Food Photo Shoot: Technique and Walkthrough

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: October 7, 2010

Category: General

I mentioned in an earlier post that photo shoots are very much like an exercise in problem solving and this was very much the case for a recent ‘food shoot’ that I did for a local restaurant.

The original brief was to photograph the food on plates in such a way so that it looked as it would when being served to clients however on the day things changed…and quite considerably. The food was now to be photographed on a pure white background with the client wanting a reflection beneath but the only problem was that this had to be done within the restaurant whilst a few clients remained at tables and what’s more I had no white seamless set up in the form of a light table; so…now starts the problem solving.

Anyway, here’s a brief run through showing the location, lighting set up and how certain challenges were overcome…

Location Assessment:
Ok so I needed to find both a suitable background and a suitable surface on which to place the food. The white background issue was easy to resolve by aiming a speedlight at one of the white walls within the restaurant but for the surface on which to photograph the food, the only one available was a small ‘L’ shaped section of a bar which was white however covered in matt plastic so no reflection. There was no question, this was the only place available to photograph the food if we were going to produce anything like what the client now wanted; but what about that reflection?

As luck would have it a few months previously I’d purchased a small sheet of clear perspex for use during a portrait shoot, and this did a great job of giving a reflection when looked at from just above surface level:

Lighting Setup:
Now that both the background and the surface on which to place the food had been sorted, next came the lighting set up…

As there were still a few clients within the restaurant and because of the limited shooting space, Nikon Speedlights were the weapon of choice because of the ability to use them without the need for wires. To light the food, one speedlight and Lastolite Ezybox was positioned in a 3/4 position (rear and left) to the camera and directly opposite a Speedlight and 46″ Shoot Thru umbrella was added in for a bit of extra fill:

To finish off the lighting set up, two sheets of white card were hinged together using gaffa tape to:

  • Add a little bit of fill to the front (camera facing) portion of the food.
  • Prevent flare from the Ezybox.

Obviously in an ideal world the location to shoot this particular way would have been different or a least I’d have brought along something like a light table but then saying that the brief changed on the day so it was all very last minute.

With regards to post production there was very little to be done. In fact the shots were ready moments after the shoot ended as we were tethering straight into Lightroom 3 and for the majority of the images all that needed to be done was a slight boost in the Vibrance, a little increase in Clarity (10%) and finally a small amount of sharpening.

As always if you have any questions, comments or maybe even suggestions as to how you would have tackled this situation then please feel free to make use of the comments section below.
Enjoy 🙂

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  1. ayngelina

    Just found this blog and love it. I’m at an intermediate level and find it really difficult to find information on lighting. Also really like that you included Lightroom information as I’m trying to teach myself how to use it.

    • Glyn

      @ayngelina…Thanks so much. It’s great to hear that you found the blog and some of the content is coming in handy.
      Thanks for dropping by and commenting; I really appreciate it 🙂

  2. Tim Skipper


    Great write up. I have been so tempted to try food photography. Your work with this is excellent.

    • Glyn

      @Tim…Real nice of you to say so mate, thanks.
      Cheers, Glyn

      ps> Give it a go…it’s really quite relaxing 🙂

  3. DaveT

    Another very useful post – this blog is a real storehouse of information.

    Thanks for sharing Glyn – appreciated


    • Glyn

      @DaveT…Thanks for that mate 🙂

  4. Govind Vekaria

    Great post again.
    BTW, which lens were you using? Was it a macro lens?
    In some food shots I’ve done before, if you get in too close and you don’t use a macro lens, you get unwanted distortions.

    • Glyn

      @Govind…These shots were all done with a Nikon 85mm f/1.4; love it 🙂

  5. David Kelly

    Another succinct but great post Glyn – glad it worked out successfully for you when the brief changed.
    Out of interest what sort of power level did you have the SB800 aimed towards the wall firing at? Full? 1/2?

    • Glyn

      @David…Thanks for looking in and for commenting mate. Re the SB800 to be honest I haven’t got a clue; probably around the 1/4 power mark.



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