The assignment for the Photo 200A class is food.  Specifically it is to produce a food shot that can be used as either an advertising style shot for a menu or for an editorial style shot as an illustration for an article on food related topics.  After showing a number of examples of food photography and talking generally about approaches, it was time to do a demo in the studios.  Students “volunteered” to bring the food to shoot, I asked only that all parts of the serving be kept separate until we created the shot.  I did not specify what food to bring.

What showed up was chicken with mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, etc.  So I decided to do an editorial style shot with the food in front on a barn.  I intended to do a “green screen” shot but there was too much green in the set up and props, so I used a black background so I could more easily do a luminosity mask and then modify it manually.

Here is a light plot of our set up in the studio:

lighting-diagram-with food

THe camera used was a Canon 5DIII with a 24-70 lens set to 67mm.  THe lights were set up in the following order:

  1.  First I used a medium softbox aimed straight down and placed OVER the food but slightly to the rear.  This gave nice general light and a soft forward shadow.  By itself it was flat but was only the starting place.  It created a nice reflection in the gravy on the potatoes and on the silverware.
  2. The second light was a 7″ reflector with a grid on a back light,  This added some drama and texture to the shot and started to make the elements stand out from one another. It was working but not wrapping around enough so…
  3. The next light was also a 7″ reflector aimed in from the left side to enhance the backlight (2) and bring the back and side lighting together to really enhance texture and detail.
  4.  This left the front shadows somewhat dark and lifeless so I used a 22″ beauty dish placed low and at food level then turned down low to simply add some light back into those shadows.  This could have been done as well with a nice reflector or even a softbox from the same position, but the beauty dish was handy so I used the light.
  5. Finally I notice the food looked good but the table decoration of flowers looked dull and lifeless so I added a snoot from the right side to give them some edgy life.  The snoot kept the light concentrated and off of the rest of the setting. ( It is mistakenly labelled as another #3 — my bad…)

Basically, I placed the lights, starting with the softbox and added in a counter-clockwise pattern around the set.   Except for the base softbox light and the soft fill from the beauty dish I used the harder light from the polished reflectors to better match the “feel” of the sunlight on the background shot I intended to use.

The camera shot was good but the food had needed some “shine” to it and I did not have my glycerin spray handy.  So in Photoshop I added a soft “plastic wrap” filter then using a layer mask, just allowed it to show where I wanted a sense of shine. This yielded the following shot ready for the background..

food demofrom camera

Now it was time to lay in the background.  I used a shot I had of a wonderful old barn on the road into Yosemite from Merced.  Using a luminosity mask I dropped out the black background of the camera shot to reveal the barn and here is that result.

Food demo and barn v1.jpg

Well, that works… but the barn is so interesting on its own that it seemed a little distracting so I decided to apply a lens blur to that layer to simulate a slightly shallower depth of field.  And that gave me this…

Food demo and barn v 2

Stylistically one could play with the mount of simulated Depth of Field, but generally the composited shot does convey the desired narrative.  Including talking my way through the process for the demo, the shot took a little over an hour plus about 1/2 hour of editing.

So now I’m anxious to see what the students turn in.  Oh, BTW, the chicken was delicious!!!


About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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