship creating a movement for the eye to follow. The eye will always go to the lightest part of an image and then move towards the shadow or darker side. By placing a strip light directly to the left side of the food and

Side lit burger



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slightly behind, I’m directing the viewer to see the highlighted part of the image first then move across the food towards the shadow side in the same way this page is being read, left to right. The importance of placing the softbox in the correct position to the food affects the final look as well. To use strip lights and softboxes correctly, a softbox should be placed with the left edge of the box in line with the subject and not lined up with the center of the softbox. By using the softbox in this position, the gradation of highlight to shadow is a smoother transition. By having it moved back, the transition is stronger. See the two examples next to the burger image for the correct way to place the softbox light. Overhead Lighting

Another direction for the light to cover the food is overhead lighting, which is usually used when there is a larger set or there are multiple foods on the set at one time. This light creates an overall illuminance to the set. This light can be set back just enough to appear to look like backlighting, but the effect covers the set much better. This light will work with both high-key sets as well as darker backgrounds as in the images below.

High-key background for food

Dark, moody background used to punch color of food

Even though these two images are illuminated from above, notice the fill from the white base reflecting onto the red strawberries compared to the deep shadows under the red pepper on the black background. Depending upon the color of the food, be careful to use this type of lighting. The grapes on the left would disappear on a darker background as would the eggs on a white background if this type of lighting is used. Darker foods are lost on a dark background and lighter foods would disappear on a white background. Using backlighting would correct this problem. For smartphone users, taking food images at your favorite restaurant, find a window close by to illuminate your food from the back or use your friend’s or partner’s phone to light the food from the back while using a white napkin or menu to fill in the shadow side of the food. The food will



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Captured using iPhone in restaurant with a white napkin for a fill card

look so much better and the restaurant will be happy that their food will look better on social media. QUALITY

The quality of light can be described as hard or soft light: it ranges from bright, sharp highlights and dark, sharp shadows to soft even light and soft shadows. The quality of light is determined by the light source and whether a light modifier is used. Most food photography is shot using a softbox or diffusion material between the light and the subject. My philosophy has always been to use one light when photographing food. Earth only has one sun. There isn’t a main sun and a fill sun. Therefore, I only use one light simulating the quality of sunlight. Granted, there is also an atmosphere, which is the sky that acts as a fill. Using fill cards to reflect the one main light source, whether it’s a hard or soft light source, is a great solution for setting up a lighting scenario for food photography.

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My favorite kind of lighting is that which is created when light is positioned behind a scrim. This often creates the best light for the food that’s being photographed. A scrim is a translucent material stretched out on a frame. The light and the scrim can be independently positioned to control the light direction and intensity. By using this method, I can move the light back and forth or side to side and still control where the main source of the light has the best quality. When using a traditional softbox, the light bulb remains at a constant distance from the diffusion material within the softbox. Having the versatility of a light and a scrim is little more work, but the results are worth it. Does this mean I never use a softbox? On the contrary, I use them regularly in situations that do not require more control.

¾ backlight

Setup diagram

As previously stated, when using a softbox, the light head is fixed and can’t be moved within the framework. The flash head’s distance to the diffusion material (A) never changes. When using a scrim and a light separately, the distance and intensity can be changed providing multiple results (B, C and D). Moving the light behind the diffusion material to match the food or product has an advantage. A light moved closer and to the front of the scrim can help pinpoint the light and make it more directional. When the light is pulled back, it lights the entire scrim and has less intensity, but it illuminates the overall product more efficiently thus needing less fill from the fill cards. With these images of pudding, two lights were used to create the effect. The main light was placed to the side of the set to light the product. A second light was placed above and behind the subject and through a scrim, which was placed above the food. The second light produced a reflection



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The light in the softbox is in constant distance from the screen

By using a normal light behind a scrim, the light head can be moved to any position

onto the dark brown PlexiglasÂŽ surface. Watch how the second light on the background or the reflection is controlled by repositioning the light while the scrim stays in place. The only item that is moved is the background light. This enables the placement of the light behind the scrim, which in turn,

Moving the light behind the scrim will produce various looks on the background

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created a reflection of the light source onto the background, exactly where the art director liked it best.

Setup diagram viewed from light #1

Diagram from above looking down

Window or natural light is a great source of light with its own challenges. Due to changing light values and elements of weather, window light limitations will affect photography time on set. Proper preparation and planning as well as adhering to strict timetable are essential to using natural window light. If it’s cloudy outside and the session calls for direct sunlight, a strobe light can be placed outside the window. Take off the reflector and point the light through the window. To create simulated sunlight, use a wireless remote device to engage the flash outside. If it’s too sunny, a scrim can be put on the outside of the window to create a softer overcast light. The scrim can be taped, hung or stretched across the outside of the window so that the inside of the window could be seen in the set. I prefer more control of the light, so I use a few different ways to create daylight in the studio.

Window soft light

Studio soft light

Window hard light

Studio hard light



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I look for and watch natural light every day, and I think to myself, “How can I replicate that light in the studio?” The sun is a small pinpoint of light in the sky. Take the softbox or reflector off the flash head and raise it towards the ceiling. The light will spill onto the background casting a hard shadow. Observe the shadow and watch where and how it effects the subject to ­create artificial sunlight. Again, lighting from behind or from a ¾ back angle, the food will take on a glow as if it was taken outside. Using a silver reflector fill card creates a brighter fill on the shadow side of the food.

Setup with blue background

Poolside diagram

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This poolside shot was taken in the studio with a single light source. The water and the reflection of the sky in the spoons were added in postproduction.

Light with no modifier

Bare bulb light in front of large softbox

Creating sunlight in the studio with one raw bulb can be challenging because natural daylight has the sky as an overall fill light. What I find works the best is using a softbox behind the raw bulb, which acts as the sky and keeps the soft overall light on the set, while the raw bulb creates the hard shadows. This configuration of lights offers the ability to send more directed or non-diffused light directly onto the food. COLOR

All light is composed of a combination of the three primary colors of red, green and blue. Sunlight at noon is completely balanced and contains all colors in almost equal quantities. But sunlight can shift the color of food depending upon the time of day or whether it’s in the shade. Early morning or late afternoon light will have a warmer tone due to the curved atmosphere that sunlight needs to travel through. Photographers tend to like warmer colored light on food. The problem with doing that is it also changes the overall color thus putting a color cast over the entire image. The best part about digital photography and shooting in the RAW format is the ability to white balance any color temperature of light. Light’s color temperature is measured in kelvin (K). For instance, tungsten studio lights range from 3,200K to 3,400K, depending on the wattage, and emit a warm light. Daylight emits a cooler temperature of 5,500K to 6,000K. See chart on the following page for kelvin temperature scale and their examples.



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As a side note, LED lights are being marketed as a product that reduces environmental impact. However, they have a color temperature ranging from 2,700K to 3,500K.

Kelvin temperature chart

Tungsten light predominant from side

Window light predominant from the back

If two different color temperature light sources are used in the same image, an extreme color shift will occur. Here is a sample of predominantly using a tungsten sidelight along with window daylight hitting the food from behind. Color balancing on the white coffee cup will create a color shift. Now look what happens if the window light is more predominant, and notice the orange reflection of the tungsten light in the spoon. It’s better to keep the light temperatures the same. You can use daylight along with flash as well as a photoflood lamps with a candle because their temperatures are very close.

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Choosing the Right Light for the Job

When I started shooting in the ’70s, tungsten lights or “hot lights” as they were called, were the lights of choice by many commercial photographers, especially in the food business. Strobes or flash were around but were used on occasion, mostly to stop action, such as pouring liquids or moving objects. In most cases, the food just sat there on the plate and didn’t move, so tungsten lights were the right lights for the job. We were photographing with 8 × 10 view cameras then, and the increased bellows factor of the camera made it difficult to see the food through the camera. A 1,000-watt quartz light worked perfect to see the inversed image on the ground glass. Having a constant light source on all the time had its pros and cons. The positive side of using “hot lights” was that the art director or client could see exactly what the light was doing on the set. Every highlight and shadow were visible. When photographing with flash, they could only see how the modeling light was affecting the set, and they complained that the flash was a different kind of light that they could not see. On the flip side, the lights were extremely hot, and the heat from the lights would sometimes decrease the freshness of the food if left on too long. When I started using strobe lights or flash, I was introduced to Bron Color, Speed-o-tron, Photogenic, Elinchrom and later to Profoto. They all work very well. Selecting which lights to use is determined by the studio’s budget and the manufacturer’s dependability, quality and price. For my food photography, I prefer Speed-o-tron and Profoto lights. In 2015, LED and fluorescent lights were being showcased at every photographic trade show. These lights are much cooler in actual temperature than “hot lights” and are not as expensive as strobes. They offer an inexpensive solution to portrait and product photographers. However, when it comes to food for advertising, I’m not convinced that they are the right tool for the job. In my opinion, while these lights are not my choice, photographers are using these lights because of portability and affordability. It is important to remember to change the color temperature settings in the camera or create a custom white balance when using these types of light. Lights and Light Modifiers

The four types of light that I have been describing throughout this chapter are tungsten, fluorescent, window and flash. The first three are continuous light sources, while flash or strobe lights produce a burst of light. A studio flash unit needs a power pack or battery pack along with a flash head. Some of the newer flash units contain the power within the flash head itself. Any of these lights can be used for food photography depending upon the complexity of the food assignment. If photographing “moving food,” such us the pouring of liquids or falling powdered sugar, flash or strobes are the right tool for the job.



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Window light


Profoto D1

Other Light Modifiers Umbrellas

Even though the photographic umbrella has been around for many years, I strongly discourage photographers from using these light modifiers with food. The umbrella is a great way to spread the light across the subject; however, the light from an umbrella spreads over everything and everywhere. If there is a reflective subject, such as a glass or a sunny-side-up egg, the umbrellas will be visible in the reflection. I’ve seen photographers turn the umbrella around to soften the light even more, but they must place the light closer to the food creating a recognizable umbrella reflection. Using a softbox, as I have been saying, creates a rectangle shape as if it were a window. A good trick is to create a faux window pane made from black photo masking tape on the face of the softbox. Then a reflection of a so-called window will appear in those sunny side eggs.

Umbrella highlights in eggs

Softbox highlight in eggs

Simulated a window by using tape on the softbox


A gobo is a term that photographers have been using ever since I started. It is something used between the light source and the background, or as I used

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The illusion of blinds made by cutting foam core strips



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to say a “go-between.” It could be as simple as a few pieces of foam board attached with push pins to simulate window blinds. A gobo creates a pattern of light onto a wall or the background simulating a dappled lighting effect. It helps separate the subject off the background. Cutting out circles and random shapes on a piece of cardboard will ­replicate sunlight coming through trees. It can also be used to block light and let just a little burst of light onto a lighter background to create dimension.

Background light too bright

Gobo used to block light

A dappled light effect

Even the use of a beverage glass with facial tissues pushed inside can be considered a gobo. When moved next to the food that has a bright highlight, the light can be toned down by ¼ of a stop just in that small area. In the cake image on the left, the face of the cake was determined to be too bright. Creating the glass with the tissue as a gobo pushed next to the cake just out of camera range, created a darker cake face in the image on the right.

Carrot cake too bright

Place tissues in a glass for diffusion

Place the glass next to the highlight on the cake

Another great light modifier to create a dappled light effect from the sun is the use of a glass block. It’s important to know that when using a glass block, a harder light source will give the best results. Moving the light around through the glass block will produce various effects. The key is to keep the main light and the light coming through the glass block from the same direction. This will make it appear that there is only one light source.

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Use a glass block to create a dappled light effect

Fill cards

I have repeatedly mentioned fill cards in many of the lighting scenarios throughout the book (see Chapter 2: Getting Started). I also use small mirrors to create a harder reflection which creates specular highlights on the food. Sometimes, I use aluminum or silver AC tape attached to a card to place a highlight onto a portion of the food. In summary, take the time to set the food up and place a light on it, then walk around the set. Do this prior to the art director’s arrival. Set up

No fill card

1 – 9 × 13 white fill card on right side

Cup image diagram


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before anyone else arrives. Place the light at different heights and distances. Take the time to observe the light and see where the highlights and shadows fall. Use this time to familiarize yourself with the light, the props and the dummy food. Be ready to go right when the client shows up. Not only will you be prepared, you’ll be more than just a photographer; you’ll be a ­lighting expert.




One of the secrets to understanding good food photography is not looking at the subject on the set as “food.” Initially, food should be viewed as inanimate objects. When a plate or dish of food is placed on a photography set, the taste sensors in the brain take over and view the food as something “that looks good enough to eat.” It’s a natural occurrence with any type of food, from a dessert to an entrée. From the food’s visual appearance, it’s edible. Now, imagine what shape a piece of cheesecake would look like with raspberries? Imagine that same slice as a triangle block with round shaped balls as shown in the photo on the left. By learning to look at the food from this abstract perspective, the brain’s visual sensors can override the taste sensors. These visual sensors are the ones that help see the light, shape, angles and tangents of the food. This is a visualization skill that I use. Let me make this clear, I don’t actually use blocks on the plate to represent the food. I use this as a demonstration tool to explain what my visual reference would be while looking at the food. This is one of the key reasons using a view camera early in my career was extremely helpful. By looking through the ground glass on the back of the view camera, the food appeared upside down and backwards. I was trained early on to look at food without my taste sensors. It is important to learn that shutting off those sensors in our brain is the key when photographing food. For this reason, a stand-in, or what we call in the business “dummy food,” is used. Dummy food is a representation of

Image shapes not taste

Dummy food


The Setup

the food on the plate that is not styled or perfectly placed. Notice the size of the raspberries in the image on the right. They are not perfect, and they are oversized. The emphasis needs to be on the cheesecake, not the raspberries. These raspberries are out of scale. They’re just visual placeholders that will be scaled down later by the food stylist. THE IMPORTANCE OF DUMMY FOOD

Stand-in or dummy food also plays an important role in determining the camera angle and lighting during setup. This helps the photographer communicate to a food stylist the angle on which the food should be styled from. When a chef or cook places the food on the plate for consumption, it is usually placed directly in the middle of the plate. They are usually standing “straight over the plate” with approximately the same angle that the food will be eaten.

Food centered by cook or chef

Camera’s perspective

In the food photography process, the camera angle determines how the food is placed on the plate by the photographer and the food stylist. If the angle of the camera is lower than normal viewing, the food will be placed closer to the front edge of the plate making it appear to be in the middle.

Food centered by food stylist

Camera’s perspective

That is why during the setup, the camera and the food angle should be carefully positioned. The shape and scale of the food should determine the ­camera angle.

The Setup

The lighting direction is determined during the dummy food stage. Since this isn’t the final food, the food can be repositioned and changed so that the lighting enhances these inanimate objects on the plate. Observe the shadows and highlights and look for the angles that make the objects look their best. A discussion with the food stylist helps them view the plate at the same angle as the camera. When the position of the plate is finally determined, place two small blocks at 10 and 2 o’clock on the back side of the plate. Then place a piece of tape onto the front edge of the plate from the camera’s perspective. This marks the exact placement of the hero food plate. The dummy food plate is then pulled out of position and the food stylist will reset the plate with the hero food. These markings will give them an accurate position of the camera’s relationship with the food. When the hero food is ready, it is positioned directly back into place by using the blocks as guides and the tape towards the lens of the camera.

Using blocks to mark the dummy food

Replacing with hero food


Picking the right prop for the job is always a challenge. Some colors of food clash with plate colors and some tend to blend in. It’s important to have a variety of shapes and sizes to show the client and/or the art director prior to the photography session. It helps if there is a representation of the food that will be used in the image for comparisons on the different plates. Styles, trends and basic backgrounds are constantly changing. Most clients will have a budget for a prop stylist. These stylists tend to know what the latest trends are because they are out there every day shopping, and they see what’s hot and what’s not. I highly recommend hiring a prop stylist. They handle last minute unexpected changes, and they have the flexibility to leave the set without disturbing the workflow. If there is no budget for a prop stylist, discuss the dishes and sizes with the food stylist and have variations of the plates and dishes set up prior to the client’s arrival. If multiple shots are being taken during the day of the session, all the props for the day should be set out and set up on the related backgrounds. This helps the art director, the food stylist, the client and the photographer see how and what the



The Setup

day will entail. Each individual shot is discussed and a shot list is then suggested to keep everyone on the same page. This also gives the team an overall plan preventing duplication of props and utensils on multiple images. It is strongly recommended to have all your props and extra items on the set in place before the final or hero food is in place.

Food color comparisons on props

Moving the fork around the set to see where it fits the best . . . before the client arrives

Props for cheesecake session

Even though all the props may be approved at the dummy food stage, someone will always second guess, including the photographer, and ask, “Is the fork in the best position?” The fork will sometimes take a journey around the plate to see if another angle might prove to be a better resting place. Most of the time, the fork will find its place back home where it started originally. If the question, “Does the fork look good there?” is asked, showing the multiple variations taken earlier in the dummy food stage will remove doubt. Done. Shoot! It’s good to get in the habit of moving the fork prior to the client seeing the final image. This way, the photographer and the art director will have explored all possibilities. When the client arrives and asks, “Does the fork look good there?” you can both say with confidence that it does. If they still aren’t sure, then show them the variations.

The Setup

Final image of cheesecake


A tripod is important when photographing food. The camera should remain in the same position throughout the session once the optimal camera position is agreed upon. This becomes extremely important when working on label or package photography. Every move needs to be calculated so that the positions of the food on the set is consistent. It is best to use a sturdy tripod or camera stand. I use a heavy-duty Bogan tripod. There are several types of tripods out there and I recommend that a good quality tripod is purchased. I have been using a Bogan 3251 tripod, which is obsolete, but it’s been a work horse for me without any issues for many years. Shop around and find a tripod that works for you. Look for a heavy-duty sturdy metal tripod with a geared head. The legs should be adjustable to a workable height. Remember, this is a quality investment because it eliminates camera shake and movement. If additional support and steadiness is needed, attach a weight at the bottom of the leg or legs. As a side note, a weight or weights can get in the way when others are working around the set. Make sure everyone is aware that the weights are there to help steady the tripod. The legs could also be taped to the floor in critical situations where the camera cannot be moved. This is done during special packaging photography, which includes multiple variations of the same product on multiple days. A camera stand uses the same principle as a “three-legged” tripod. It utilizes a heavy single pole attached to a very heavy base, which has three wheels for portability around the studio and/or the set. Some bases have the capability of being raised or lowered, which locks the camera stand in place. These are bulky contraptions, but their function in



The Setup

Heavy-duty tripod

Weight on tripod leg

10-foot Cambo mono camera stand

Down image of cake using camera stand

a commercial studio are game changers when preventing accidental movement. The camera stand is also helpful when photographing shots taken from above the food. As long as a good sturdy tripod is being used, the problem of the camera shaking or moving around the set will be kept to a

The Setup

minimum. It is also important to turn the image stabilization on the lens of the camera to the off position while the camera is secured onto the tripod or camera stand. For some lenses the image stabilizer in the on position can cause a small amount of shake to the camera. Refer to the owner’s manual for the correct IS switch position for that lens. CAPTURING SOFTWARE

Various software can be used when capturing food images. Each camera manufacturer has their own recommended software for capturing images. Images should be photographed via tethering between the camera and the computer. Photographing via tethering places the image files directly into the computer. I use a two-cord USB system when tethering so that if someone walks between the camera and computer, the USB cords will easily disconnect from each other and not the camera or computer, which can move them from their place. Another alternative is from a company called TetherTools which uses a similar design whereas a single USB cord utilizes two breakaway components at both ends of the camera and computer. This ensures a secure and safe connection during the photography session. There are many tethering devices out there that do the same function. Adobe Lightroom, Capture One Pro, Canon EOS Utility, Fuji Hyper-Utility and Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 are just a few tethering software that I have used, and they all function as reliable forms of tethered capturing at the time this book was published. Experiment and try using various software to match your workflow. If you’re interested in wireless transmission of image files, research your wireless capabilities and test prior to a photography session.

Tethered capture

Capture One software displaying camera options

As a side note, most tethered software have a live view mode. I strongly recommend not to get in the habit of using this function unless working alone. The issue while in live view mode, especially when working with multiple



The Setup

clients, is that the composition and placement of the food and props will become “composition by committee.” If a client or clients are given the opportunity to make changes, they will. Only show post camera images to your clients. If they can see what’s being moved around on set through the monitor, they will want to play art director and the control is transferred to them. This will not only decrease productivity but the photographer is also taken out of the creative equation. The photographer’s responsibility is to take control of the set and be the voice and the authority of the creative process along with the art director. As long as you, the photographer, are looking through the view finder or the back of the camera, you remain in control of the set. ADDITIONAL VIEWING MONITOR

I also recommend an additional larger monitor when shooting food. This gives the art director or the client a larger viewing surface to view the image rather than just a laptop screen, if that is what is being used. This makes a difference when the image can be enlarged. Look for smaller imperfect details within the image, such as a hair, a food imperfection, dust or just a piece of cotton from a cotton swab. The additional monitor can be used as a separate viewing device or in the mirror displays mode. I have used both modes depending on the job. Also, make sure that all monitors are calibrated. I use the i1 Profiler to create custom profiles for each display, which keeps my color accurate. Again, the monitor calibration should have been done in advance of the setup. I calibrate my monitors once a week. As stated

The usage of a double monitor

The Setup


before, a display calibration device is important in commercial food photography. A calibrated monitor is essential. Commercial clients pay millions to have their products represented by a certain Pantone Matching System (PMS) color code , and that color needs to match perfectly when printed. Having a calibrated monitor ensures the correct color of the product.

Food imperfections

Cotton from cotton swab


The correct color of the food is critical especially when working for a food company client. The color must be accurate. The X-Rite ColorChecker is a perfect tool to ensure the color is right and on target. Once the set is built, the props have been approved and the light source has been selected, an image of the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport should be taken. By laying the color checker on the plate instead of towards the camera, the light source evenly

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport


The Setup

illuminates the color swatches. Every time the light source is changed, the color checker should be captured again. It doesn’t matter if the light direction is changed. If the light source is changed then a new image of the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport must be retaken. It is also important to be using the correct color space when photographing food especially with commercial food products. Most commercial photographers use Adobe RGB (1998) color, while some prefer ProPhoto RGB or ColorMatch RGB. Using a larger color space upfront will ensure that most of the colors in the image are reproducible. Whichever RGB color space is selected, continue using that specific color space for all future work. It will keep your image color more accurate and the food on color target. BE PREPARED

There is a saying, “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” This is so important in regards to the setup of a food photography session. When working with agencies and/or art directors, a layout is most likely being used. The layout is like a blueprint for the final product. It may have all the necessary color palettes and text positions or it could just be a detailed pencil drawing or a sketch on a napkin. Either way, the layout is a guide for the photographer to interpret what the client’s needs are as they were communicated by the art director. It is strongly recommended that the photographer has the layout in his possession prior to set up. If the art director says there is no layout, then a table, camera and light should be preliminarily set up in place prior to the art director’s arrival. I would usually set up a white background then state that the layout I have in mind is blank, so I’m starting with a blank set. The key here is that the photographer should be prepared. In most cases, because the layout is provided days before the photo session, the layout can be imported into Photoshop, A test shot should be taken, which gives the art

Detailed package layouts

Pencil layout

The Setup

director some satisfaction that the photographer understands the layout and its parameters. Capturing software today have the capabilities of embedding the layout into the software. This helps the photographer place the image directly into the layout during the session. It’s a very good practice to have a test shot done, and if possible, shoot a variety of shots and place the images in the layout before the team arrives. This also shows that the photographer is being proactive. CAMERA EQUIPMENT

Every photographer has his own preference when it comes to which brand of camera to use. The most important piece of equipment is the lens. It is important to use a fixed or prime lens rather than a zoom lens. A fixed lens will increase sharpness and speed but will also make the photographer zoom with their feet, which means to move the camera and tripod together to fill the frame instead of using a zoom lens. I prefer to use a Nikor 105mm Macro lens. I can get close in on the subject, and I like the way it limits me to what I need to see composed in the eyepiece. I will also use an 85mm tilt-shift lens, which helps the focused part of the image stay sharp. A side note on selective focus, if a photographer is shooting food for fun or a candid blog, selective focus can be used without limitations. If a client or staff of clients is involved, I recommend that every part of the image is photographed sharp. They will want selective focus for an image, but if the food is photographed with a specific blurred effect, it can’t be changed or un-blurred in the postproduction process. If the image is shot sharp, selective focus can be applied afterwards with additional control. EXTRA EQUIPMENT

I have always said that it is easier to write with a pen than a bar of soap. I use Wacom tablet and pen instead of using a mouse. The newer models are wireless and are great when having to work on location. The pen and tablet buttons can be programed for any key or keyboard shortcut to improve productivity and workflow. DON’T BE LAZY

One of the best habits that I got into very early on in my career was to put away all the gear at the end of a photo session. Roll up the cords and put away the stands as well as moving the tripod or camera stand to a zero position. This made me approach every photography session as if it was a new and unique setup. This is an exception if working on multiple days or m ­ ultiple sessions. For example, different flavored varieties of pizza images  will be



The Setup

Wacom tablet and pen, and monitor calibrator

photographed on multiple days. The setup does not change. I would leave the setup locked down. This ensures that all the images shot for that assignment are precisely in the same position on the package. I like to start fresh every time. I like the idea of changing the light setup, the height of the set and the angle of the camera to match the food for every different image. I don’t want all my images to look the same. It’s a great habit to have and it keeps the studio clean and ready for the next client. BEST PRACTICES

Best practices are key to preplanning and organizing a timeline for every session. When it comes to assembling and disassembling a photographic set, create a designated place where equipment is placed every night. Is there a battery charger turned on and batteries charging? Are there fresh batteries? Roll cords up and use cord ties to keep them off the floor. Learn to roll your cords correctly. This will save you time and effort when setting up. A badly rolled cord will get tangled when you need it at a moment’s notice. A crazy practice that my first boss said was, “The only thing that goes on a chair is your butt!” As I think back through all those years, he was absolutely right. It’s so easy to walk into a room and place whatever it is in your arms on a vacant chair or stool. Get in the habit of placing things where they belong right away. It will keep the studio free from clutter. Camera stands should be closed and stored in the same place each night. There will be occasions that keeping a few stands open and off to the side of the studio is reasonable. Having a designated place will keep the studio

The Setup

Incorrect cord loop

Correct cord loop with strap

Cord loop hanging on stand

clear. Some photographers use a heavy-duty garbage canister to hold their light stands. Since some of my work is done on location, I use a hard golf case to store my light stands. When I travel, they are always there, and I just roll the bag away.

Garbage can storage

Hard case golf bag storage for easy transport of equipment

Keep lens caps on lenses and body caps on the camera. Store the tripod in the zero position every night so that your next set of images aren’t from the same height and angle. Collapse the legs and lower the head. By creating these best practices of storing equipment every night, it will help your setup process go smoothly before the next session. Building a tabletop set and backgrounds along with light placement, computer setup, tripod and camera setup will become second nature. Depending upon individual preferences, it is important to get in a groove that works



The Setup

best for your situation. Take on every assignment as if it’s a new client, even if they’ve been a repeat client for years. Creating your own best practices will keep you sharp and help you focus on the session itself rather than the little things like dead batteries in the middle of the session. The setup is as important as the photo session itself. It could be as simple as one light and a table or as complicated as using dual cameras with two sets to keep up with the four food stylists. I’ve included the setup of one of those assignments below. This assignment went on for two weeks and all the images had to match the exact position from the first day to the last. Since this was a packaging assignment the sets were never moved over the twoweek period.

Multiple camera setup

For example, this two-camera setup was helpful while photographing a full and slice of pizza at the same time from the same pie. The full pizza was brought to the set on the left as the slice was being styled for the set on the right. This gave a consistent look and precise camera angle so two images would match without moving either camera. In summary, much of the information regarding commercial food photography in this chapter is common knowledge to seasoned professionals. Learning to pay closer attention to some of these basic details will establish you on a path of professionalism. As a result, this will lead you in the right direction with repeat customers, a positive reputation and a higher level of pay. By incorporating a consistent workflow and best practices, you will establish yourself as a stronger photographer in the food business. Here is a story of one of my current clients from a well-known food magazine. My

The Setup

client commented to me during our session that she rarely saw photographers take as much time on the details as I did. Noticing that I was spending extra time on positioning a prop, she didn’t think of it as important until she saw the visual result. It was a small detail, which significantly helped define the prop. Afterwards, she mentioned how much she appreciated my patience, commitment and expertise. To her, it was all about the positive presentation of her product. To me, it’s all about the details that create a quality image.





Two commercial food photography styling kits

Above is a picture and below is a list of tools and supplies that commercial food photographers find extremely helpful on the set during food sessions. I have tool kits in two sizes that I can easily bring with me on location. I also have a larger one in the studio that is always next to the set for easy access to any kind of tool I might need. Tackle boxes make great tool kits, and there are a variety of these in any sporting goods store. Hardware stores have the larger tool boxes on wheels that can be used as a photo cart. Tools

Birthday candles Cake decorating tips and bags Dental picks Double stick tape Emery boards

X-ACTO knives Eye droppers Fine spritz water bottle Floral spiked holders

Tools of the Trade

Knife set (straight, serrated, paring and chef) Level Makeup sponges Matches Measuring cups and spoons Melon baller and fruit corer Metal rods Mirrors (small, medium and large) Picks (wooden skewer) Pins (straight and T-pins) Plexiglas cubes (small and large) Poker chips (small and large) Pot holders

Q-tip cotton swabs Rubber gloves Ruler (tape measure) Roscolux colored gels Scissors (small, medium and large) Small strainer Spatulas (metal and wooden) Spoons (slotted and small) Straws Tacky Wax or Lectro-Stik Wax Tweezers (round tip, bent tip and locking) Vegetable peeler

Specialized Equipment

Lowel clamps Barbecue charcoal starter Garment steamer Butane torch Gardeners knee pad

Hot glue gun and glue sticks Electric paint stripper Electric knife Scale

Essential kitchen equipment

Stove and oven Sink Counter space

Running water Refrigerator


Aluminum foil Cutting boards Cooling racks Corn Huskers lotion Dulling spray Food coloring kit Glass cleaner Glycerin

Karo light corn syrup Kitchen bouquet Paper towels Scotchguard spray Spring clips Trash bags Wood blocks Ziplock bags

The above list is a quick overview of some of the tools I keep in my commercial photo kit. I have them at all my sessions because I never know what kind of problem I might need to solve in making the food look good for photography. Here are some examples of how a food stylist and I might utilize the tools on this list. The food stylists will always come with his own



Tools of the Trade

food styling kit. However, I found it a good practice to have a kit of my own just in case. With regards to any food styling tools that I’m showing here, the food stylist will usually and probably handle the food issues in the kitchen or on set and/or during the preparation of the food for photography. It is important as the food photographer to know about these tools and how they affect the food stylist’s job. A food photographer should have most of these tools at the set as well. If something comes up and the food stylist doesn’t have that tool near the set, it’s the responsibility of the photographer to make sure they’re covered. The communication between the photographer and the stylist is so very important. Each should know the other’s next move and limitations. I’ve also listed some very essential kitchen equipment that some food stylists asked me to mention. They have, on occasion, gone to a session that did not have an oven or refrigeration. If food is something that is being photographed in your studio, make sure you have these essentials to make for a smoother photography session. Starting out with birthday candles, they can be used to create steam from behind food to make it look hot as in this shot of a spoonful of peas. The key in getting the right kind of smoke is to let the candle burn for a few seconds and then blow it out. It’s at this time when the wick of the candle lets off the kind of smoke that looks like steam. It also helps to have an ­additional backlight with barn doors to block the light spilling onto the spoon. This light will help enhance the white smoke from the dark background.

Blown out birthday candle

Candle removed from below spoon

Notice that the candle is lower than the bottom of the spoon. The smoke will rise above the peas, and the candle and extra smoke can be removed later in postproduction. The best smoke comes after the candle is blown out. Cake decorating bags and tips work especially well for piping a flavored filling into a dessert glass without smearing the inside of the glass itself.

Tools of the Trade

Pastry bag and tip

Filling dessert glass

Finished product

I use a variety of dental picks to move small items on a spoon whether it’s cereal or a pasta noodle. The sharp points fit perfectly under the flakes or into the holes of the noodles while repositioning them.

Dental picks

Carefully moving cereal flakes

Positioning macaroni noodles

Replacing labels on glass or plastic food packages can be easily done by applying and repositioning two pieces of clear double stick tape on the “back” edges of the label. Quickly place the label on your forehead for a second, then position on the package. The oil from your skin will make the tape tacky but will still allow repositioning of the label if it wasn’t put on evenly or exactly straight the first time.

Using your head



Tools of the Trade

Emery boards make the perfect filing tool for cleaning the edges of crackers to make them visually even. Some boards are two-sided and some have different coarseness on either side. Using a toothpick or a larger wooden skewer, depending on the size of the holes in the crackers, reopen and clean the holes to make the crackers appear fresher. The “after cracker” on the left is more appetizing than the “before cracker” on the right.

Cleaning edges with emery board

Opening holes with skewer

Before and after on another cracker

X-ACTO knives are the most useful cutting utensil in the food styling kit. They can cut anything from fill cardboards to a top leafy section of a strawberry. There are many varieties of knives and blades as well, and I find them extremely helpful.

X-ACTO knives

Cutting fill cards

Trimming fruit leaves

Eyedroppers are multiuse tools that can be used to make bubbles in liquids like milk, making it look freshly poured, or to add a small drip of mustard


Making bubbles in milk

Adding condiments

Tools of the Trade

or ketchup to a burger. There are now plastic pipers that are disposable for easier cleanup. A fine spritz water bottle is a great way to make those fruits and salads look fresh as the droplets of water create the look of crisp, fresh and cool food. I have also used a wooden skewer to place droplets on fruit by dipping the skewer in water and placing the drop exactly where it can be seen by the camera.

Spritz bottles

Spritz on fruit creates freshness

Floral spike holders or floral frogs are a good way to hold food or flowers in place without them moving around. They make great weights as well on the set to hold products up.


Frogs used to hold flowers in place

When photographing food there will most likely be a time where some food needs to be cut, so a good set of knives is imperative. Learn to keep them sharpened, and keep them clean throughout the session. They will last a long time if they’re taken care of. A small level is always handy when photographing liquids in a glass or bowl. The background may not always be level. By placing the level across



Tools of the Trade

Set of knives

Knife usage

the edges of the bowl before pouring the soup in, the bowl can be made level using small poker chips to correct the unevenness. This way, the liquid will always look perfect in the bowl. There will be times that it will be a good idea to see into the bowl just a little bit more. That’s when the level can be used to force the bowl forward a bit with a poker chip under the back of the bowl. The liquid will still look level from the camera’s point of view.

Place level on bowl edges

Soup is level

Poker chip used to level

Cosmetic sponges are a great tool to use if any liquid spills onto the background or plate. These little sponges make a great soaking up tool without leaving a mark.

Cosmetic sponges

Wiping moisture from plate

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed matches to light a candle on set for a dinner setting or to create smoke to make food look like it’s hot. It’s

Tools of the Trade


just a good idea to have them in your kit. Extra-long fireplace matches work when a fire needs to be started in a grill, which will be demonstrated later in the chapter.

Various match sizes

Measuring cups and spoons should just be a staple in the kit. When working with some recipes, knowing exactly how much a ¼ cup or a tablespoon measurement becomes important. Having a food scale is important on such occasions when you have to measure ingredient weights for a recipe.

Measuring cups and spoons

Food scale for precise measurements

Having the holes in a Swiss cheese perfectly placed on a sandwich lets the viewer know it’s Swiss cheese. Melon ballers work well when needing to intentionally create that extra hole on a slice of Swiss cheese. They also make a great cantaloupe and watermelon fruit medley.

Melon baller making holes

Holes positioned

Final image showing cheese


Tools of the Trade

Metal rods can be purchased at any hardware store. They act as an extension of a serving utensil such as a fork, spoon or knife. The rods can be attached with hot glue, Tacky Wax, tape or all of the above. These rods can be purchased at varying lengths. I use a 24-inch length rod at Âź-inch diameter. They work great in conjunction with the Lowel Reflectasol clamps because they can be positioned in any configuration easily. Creating a realistic angle up or down to match the plate or bowl on the set will give the appearance of someone actually holding the utensil. The key here is for the utensil not to move during the photography session. This is important because you want the food on the utensil to be stable and not fall off onto the set below.

Metal rods

Back of utensils attached to rods

Front or top of utensil extension

Simulate grill marks as finishing touches onto already cooked meats or chicken by heating the rods on a stove top in the open flame. The rods will glow orange when ready to use and quickly and gently place the heated rods onto the surface of the meat. The skin will sear and leave a burned mark. Then, move the skewer over at the same distance as the grill being photographed. These marks are usually made in the kitchen and not on the set. By the time the hot skewer gets from the stove to the set, the metal rod will cool too soon for the marks to be made.

Heat up in open flame on stove

Making mark on steaks

Grill marks on chicken

Mirrors are used as small reflective fill cards to add specular highlights to a small area that is in shadow. This creates a visual enhancement by making the food look fresh and appetizing. There are normal kinds of glass mirrors, but I recommend Plexiglas mirrors. They can be purchased in larger sheets and then cut down to a customized size with a utility knife. They

Tools of the Trade

won’t break when they’re dropped. In a pinch, I’ve wrapped aluminum foil with double stick tape over a fill card creating a mirror. There is also a roll of foil tape that air conditioning installers utilize on ductwork. This tape can be applied to any surface to make custom shaped mirrors quickly. This can also be bought at a hardware store in the heating and air conditioning section. The tape works really well. I’ve also used the little compact mirrors because they stand by themselves, and I can point the reflected light directly onto a shadow area. When the access to the controls of the camera or lens are blocked by the closeness of the set, the small dental mirror can be used to see the hidden settings. Simply hold the mirror under the camera or next to the lens to easily see the numbers while adjusting.


White fill card

White fill card with mirror

Picks or wooden skewers are excellent when strategically placing small crumbs on a set in a small area. These long tools have a very sharp point, and they can easily move a single cookie crumb or piece of sea salt in position without disrupting the others around them. The back ends of these wooden skewers work great for moving raspberries into position. This is done by placing the blunt end of the skewer into the raspberry stem, opening it, and then maneuvering it without bruising the fruit.

Positioning cookie crumbs

Moving sea salt

Placing raspberries

Occasionally a stylist will use straight pins in sandwiches to hold curled lunchmeat and/or slippery tomatoes in position before the top piece of bread or bun is placed on top. T-pins are used when working with whole chickens and/or turkeys to secure their legs or wings tightly to the poultry.



Tools of the Trade

They can also secure ham slices portraying the perfect curl of each slice. Bulletin board push pins work well to stretch and secure a piece of fabric like a tablecloth or napkin on the set. This creates a smoother fabric by helping to remove wrinkles.

Straight pins holding curls

Final ham

T-pins holding rolled over slice

Use both T-pins and skewers together and submerge the lemon peels in ice water for 15–20 minutes to make great lemon peel curls.

Twist and roll on skewer

Submerge in ice water

Makes the perfect curl

To eliminate a shadow under a piece of food or product, use a small Plexiglas cube measuring 1-inch to ¾-inch to lift the product off the background allowing the light to pass through the cube under the product. This will make it appear to be floating. Plexiglas cubes can be purchased at a local plastics store. To find a plastics store in your area, look up plastics or Plexiglas on the web. In addition to the cubes, full sheets of Plexiglas, both polished and sandblasted, come in various sizes, from 4 × 8 feet to 3 × 3 feet. They also have an assortment of colors besides white that work well for photography. The shiny surface of the Plexiglas, when used as the base under the food, will add a natural fill light and dimension to the food when lit from behind. It will also reflect the softbox light because of its mirror-like surface, so precautions are needed to position the camera at the correct angle eliminating unwanted reflections. To remove reflection totally, ask if one of the sides of the Plexiglas can be sandblasted. If so, the surface that is sandblasted will eliminate all reflections.

Tools of the Trade

Glass Plexiglas blocks

Helps lift product off background

Less shadows

Poker chips and small wooden blocks are the most used tool in my kit. They help tilt the back of a plate, and they are a great tool to prop and lift  ­different foods up in the back, showing more surface towards the camera.

Variety of poker chips

Chips lift the back of cookies

Block helps standing cookie

Pot holders or oven mitts are really self-explanatory. There is always something hot in the kitchen, whether it is a cookie tray out of the oven or a hot metal rod. The pot holders are used to prevent injuries.

Oven mitts

Holding hot metal rod

Q-Tip cotton swabs are great tools to clean up spills, wipe a plate clean or just to clean up a coffee stain around the top inside rim of the cup after it has been poured. They work even better when dipped into a little glass cleaner before using. Keep the glass cleaner in a bowl near the set. It’s important though to follow up with a dry Q-Tip after using the one with the glass cleaner.



Tools of the Trade

Q-Tip cleaning bowl edge

Q-Tip dipped in glass cleaner

Q-Tip cleaning coffee cup edge

Commercial photographers have been using Rosco Roscolux lighting gels for years. These gels are not an essential tool in the photographer’s kit, but they will come in handy when least expected. These gels are colored flexible filters that are placed in front of a light fixture to change the color of the light. They are normally used in theater lighting and can withstand the heat of a bright photographic light. One simple conventional trick prior to digital was using a colored gel that matched the color of the seamless background. If a blue background was being used, a number 860 blue colored gel would be used to brighten the blue background with a blue light. This will enhance the true color of the background and bring out the saturated color out on the set. These colored gels come in a variety of colors and in 20 × 30 rolls or smaller sheets. I buy the rolls and cut them up for my needs and keep them sorted in folders in numerical order. It makes it easier to find the color I need quickly. These gels will also be shown in use later in this chapter.

Rosco Roscolux gels are numbered

Sorted in folders by name and number

When working with any kind of candy like chocolate or caramel it is important to use surgical latex gloves. They are available at the local drugstore. This will prevent fingerprints showing up on the face of the candy. A ruler or a tape measure is an important tool to have at the preproduction meeting when discussing the size of the plate compared to the size of

Tools of the Trade

Use rubber gloves

Chocolate without gloves

Removed fingerprints

the food. In today’s food marketplace, portion control is at the top of the list when it comes to serving sizes. Smaller plates are being used more, and the larger plates are being used as base plate settings for the smaller plates. Knowing which is the best plate size for the food will be very important during the preproduction meeting. The size of the serving piece in relationship with the size of the plate needs to be proportional. In some cases, the food size on the plate can be changed to show less food in a more effective application.

Tape measure for sizing plate

Food too large for plate

Adjust food for plate size

I have at least three sizes of scissors near the set at all times. Scissors are another staple to have in the food styling kit. There are a variety of foods  that need trimming during the food photography session, such as a  piece of lettuce that is hanging too far over the edge of a plate or a burger.

Set of scissors

Trimming bread edges

Cutting a piece of lettuce



Tools of the Trade

Strainers are good tools to have to remove the smaller pieces or particles of food, like cereal or shredded cheese, that might be used in the image. Shaking the strainer removes the small, unwanted particles and debris from the hero food, saving hours of retouching later in Photoshop. The hero pieces are then sorted by size before individually positioning them into the bowl. This eliminates cleaning up those smaller pieces that stick to the larger pieces, making them look dirty.

Shake flakes in strainer

Sort flakes by size

Position flakes in bowl

There are a few different kinds of metal spatulas that are used regularly: a flat spatula and offset spatulas. They all serve their purpose, but when a food item needs to be positioned on the set carefully, the offset spatula is the right choice. Because of the angle, the spatula tip can be dropped into the set with more control. A good trick is to tape a piece of sand paper to the end of the spatula for those dry foods that tend to slide off during placement.

Various metal spatulas

Used to carefully stack

Sandpaper taped on spatula

To simulate freshly poured beverages, a small spoon is perfect to add bubbles to the edge of any liquid, such as milk, orange juice or coffee. Egg whites make great bubbles by whisking them in a small dish and scooping various sizes out along the side of the bowl with a spoon then strategically placing them in the beverage. These bubbles will give the photographer more time on the set, keeping the beverages looking fresh. Some photographers prefer to use soap bubbles; however, small rainbows can appear in them. Egg white bubbles appear clean and clear. For some coffee images, a tiny drop of

Tools of the Trade

Kitchen Bouquet could be added to colorize the egg whites prior to whisking thus creating coffee-colored bubbles.

Spooning bubbles in coffee

Whip the egg white to make bubbles

Straws are perfect to use when photographing ice cream. Once the scoop of ice cream is made, place the scoop in a box of dry ice for 45 minutes to 1 hour in order to keep it from melting. The dry ice firms up the product allowing more time on set. Carefully take the ice cream scoop out and place it on a cone or in a dish. Take the straw and blow across the base of the ice cream and wait for it to melt. Just as the ice cream starts to melt, capture the image!

Melted ice cream

Use a straw to control the melt

Tacky Wax was the name of this incredible tool when I started in the business. The official name is Lectro-Stik Wax, and it comes in small squares separated by a piece of thin plastic. It is a multiuse wax that can hold a spoon on a plate in the same position for hours or a small piece of food on its edge. To clean up or remove the sticky product with a kneaded eraser or a dry cloth. I can never have enough tweezers in my photo kit. There are a variety of different kinds of tweezers. These can be used for many uses on the set, like placing a cracker on a certain angle, moving or setting tiny pieces of sea salt on a caramel nugget. They are so versatile, and their uses are endless. You may find that it’s your favorite tool in your photo kit. Check out eBay for an assortment of kinds and prices of tweezers.



Tools of the Trade

Tacky Wax

Holds the spoon handle in place

Various tweezers

Flat ended tweezers

Used to push and pull food

Tools of the Trade


The following equipment is sometimes forgotten when photographing food. A food stylist once asked me to please tell photographers, during one of my talks, to make sure there is a kitchen in or next to the studio when scheduling a food session. I couldn’t believe how many times a food stylist has asked me to mention this. I would think it’s a no-brainer to have a kitchen with a stove, refrigerator and even running water! A surprising fact, but true, this happens more than I was aware of. Photographers, make sure that when you schedule a photography session involving food, there is a kitchen with the basics near the photography area. For the food stylist, plenty of clean cleared counter space is also required, not only to prepare the food but also to have the room for sorting and preparation. Having the right basic equipment like a sink, stove, oven and refrigerator is extremely important when photographing food. I once rented a space in a bakery and found to my surprise that pastry chefs don’t use microwaves. It was my responsibility to bring one to the session. Another time, while photographing frozen pizzas, I had to rent an extra freezer unit to hold the 200plus pizzas that they were delivering to the studio the day before the session. This extra expense had to be added to the estimate so it could be paid for. It is important to do your homework at the preproduction meeting and ask those important questions. What do I need to get the job done right? Don’t ever assume everything will be there. Probably the equipment that I have used all during my career are Lowel clamps. They can be found at http://lowel.tiffen.com. Two that are used in the studio are the grip and the interlink clamp.

The grip clamp

The interlink clamp

The interlink and grip clamps

The Reflectasol umbrella clamps that aren’t as available as they were in the ’80s, but they can be found on eBay or Amazon. They are great tools to have. They hold the metal rods connected to utensils and work in conjunction with smaller light stands. They can also be used with a tabletop stand. Even though I have been using these clamps for years, it is important to invest in tools that work for you. Manfrotto has a variety of clamps that will perform the same functions, so find tools that work best for you!



Tools of the Trade

Positioning the height of the spoon

Positioning the angle

A weighted base

An electric wand-shaped barbecue charcoal starter is great for making grill marks on a burger or chicken just like the heated metal rods mentioned previously. The difference with the barbecue starter is that it’s always hot. Multiple skewers need to be used since they cool quickly after making a few grill marks on the meat. But it’s important to know that the barbecue starter makes wider grill marks. If the food is being photographed on an actual grill, the grill marks need to match the size of the grill. One food stylist told me that he squeezed one side of the charcoal lighter with a vice to make the burner thinner, creating thinner lines on the meat. A butane torch can finish browning the outside of the meat giving it that desired crispy and grilled look and texture.

Use a charcoal starter to make grill marks

Tools of the Trade


A heavy-duty garment steamer is a must for food photography. When melting cheese on a burger, pizza or pasta, an extra burst of moisture and heat at the same time will bring a visually appetizing freshness to the food.

Fabric steamer reservoir

Steam shooting from wand

While photographing down shots, the food stylist along with the photographer are setting up on a lower surface and sometimes on the floor. Working on the floor can be hard on the knees, so I recommend using a gardener’s knee pad around the set. Your stylist will thank you for the kind gesture, and your knees will thank you as well. Sometimes, dry heat is required on the set for food that needs to be controlled and directed to a certain spot. An electric paint stripper does the trick by applying heat to a controlled area. But be careful – holding it for too long in one place will burn the food quickly! It works great for melting butter.

Paint stripper good for controlled heat

Create perfectly sliced breads and buns by using an electric knife. Burger buns that are bought at the grocery store are never perfectly cut. Purchase them directly from the factory uncut! In food photography, the base of the bun is much thinner than regularly pre-sliced. These uncut buns can be evenly sliced by laying the knife on its side and laying the bun on a block to match the height of the knife blade, in essence creating a mini horizontal table saw. Slowly push the block with the bun across and into the activated blade for a perfect cut.


Tools of the Trade

Cutting burger buns with electric knife

The supplies listed at the beginning of this chapter should be standard supplies in most studios as well as kitchens all over. If a photography food session is scheduled at a new location, make sure to ask if the studio has these items that are usually forgotten. Aluminum foil is a standard supply that can be used for multiple purposes. One of the smart ways to use aluminum foil is to cover all cookie sheets so that the cleanup at the end of the day is much faster, and those trays will not need to be scrubbed. Car wax is more of an unusual supply. Wax the outside of the beverage glass as if you were waxing a car. Wait till it dries and then buff it. This little trick keeps glasses clear and polished so that they look cold and frosted when spritzed with ordinary water. The same effect can be duplicated with the application of ScotchGard spray. Spray a little on the glass and wait till it’s dry, then spritz the water on the glass for a cool refreshing look. Place a white card behind the glass and hold it in place with a small block. This will let light pass through the glass especially against a darker background.

Wax the outside of glass

Use white card behind glass

Color is seen through glass

Cutting boards are used over and over again. Make sure they are clean, especially after cutting raw chicken. Having people sick on a photo session is not very productive or healthy. Make sure there are paper towels always on hand and on the set. Most food stylists will tear the sheets off the roll and have them stacked for easy access in the kitchen and on the set, next to where the food will be. It’s harder to run back to the kitchen and retrieve a packaged roll of paper towels when the food is ready! It’s all about timing.

Tools of the Trade

Cutting boards

Paper towels separated in sheets

Dulling spray was used quite a bit more before digital because a highlight on a product had to be toned down prior to shooting. I have found that dulling spray sometimes leaves a sort of textured effect. Always test the spray on a similar prop away from the set and not on the hero dish. This is how to enhance off peak season produce. Food coloring kits are used to recolor a piece of fruit with a little color and water, such as the inside of a strawberry or an outside peel. The true natural color is normally there if purchased at peak season. This will help by not spending time during retouching phase later by adding saturation directly to the strawberry. This can be applied with a small paint brush.

Food color kit

White inside strawberry

Add red food coloring

Glass cleaner should always be near the set for quick cleanups and at the end of the session when tearing down the set. Make sure the backgrounds are clean before they’re put away, especially Plexiglas backgrounds. Any food left on the Plexiglas could stain the plastic. I prefer to use a glass cleaner with vinegar. It does a great job both during the photography session and at the cleanup stage. Some photographers swear by using glycerin as drops of water, because the drops stay in one place for a long time. But that only works if the drops are placed in the correct position initially. I prefer to just use water. The water may evaporate if left on the set too long, so just reapply more water spritz just before taking the final exposure, once everything is in place. A 50-50 mix of water and glycerin works as well. It’s the time after the glycerin



Tools of the Trade

dries and becomes a bit sticky where the problem occurs. Water can always be wiped off and reapplied, whereas glycerin has to be washed off if it’s not put on properly the first time. If you’re starting out, use water; you can’t go wrong. Glycerin is great for needing a single drop of liquid on a sliced piece of citrus because a new slice can be cut and the glycerin can be reapplied. Karo light corn syrup is used to thicken sauces and things like gravy or pancake syrup so they don’t become runny on the set. Another trick is to keep the syrup in the freezer prior to pouring. It will run thick and it can be poured anywhere. Kitchen Bouquet is used to help darken meats like turkey, chicken and even burgers. It’s a natural, caramelized and edible liquid used to create richer and darker colors when brushed onto different meats. It is best used in small amounts like droplets. Spring clamps are used for many uses around the set, especially with holding the background in place. They’re used to hold cards, clamps and fabrics. Have a container of differently sized wood blocks that can be used at any time during the photo session. They are used to mark the placement of the plate. Have them ready, in case something needs to be substituted in the same position on the set.

Wooden blocks

Position plate with blocks

Block as substitutes for food

Ziploc bags are good for dividing up the extra food with the crew after a photo session. It is extremely important to remember that any of the food that was used for photography as hero is not to be consumed or distributed. Protect yourself and others by informing the crew and discarding properly. There are also larger Ziploc plastic bags that are used as super-sized storage bags for keeping smaller backgrounds organized. For a quick simple change of backgrounds, a prop stylist once made a series of backgrounds out of differently colored table cloths stretched and gaffer taped to 24 × 32 foam board panels. These were used for really small tabletop sets. We were able to keep them organized by color and texture near the set. Keeping them in the plastic bags will ensure that they’re always clean and ready to go when we there is a need to change backgrounds quickly.

Tools of the Trade

Wrapped foam boards with fabrics

Textured boards


Organized Ziploc bags

A challenging way to simulate an outdoor grill with fire should be done with precautions. There is a way to control the flames and make the food look like it’s actually cooked on the grill. A few days prior to the session, make your hot-looking charcoal props. Start by thoroughly cooking charcoal briquettes outside the studio in a well vented area and letting the ashes cool for a few days. Once they are completely cold, place the ashes in a Ziploc bag together with a handful of uncooked black charcoal, and shake it up. Keep repeating this step until there is enough charcoal to cover the entire prop grill. As a precaution, do not use Match Light charcoal or any other charcoal that has lighter fluid incorporated in it already. This will prevent a real fire in the studio.

Cook charcoal till cook throughout

Add briquettes to ashes

Shake bag to coat uncooked charcoal

Once the charcoal is completely covered with the ashes, take them and sort them on a tray. Now let’s work on the grill itself. It’s recommended to use a round Weber Grill, but any grill with venting holes in the bottom will work. Place a 500-watt photographic flash at the bottom and under the  grill, and make sure the venting holes are open. Check the modeling light to make sure it works, but use the light sparingly or it will overheat and burn out during the session if left in the “on” position. To assemble the prop grill, place red, yellow and/or orange Rosco Roscolux light gels on the bottom grate. Then strategically position the charcoal off the tray and onto the gels. Make sure some of the light shows through, then place the main grate over the charcoal and position the grill lines accordingly.


Tools of the Trade

Position light under grill

Add orange gels and charcoal

Position grate over charcoals

Once the main part of the grill is ready, take a few small cotton balls and make three small cups out of aluminum foil to hold them. Dip the cotton balls into lamp oil and pre-burn them until they start to turn black. Then extinguish them before dipping them again in the lamp oil, place the cotton balls in the handmade foil cups and strategically place the cups within the charcoal pieces under the main grate. It’s a good idea to test and burn these cotton balls in a metal tray or baking dish wrapped in aluminum foil.

Burn cotton soaked in lamp oil

Place cotton in foil cups

Test fire in a metal tray in sink

While the set is being built, the food stylist is cooking and adding grill marks to the food in the kitchen. Once the cooked hero food gets to the set, the cotton ball cups and the grate may have to be repositioned. As seen below, the mini fuel cup in the middle image is showing. That’s not a good position. It’s important to hide the cups but anticipate where the flames from the cotton balls will appear. Once the food is positioned on the grill, light the cotton balls with fireplace matches that are long enough to poke through the grate. Once the flames are lit, capture the image. Using a spritz

Position food and grill

Cotton can be seen

Perfect flames in position

Tools of the Trade

bottle, quickly spray water directly onto each cup to tone down the flames or put them out. It is always important to control the environment and have a fire extinguisher near the set at all times when working with any open flame. It’s also a good idea to let the building management know what you’re doing as well as alerting your local fire department. Sometimes they will come out and dismantle the fire detection system during the course of the photo session. But trust me, they won’t want to stand around all day while the setup is taking place, so give them an estimate about the time the session will take place. In the meantime, test the cotton balls over a sink, and keep them as small as possible. It doesn’t take much to create a small flame on set. As always, safety first. Ever wonder how that perfect slice of cheese is applied to a burger? First, cut the edges of the cheese slice about ⅛-inch to square the cheese so that the slice has good clean straight edges. Then dip it in hot water for a few seconds. Once the cheese starts to get soft, pull the slice out and lay it on top of the burger for the perfect melt.

Cut the edges off

Dip cheese in hot water

Place on burger

Nacho Cheese with Bean Dip

The real trick to get those nachos to look perfect on the plate, without them sliding all over, is to put refried beans down on the plate under the nachos. They can be moved and adjusted without moving all the other chips around them.

Refried beans under chips

Chips easier to reposition



Tools of the Trade

Cream Cheese on a Burger Bun Prior to the Lettuce

Spreading cream cheese on a hamburger bun before evenly placing the ­lettuce leaf around the perimeter of the bun will hold the lettuce in place. Once the other ingredients are set, the lettuce can be repositioned by pushing or pulling the leaves gently under the meat. The cream cheese will hold the lettuce next to the spot that needs to be moved.

Cream cheese on bun

Position lettuce around

Control the lettuce with pick


Since many processed foods come in packages, one of the aspects of food photography is photographing the actual packaging. The first step in achieving better package photography is mastering good camera positioning. There are some easy tricks that will make your package images appear professional with the least amount of retouching. A photographer not accustomed to commercial packaging photography will place the package on a table and positioning the camera above the package. This creates a distorted view of the package where the shape is forced to converge at the bottom of the package while showing too much of the top. This could be readjusted in Photoshop by transforming the perspective to pull the bottom edges apart. On the other hand, nothing can be done about seeing too much of the top.

Typical camera angle of a non-product photographer

This camera angle produces a distorted product

Tools of the Trade

By raising the tabletop surface, the product is brought up to the photographer for easier access. This means less wear and tear on the knees. Doing this also shows an even amount of the top and the side of the package, giving some dimension to it so it doesn’t look flat and cut out. An easy way to lift the surface from the table are the use of apple boxes. These wooden boxes are sturdy enough to jump on and can lay flat or upright depending upon the desired height of the camera in relationship with the product. By raising the product to the level of the camera lens, the distortion is eliminated and the small part of the top of the package shows without distracting from the front of the package. This eliminates the Transform step in Photoshop to straighten the side lines of the package.

Changing the height of the product changes the camera position

Changing the position removes the distortion of the product

These apple boxes or crates can be made easily and can be used in many different configurations. The boxes shown are handmade in two sizes: 24 × 16 × 6 and 24 × 16 × 3. They can be made with a slot or handle on the sides depending on the photographer’s preference. They are made from ¾-inch plywood, and they can be painted with any neutral color such as white, gray or black.

Apple boxes measurements

They can be made with a slot or a handle



Tools of the Trade

They’re primarily used standing up, but in some cases, lying them on their sides will be just enough to lift a package off the background. They help especially when working on straight down assignments, which lifts the food and plate off the floor just enough, so that the food stylist isn’t bending over the food placed on the floor. Food stylists also use them when building the hero food so that the food is at the same camera level.

Apple boxes standing on their side

Apple boxes lying flat to lift tabletop

Also, by building them at 3-, 6- and 12-inch widths, respectively, they can be doubled to match a full box. It’s best when the boxes are used at both ends of the tabletop over the legs for the best support. Once they are in place, use a 4 × 6 × 1 gatorboard as the new tabletop. As a side note, camera positioning is just as important when using any camera including a smartphone camera. Just like the previous example, the camera positioning not only changes the viewer’s perspective but also tells a better story by making the food the hero. Just by turning the phone upside down and having the camera lens see the orange juice from a lower perspective, you will create a stronger visual image.

Smartphone right side up for an average image

Smartphone turned upside down

Tools of the Trade


When photographing various products or compositing multiple images together, the key is to always photograph the larger piece first, then, without moving the camera, photograph the smaller products next. By keeping the camera on a tripod and in the same place, the products will automatically be in proportion with each other, as long as the focal plane of each product photographed is the same distance from the lens. This standard operating procedure is used anytime multiple images are photographed and, later, digitally composited together.

Photograph the largest product first, then photograph the rest without moving the camera on a tripod

Once products are outlined, product configuration can easily be changed

This works for product packaging as well as with some foods. In the ­example on the next page, the chocolate pieces and the almonds were photographed individually with the same lighting and same camera position. The camera on a tripod was not moved during the image captures. This ensured their proper proportion to each other. After the components are photographed, they were outlined with a pen tool in Photoshop, which



Tools of the Trade

Milk chocolate piece

Dark chocolate piece


Final image combined in postproduction

will be discussed in the next chapter. Then they were placed on their own layer, saved as an individual file, and then composited with the other two files. Food packages have been redesigned over the past few years, and one of those designs includes the resealable bag. These packages tend to give photographers problems because of the reflections and the uneven bulkiness of the bag itself. A simple trick to make these packages look more presentable is to cut a slit in the back of the bag. Take the food out of the package and carefully replace the food with facial tissues. The bag will look puffy and will stand up better as well as eliminating unwanted reflections.

Cut back of bag to open

Replace product with facial tissue

Tools of the Trade



All of the tools mentioned in this chapter are essential when working with food, but they can be adapted for any kinds of product photography as well. Once a photographer uses a tool multiple times, it will become second nature and part of their commercial photography expertise.




Postproduction Prior to diving into this chapter, I want to preface by saying that there are at least three to five ways to complete any function in Photoshop. This is not a Photoshop “how to� book, but some of these steps are used on a daily basis when working with food images. Photoshop is a great tool for the enhancement of images and the software has been updated many times since its inception. Continue learning new steps and new software features through education and seminars. Find what works for you and do it well when utilizing a software like Photoshop, Lightroom, CaptureOne, onOne or any other postproduction platforms. Updating and keeping your system current will increase your productivity and increase your knowledge and expertise. To become skilled in the postproduction and color management of digital photography, it is important to understand some key postproduction tools. These essential tools relate to adjusting the exposure by using the Histogram, Levels and Curves both at the capture and postproduction stage of photography. HISTOGRAM

The histogram is a digital representation of the image in a graph-like format. It shows specific parts of an image, from the highlights to the shadows.

The four gray patches along with the green background of this collapsible gray card are displayed on this histogram

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It is necessary to understand how to read and trust the histogram on the back of the camera as well as on the computer. This will ensure proper exposure to your images. The image on the following page and on the left, is a collapsible gray target that clearly demonstrates the four bumps on the histogram shown on the right. The lower black square and the black edge around the target represent the  bump shape to the very left. The white square represents the bump  all the way to the right. The three-forked bump to the left of the middle ­ represents  the top right gray square. The green areas under the  target  and the gray at the top right represent the second bump from the right.  This  example shows the corresponding shades of gray on the histogram.

Breakdown of levels and shades of gray

If an image is too dark, the histogram will be weighted down on the left side closer to the black triangle on the Levels palette. If the image is too light, the histogram will be weighted down to the right or towards the white triangle. During capture, a good exposure will be represented by a histogram that lies between the highlight and shadow indicators on the Levels palette on the computer or on the back of the camera. This will ensure a proper exposure needing minimal adjustments in postproduction. It’s always best to work with a correctly exposed image. As a side note, it does not matter how high the peak of a histogram representation of the image is displayed. As long as it appears evenly between the highlight and shadow sliders on either side, the image should have a proper exposure.



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Under-exposed image

Properly exposed image

By working with RAW files, adjustments can be made to the image before outputting to the software through a RAW converter. If additional adjustments need to be made, use an adjustment layer. It is a nondestructive process of refining and adjusting an image without losing information within an image. The histogram on the next page, on the right, represents the associated image on the left. It was adjusted in Photoshop on the processed JPEG without using an adjustment layer. The dark lines within the histogram are bits of information that were lost by using this procedure. The following image has been corrected by using an adjustment layer in either a JPEG or a RAW file. To the naked eye, it might not look different,  but when the image goes to press and is printed at a certain size, the image will start to lose its integrity, and banding between colors may occur. This graph-like information is important when capturing an image. However, it’s the numbers under the graph of the Levels palette that are

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Over-exposed image

Adjusted image using levels

Histogram with lost information



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Use an adjustment layer

This histogram works exactly like the Levels palette

important to photographers when learning how to read a histogram. There are 256Â shades of gray in each of the Red, Green and Blue Channels in an 8-bit file. The 0 represents Black and 255 represents white. Since the 0 represents a shade, there are 256 shades and not only 255.

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What is crucial to understand in digital photography is that the three channels are actually gray values. The color is produced by the output device. A monitor has three phosphors arranged as dots or pixels that emit red, green and blue light when projected together. They create white light using the RGB system. A white light will be produced by equal measurements of 255 in each of three channels of gray creating a white screen. This is called additive color. If you’re not convinced, look at the image in the Channels palette. Each RGB layer is a gray version of the final image, which was captured by the camera.

Red channel

Green channel


Blue channel

Notice that the red and green channels are brighter. Red and green light together make yellow; thus, we see a yellow pair. What happens in printing is completely different. It is impossible to print with red, green and blue inks. So cyan, magenta, yellow and black, or better known as CMYK, became the colors to print with. Notice the chart on the following page showing the additive color properties. The color of yellow light is produced by green and red light. Green and blue light produce cyan light, and blue and red light produce magenta light. If you’re still not convinced or are having a hard time wrapping your brain around it, get three flashlights and cover each one with the three colors of red, green and blue gels. Now shine the three colors onto a wall, preferably a neutral colored


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wall. As the three colored lights overlap each other, it will become obvious how this science experiment works. Once all three lights are placed on the same spot, they will produce white light. By taking these colors made by RGB light, it was discovered that the cyan, magenta and yellow colors could be used as inks to reproduce red, green and blue on paper. Thus, we have CMYK today. The CMY is obvious but the K relates to the black plate in printing. It stands for “key,” which was the printing plate that was used to key or align the other three plates in the printing process. This chart shows the additive colors of light and the subtractive color of the printing process. Observe the similarities between the two systems and how the RGB light creates the CMY printable colors, and vice versa, how the printable inks produce the RGB on the printed page. These are two different color models, and because of this, what is seen on an RGB monitor is difficult to reproduce on the printed page.

Additive and subtractive color spaces

Additive color is color that is produced by white light. When the red and green light in the additive color spectrum of light are mixed together, they create the yellow pear on a television monitor. RGB additive color is applicable when using light. When a yellow pear is printed in a magazine, it’s a combination of yellow and black ink dots printed on a white substrate to subtract the white and create the look of the yellow pear. When a red apple is printed it has a combination of magenta and yellow dots of ink to create the visual appearance of red. CMYK subtractive color is only applicable when using inks. The inks are laid on the substrate in the order of yellow, magenta, cyan and finally black. Everything that is printed has a CMYK swatch attached for the printer to reference. On print ads or brochures, they are trimmed off. On packaging, a color calibration target is usually found under a package flap as shown below. Companies that have signature colors on their packaging, like Coca-Cola, Heinz, Quaker and Pepsi, will use Pantone Matching System

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Yellow plate

Magenta plate

Cyan plate

Key plate

(PMS)-specific colors to assure their products have the same color on their packaging across the board no matter where they are printed. These two colors are shown at the end of this target, which represents the two spot colors of the brand name and color of this package.

CMYK target found on package flap

Using PMS color is added as a PMS spot color

To achieve printable excellence, it is important to know the numbers that represent the highlight and shadow areas and their printable values. The good printable black with some detail needs to measure between 18–20, and a printable white with detail needs to measure between 240–245. Notice that



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this image is mostly flat with a few shadows and no highlights. The background is fairly gray. This can be found in the Info palette reading R166, G165 and B166.

Info palette reading the RGB values of the background in this image

Learn to watch these numbers and adjust the levels to prepare the image for production. Here is an example using the Info palette reading at the top part of the back pear. Notice the RGB values R219, G199 and B138. Clicking on any part of an image will display its RGB values on the Info palette.

Info palette reading the RGB values of the top part of the back pear

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Now look at the same image overexposed and see where those values read. The top of the front pair has lost information in the red channel because the red channel is at 255. However, the white in the background will hold its detail because it has a value of R230, G233 and B232. In this case, the background will print fine, but the pear would not have enough information in the red channel, producing small white holes on the paper from the white substrate showing through.

Info palette reading the values of the forward pear and the background

This is especially important on a high-key set with a white plate. If the highlight registers at 255, no inks will be placed on the paper, leaving a blank spot within the white plate. I once saw a milk truck with a glass of milk being held by a model, and the highlight on her head had a large white spot. It was actually the color of the truck showing through on her head because there was no ink to print on that overexposed area. The white plates on the previous page, had a highlight but the image on the right had its highlight values at 255 in each channel, so the highlight have no dots printed in that area. CURVES

The Curves palette is another postproduction tool. This tool creates contrast between the highlights and the shadows. Use Levels for the exposure compensation and Curves for the contrast of an image. Look how the Curves palette reads the same information on the same image.


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White on white with detail in highlight

White on white with no detail in highlight

Just as the levels can be adjusted per each channel so can the curves. Depending on where the curve is adjusted, the corresponding values of the exposure will be applied to that section of the image. If highlights need to be adjusted, then move the top section of the curve. Likewise, if the mid-tones need to be adjusted, move the curves line in the middle. Over the past few years, because of updates to Camera Raw and constant updates to Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, onOne and other software, the levels and curve tools are becoming less and less used. This

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is due to the fact that these adjustments can be made at the raw process stage prior to exposing the image. Knowing the numbers, knowing how to see an image and knowing that it will print with the right color are still as important as they were when digital first came on the scene. One of the best discoveries I had during the early digital transition was learning and understanding what happened to the film after it left the ­photographer. Understanding the printing process along with the differences of the printing substrates determined the correct CMYK printing profile. The film was processed, and the approved image was sent to a prepress company that specialized in creating the separations for the printing press. The separations were metal plates that carried the yellow, magenta and cyan impressions that held the ink and spread it onto the paper. The prepress operator worked in CMYK to adjust colors before and after the image was on press. When we started the transition, I recommended that we moved the separator into the studio to work closely with the ­photographers and create a closed loop system. This in-house capability created higher quality images, an increased control over the color of our printed images and, overall, better communication between everyone involved in the t­ ransition to digital photography. The operators could see



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what the photographers were doing in RGB, and the photographers were watching what they were doing in CMYK. Once the digital operators started ­working in RGB and converting to CMYK, as a last step in the process, everyone felt rewarded. The digital operators, who had only been working in CMYK, were amazed at the ease of color correction that could be done in RGB. When it comes time to convert the files to CMYK, acquire the ­printer’s CMYK conversion profile. By converting to the correct profile, your images will be on target with the press. If you can’t get the correct ­profile, and the client wants a CMYK file, use the U.S. Web Coated (SWOP v2 CMYK profile. It is the most commonly used profile in the United States. THE TRANSFORM TOOL

One of the tricks I would regularly use when photographing a plate of food with a view camera prior to digital, was to pull the camera back in the opposite direction to distort the plate. This made the food and the front of the plate appear to be closer to the viewer. As in the diagram below, the front of the lens board was used for focus, and the back or film plane was for distortion and perspective. By having them going in the same ­direction, everything was in focus and the plate appeared normal. By pulling the ground glass away from the lens board, it transformed the perspective and elongated the plate toward the viewer. This made the front of the plate appear closer while keeping the back part of the plate in the same position. This simple move made the food appear larger and closer to the viewer.

View camera set for plate

View camera set to distort plate

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The same effect on the plate can be performed in this digital age as well. While viewing the image on the monitor, set the Transform tool under the Edit heading to Perspective, and pull one of the front handles horizontally to the right or left to control the perspective or distortion as the front of the plate virtually moves forward.

Perspective dialog box

Pull handle right or left

The important step that most photographers forget is, once the perspective is changed, the scale needs to match the perspective that was changed in the previous step.

Don’t forget to use the Scale option of the Transform tool

Thus, simulating a delicious plate of food closer to the consumer at the table. Notice with these two images that the camera did not zoom in to the image to make it appear closer or larger. The Transform tool only changed



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Normal perspective

Forced perspective and scale

the perspective of the image from the front because the back edge of the plate remains the same. SELECTIVE FOCUS

Selective focus is another popular trend that is used by many photographers. Having more control over the image is so important especially when working with a client. If an image is created with selective focus in which one area is out of focus, and the client wants it just a little sharper, it’s not going to work. You can’t make objects that are out of focus or sharper. The ­solution is easy: photograph everything as sharp as it can be by setting the camera aperture at f22 or f32. This will stop down the lens enough to create the overall sharpness needed. Then create a blurred layer to c­ ontrol the selective focus in postproduction by using a layer mask. Now if the client asks to make the food in front a little sharper, you’ll have more c­ ontrol by readjusting the focused areas on the mask so that the food in front is just a little sharper. This will make the client happy, and the image has not lost its integrity. There are a few ways to make a blurred image, but I highly recommend the lens blur effect as a base. The key to creating a lens blur layer is to add an Alpha channel in the Channels panel and then select the RGB layer. After this, select Filter > Blur > Lens Blur. By placing the cursor anywhere on the image, the photographer can see the blur applied instantly and can change to meet the client’s needs.

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Using the lens blur filter, the cursor can be placed on the areas that needs to be sharp



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Photograph everything sharp

Use lens blur to select focus from front to back, and use a mask

Final selective focus image

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The tool that has become the best friend, and nightmare at the same time, of the commercial photographer is the Pen tool. I’m not talking about a Wacom pen. I’m referring to the tool that creates a path around a subject in Photoshop. This creates a selection that is saved with the image and gives the photographer the opportunity to outline the subject and place the subject on a layer of its own. The nightmare is present only at first, because many photographers find this tool to be frustrating. Learning to use it correctly will help your outlined images look perfect no matter what backgrounds they are placed upon. I have a way to practice using the Pen tool called the ABCs of the Pen tool. This exercise helps you to become proficient in making paths around a product or subject while building a Pen tool skill set that ensures that the Pen tool becomes your friend! Start by creating a blank new image with a white background. Using the Helvetica Bold font and a font size of 143pt in the type tool, type the letters in caps A, B and C. Your screen should look like the one below. The ABC letters will be on a separate layer that can be turned on and off by clicking on the eyeball icon on the left side of the layer.

This is a precise tool and it would help if you zoom in on your image to about 300 percent so that the letters will be larger on the screen. Since the Pen tool only has two types of anchor points, ones with handles and ones without handles, these three letters make the perfect template to practice this ingenious tool. The letter A has all straight sides with no curves, so all the anchor points will not have handles. The B has a few straight sides with additional curved



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sides, so both types or anchor point will be used. The C is mostly made up of curves. Start with the letter A by placing anchor points on the exterior shape where the lines converge from the different angles. These anchor points are placed by just clicking once with your mouse or Wacom pen. If by ­accident you click twice, another anchor point will be created right next to the first one. Don’t get frustrated. Just hit Undo and the last point will disappear. Once the outside edge of the letter A is about to be completed a small “o” will appear next to your cursor confirming that the path around the A will be closed. The next step is to do the same for the inside triangle of the letter. Once the path is complete, turn off the ABC layer and observe the handiwork of the pen tool. It does not matter where to start. In the example below, the inside path was made first, then the outside of the letter “A” was done. This is why the anchor points only shows on the outside of the letter.

To move or reposition an anchor point, hold down the Command key on a Mac and the Control key in Windows, and position the cursor over any of the points. Then click on the anchor point. It is always best to use the least amount of anchor points when making a path. The letter B contains points that are straight and round and an anchor point that gets redirected in the opposite direction. When making a curved point, the trick is to hold the mouse or tablet pen and “click and drag” one of the anchor point’s handles so that the anchor point appears to be ­balancing on the curve of the subject. Repeat the anchor points around the outside of the letter B. Now create the path around the inside parts of the letter B. Finally, the letter C has mostly curved paths from their anchor point counter parts. Clicking and dragging becomes second nature when working with many curves. “Practice, practice, practice” is the key to success when learning to work with the Pen tool.

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Using the shapes of these letters gives the user a template in which he can create a path and turn the type layer on and off to review his progress. One of the key tricks to mastering the Pen tool is the use of the opposite hand from the one holding the mouse or Wacom pen. Those fingers are used to switch the cursor’s function when more complicated paths are needed.



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Now I’m sure you are asking yourself, “Why is this tool so important in the commercial photography industry?” Most commercial magazines require a clipping path saved with the file so they can drop the outlined image into the postproduction’s final layout page. To make a clipping path from the path that was just made to outline an image, first, save the path by selecting Save Path from the Path drop-down menu, then rename the path. After that, select Clipping Path from the dropdown menu and a flatness will be prompted. Use 0.2 as the device pixels. Notice as soon as a clipping path has been created and saved, the name of the path will change to a bold font.

The main complaint by some photographers when outlining a product is that it looks “cut out.” There is a way for the product to look like it naturally belongs there. Start by making the selection active, which will show as “marching ants” around the product. This can be done by clicking on the layer display while holding down the Command key on a Mac or the Control key in Windows. Then from the Select drop-down menu, choose Modify > Border. Then select 2 pixels as the spacing. Once this is done, it becomes apparent that the selection is now a double selection around the edge of the product. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and input 1.2 pixels as the radius.

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This blurred edge lets some of the other image show through the edge ­making the products look like they were photographed together. The best part about Photoshop is that you can create an Action with the following steps and set a function key to perform this series with one click, once the selection is active.

1st image

2nd image

3rd image

Three images blended together


A food stylist knows all the little tricks to make the food look the best for photography. They view the food from the camera’s perspective, and most of their tricks will be revealed as the food stylist performs them if you pay attention. By having your set and lighting completed ahead of time, there will be time left to spend in the kitchen observing the food stylist. Here is where the valuable learning happens. Here is one very basic trick: adding ingredients to the food. Foods like salads that have dressing poured on them or foods like waffles and pancakes needing syrup and or butter are built in stages. Photograph the basic food first without any additional product as the original image. Then add a small amount at first, adding more as each capture is taken in between, building up to the final image. By having the camera on a tripod and not being moved, the multiple images should line up exactly for your postproduction. Now the ingredients can be added or subtracted electronically. In this composite, the client loved the shape of the syrup in number 2 on the front pancake but not number 3, so I incorporated both images with blending the syrup shapes and took some of the syrup off the butter pats. The advantage to doing this is that there is more control over the final image, and there are multiple images synced together to use. Photoshop tip: When taking multiple images, use the software to fire the camera while it’s tethered. If the camera moves ever so slightly, lining up the



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Top layer over background layer in Difference mode

Use arrows to move

Images are lined up and registered

files can be difficult. If the images are not lined up perfectly, the trick is to have the top layered file changed to the Difference mode. Once the mode is changed, it will be obvious because of the colored lines displayed where the images are not lined up. Use the Move tool with the Arrow keys to nudge the top image up and/or down. Once they are lined up exactly, the image will be completely black, as in the third image shown above. Then switch the blending mode back to Normal, and the two files will be registered exactly. Now create a layer mask and paint the syrup in or out of the image. POSTPRODUCTION

As stated a few times throughout this book, always work on a calibrated monitor. Capture all files in the RAW format depending on whatever camera is used. Work in 16-bit mode during retouching and final adjustments. This ensures better information within the file. When sending adjusted files, send in 8-bit mode, which accommodates most client requirements. When working on a file that will be finalized in the CMYK color space, work on all your adjustments in RGB color space, then apply the CMYK conversion as the last step in the process. I want to give the photographer who is thinking about getting into food photography an inside look at some of the postproduction workflow. Every photographer has a different workflow, and it is important to build that workflow around your particular situation and studio. In summary, start with a RAW file, and make sure it has the proper exposure. Working with RAW files will ensure the best quality. Know the numbers that will produce good detail and quality color in an image. Keep the image as sharp as possible and change the focus areas with a layer mask. Always make a duplicate layer. Never work on an original image and use adjustment layers to make any changes to an image. Always back up your

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work, and then back it up again. Learn to navigate the Pen tool and practice during down time. This will make you more proficient, and it will make you look more professional when you’re working with a client. Consult a prepress operator and have them review some of your work to verify that the numbers in your files will make a printable image. Knowing how RGB works is essential for a photographer. Understanding the CMYK process will bring your level of expertise to a new level and put you years ahead of the competition. You won’t be able to know all there is to know about the printing industry, but it will give you the knowledge to prepare your files for printing. That’s the value-added benefit. These are just a few postproduction tips and as you get more involved, the more experienced the postproduction process will be. These are some of the professional techniques that will bring your digital skills to a higher level.




In Conclusion Food photography is one of the most challenging and rewarding types of photography for me. Whether you are a food blogger, a chef, a photographer or just someone who loves taking pictures of food, I hope this book gives you knowledge, inspiration and the ability to produce beautiful food images. For the professional commercial photographer, remember that when it comes to food, it’s “all about the product.” The client that hires you has a plan and a vision. They may ask for your advice but when it’s all said and done, it’s still about the product. A good commercial photograper knows how to be adaptable and flexible and knows how to listen. Communication with the client is key! Pay attention to the details. Knowing what they want and how they want the product to look is so very important. It’s your job to pick the team that will work best for your client so that the end result will make the client want to rehire you. Keep experimenting and exploring new techniques, and pay attention to styles and trends. Always push yourself to be better. Being a food photographer is not so much a job; it’s a lifestyle. A lifestyle where the ups or downs, raves or reshoots, easy clients or hard clients make each asignment unique. I hope that after you read this book, you will look at food in a whole new way whether shoppping in a grocery store or enjoying a fine meal at a restaurant. My wish for you is to be excited and aware of the food and the food presentations around you and to take better skilled photographs of beautiful food. Bon appétit!

Index account manager  33, 34 additional viewing monitor  70, 71 additive color space  115, 116 aluminium foil  98, 102 anchor handles  127, 128 anchor points  127, 128 apple boxes  105, 106 art director  33, 72 asymmetrical balance  23 backlighting  18, 19, 46, 47 background 3 balance  23, 24 bare bulb  54–55 BBQ charcoal starter  96 best practices  74 birthday candles  78, 80 blending mode  132 bounce light  19 bracketing 2 calibrated monitor  70 camera angle  4, 104, 105 camera perspective  64, 106 camera stand  67, 68 Cezanne, Paul  14, 18 client 32 clipping path  130 CMYK color space  115, 116, 117, 121 color  55, 56 color balancing  55, 56, 57 color profile  122 color space  72 ColorMatch RGB  72 composition  22, 26

contrast  14, 41, 42 cooling racks  79 curves  119, 120, 121 cutting boards  79, 99 dappled light effect  61 dental picks  78, 81 design elements  13 difference blending mode  132 diffusion material  50, 51 digital representation  110 direction 45 distortion  104, 122, 123 divine proportion  22 dummy food  17, 63, 64 editorial photography  5, 6, 7, 8 electric knife  79, 98 emery boards  78, 82 enhance 39 estimate 39 experimentation 14 exposure  43, 112, 113, 114 eye droppers  78, 82 eye movement  7, 8 falling food  8 file retrieval  39 fill cards  21, 61 flash  57, 58 floral spiked holders  78, 83 food stylist  35 Formica 3 garment steamer  79, 97 glass cleaner  79, 90



glycerine  79, 100 gobos  58, 59 golden triangle  22 hard light  57, 58 hero food  16 highlights  19, 41, 47, 119 histogram  110, 111 hot glue gun  79 image stabilization  69 intensity 42 Karo syrup  79, 100 Kelvin temperature  55, 56 key 116 Kitchen bouquet  79, 100 knife set  79, 84 layout  10, 37, 72 lens blur effect  124, 125, 126 level  79, 84 light  41, 42, 43 light/color  55, 56 light/direction  45, 46 light/intensity  42, 43 light/quality  50, 51 light meter  42, 43 light modifiers  57, 58 light source  58 lighting direction  45, 46, 47, 48, 49 live view mode  69 Lowell Clamps  79, 95, 96 main light  45 makeup sponges  79, 85 matches  79, 85 measuring cups  79, 85 melon baller  79, 85 metal rods  79, 86 mirrors  79, 87 natural light  53 non-destructive 112 over-exposed 113

package photography  5, 10, 11 paint stripper  79, 97 Pen tool  127, 128, 129 perspective  123, 124 photographer 34 picking hero food  16 picks 16 pins  79, 81, 87, 88 Plexiglas  3, 52, 53 Plexiglas cubes  79, 89 PMS color code  117 poker chips  79, 89 polaroid 2 portion control  4 postproduction  110, 132 pot holders/oven mitts  79, 89 preproduction 36 printed media  13 prop stylist  35 ProPhoto RGB  72 props  65, 66 Q-tips  79, 90 quote 39 recipe photography  5, 8, 9 recipe testing  9 RGB color space  116 rim light  19 rubber gloves  79, 91 rule of thirds  22 scale  79, 85 scissors  79, 91 ScotchGuard spray  98 scrim  51, 52 selective focus  124, 125, 126 setup 63 shadows  18, 19, 46, 47, 48, 49, 119 side lighting  48 soft light  50 softbox  51, 52 spatulas/metal  79, 92 spatulas/wooden 79 spoons  79, 93 spritz bottle  78, 83


stand-in food  see dummy food strainer  79, 92 straws  79, 93 subtractive color  115, 116, 117 sunlight 43 Sunny 16 rule  43 symmetrical balance  23 tabletop 5 Tacky Wax  79, 94 tangents  26, 27 tape measure  79, 91 taste sensors  63 tethered  69, 70 transform 122 transform/scale 123 trends – food styles  3, 4 tripod  17, 18, 67 truth in advertising  1 tungsten light  57, 58 tweezers  79, 94

umbrellas 58 under-exposed  111, 112 unequal spacing  24 USB 69 vegetable peeler   79, 88 view camera  63, 122 visual placeholders  64 visual reference  63 visual sensors  63 visualization 63 Wacom tablet  74 white balance  55 window light  53, 58 wood blocks  79, 100 wooden skewer  79, 87 X-Acto knives  78, 82 X-Rite ColorChecker Passport  37, 71


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