MY FIRST FOOD SHOOT: HOW TO LIGHT A FOOD AD

A few weeks ago I got the chance to do my first food shoot.  This production was for a Bagel store ad and was produced and directed by Chanina Katz and Draizy Zeiger.

Photo by Brian McCann

Beforehand they showed me a commercial that featured some food for a breakfast ad. It was shot with an HMI light (which is really expensive to get) and it looked gorgeous. This was really a tough challenge that I certainly was up for since I have not done this before – and I live for new challenges in my work.

I have never shot food products and therefore I had to do some research. One thing I immediately noticed is that the food in most commercials is very sparkly lit with lots of highlights. I had an idea that we could use an HMI light, but arriving on set and using a Arri 2000W tungsten light did not produce the same results at first glance. The Arri light would create very hard and edgy shadows that made the image too contrasty. Everything that was not touched by the Arri light was too dark. The contrast ratio between lights and shadows was way out of what my DSLR could handle.
So, one solution was to set up some fill lights. I took a bunch of cheap photo lights and threw them against the ceiling. But I didn’t want to eliminate the shadows created by the Arri completely. I love shadows. They’re actually more important than the lights. Therefore I had to choose the fill light intensity just under the one of the Arri 2k. And voila! It created the desired effect.

Check out some screen grabs from the shooting.

Another thing I worked with that turned to be a great investment is my new ring light that I purchased from Fotodiox. It’s one of the best and cheapest ring lights on the market. Cost me about $200. I had been looking for such a light for quite some time, but they were not to be found for under a $1000 before this one reached the market. That changed everything for me. It is rock solidly build and Litepanels can hide themselves behind such a light. And it’s a fraction of the cost.

Lighting set up for the food ad

The food was done by a food stylist.  It looks delicious, don’t you think?  It tastes that way too. We were eating all the stuff that he made and we photographed.  That’s the kind of shoot I love to do!

S.

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19 Responses to "MY FIRST FOOD SHOOT: HOW TO LIGHT A FOOD AD"

  1. Reuven Miller says:

    Shooting still life is a whole discipline unto itself, and food photography represents a definite niche within that discipline.
    Shmuel, I knew your work was tasteful … but, tasty as well?
    Now all you need are some small glasses of l’chaim for … shot shots!

  2. Ra'anan says:

    Really nice work. B”SD

    I have such a weakness for bokeh.

    2 things that you might want to experiment w/& that’s wetting the strawberries & the purple fruit w/it.

    It gives it a different look.

    Also, the roll shots I would try & heat them up to give a them a warmer, puffy look.

    I like the boked background in the red soup in the cup shot.

    IMO, the stacked donut shot below, though, deserves a better background than that brown.

    Very solid work.

    Best,

    Ra’anan

  3. michael salzbank says:

    I have had numerous conversations with Margalit,,, and I am very impressed with all your work.. the food pictures are new? very well done…

  4. Gee, thanks. Now I’m really hungry.

  5. Hey guys, thank you so much. Ra’anan. Great ideas and suggestions for my next food shoot.

  6. Hey Asher,

    thanks for your great insights.
    I totally agree in all points. The one point we might differ is ‘shadows’. I think the elimination of shadows is a visual development that I don’t understand and for my taste it makes everything flat and with little (light) structure. We say in music, the most important part are the pauses in between. The same is true in an image. I don’t light my scenes with light, I light them with shadows. So, you might ask why shadows? Because they give the viewer a sense of the room, a feeling of the three dimensional spacial space of an item. Many years it was “in” to shoot portraits with no shadows, or at least super soft. I’m glad that this changed over the years and I’m a big proponent of that.

    In the end its a matter of taste, isn’t it?
    Love what you suggested. Thanks for participating and reading.

    S.

    • Asher Fine says:

      Hi Shmuel,
      Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comments. I too am a BIG proponent of shadows-in-light in photography. When they work together they create three dimensionality in a two dimension environment. However-
      The shadows must add and not take away from the image. In your case, to have sharp edged shadows from asparagus projected on the rim of a bowl is harch and in a GOTH food journal, this may be the GOLDEN EGG of food photography for them.
      So what to do in order to achieve 3dimensionality without raising shadow spears?
      Ahhh, this is where experience comes in. This is where you will need to light expertly (side, top, back), place light dampers and black “reflectors”, white, foil reflectors and so on. I can help you with this but it will take time, perhaps on SKYPE.
      In any case, I applaud your gutsiness and celebrate your class.
      Best regards,
      Asher Fine
      Professional Photographer
      011-972-50-464-4640

      • Shmuel Hoffman says:

        Awesome, thanks for the offer. Would love to take you on that for my next shoot. You rock :)

      • Shawn says:

        All this talk of asparagus spears has made me hungry again. How’s this for an idea:
        You two should do a dual food shoot, and while you both debate the merits of light vs shadow, I’ll eat the props.

      • This is funny, Shawn. As always.

      • David Komer says:

        First off- Shmuel, some really nice colors and camera angles in there!

        Looks delicious :D

        Secondly- I just want to re-iterate what Asher’s saying since it’s such a good point….

        There are two types of shadows here. Shadow on the food = great because it makes the food feel real and edible. You’re 100% right for aiming for that and the food itself looks fantastic! However, shadows on the plate = not so great because it draws real attention away from the food (and onto the plate- which is ultimately an unimportant prop).

        In other words, there are two types of shadows happening here, and they are completely opposite in whether we want them or not :)

  7. Asher Fine says:

    Hi Shmuel, this is a good first try but there a few things you need to look out for.
    a. Keep the shadows down. When you have lettuce leaves or asparagus shoots casting long shadows on white soup bowls it is not desirable at all. You can opt for shadows if they blend in with a gaussian blurred background in for wxaple a dish with corn on the plate and the background is a corn field (gaussian blurred of course.)
    b. Strawberries and blueberries is colourful but lack of depth of field. It reuires MORE because you do not want the eyes to detach from the splendid colour and texture differences of the fruit in the bowl.
    c. Take care that the foreground does not have a pronounced dark shadow in it as in the cuo of tomato soup. In this image the shadow dampens the visual effect (appeal) of the container holding the soup.
    Remember the plates and bowls and cups are ONLY props that should work TOGETHER with the food being photographed.
    d. Try to use soft-boxes for your lighting. When you do you will see the rectangular curvature on porcelain, glassware and anything else that reflects, including cutlery. The shape of the soft-box will drape light in a complementary way on reflective surfaces as opposed to a flash or hot light with daylight adjusted tubes in a lamp that do not reflect nicley on shiny objects.
    Now you have some homework to do. Good luck.
    Asher Fine
    Professional Photographer
    011-972-50-464-4640

  8. Shmuel Hoffman says:

    Here is my question to the all of you because I just realize it while talking to another friend.
    I remember when we tried to soften the light with diffusion gel the food would look awefully flat and undesriable. The sparkle and shininess would disappear. Parts of good food photography as I understand is that the food has a shine, a sparkle to it. So, what would you do?

    • Jake Livni says:

      I’m late to this discussion and I haven’t done food shots myself, but from what I know of it (from 20 years ago), lots of the food that appears in shots is not actually edible. White glue is used instead of milk, cigarette smoke fills in for steam, glass spheres and acrylic or glass blocks are used for beverage bubbles and ice cubes. There was a place in NYC (The Set Shop?) that sold some of the gear for this.

      For the shiny, delicious, fresh look, some food surfaces are ‘painted’ with oil, corn syrup or even with something poisonous but shiny (I don’t remember what it was) to give that glistening and shimmering effect. Then you can use soft light and still get all the “sparkle and shininess” you were hoping for – and the item looks ‘fresh’, too.

      For hot or frozen foods, you can set up lighting and arrange the composition with a dummy and then bring in the hot/cold item, position it quickly and shoot before it goes ‘flat’.

      - Jake

  9. David Komer says:

    I’d say the issue isn’t so much hard vs. soft light, rather it’s the placement of the keylight. For a food shoot like this (would be different shooting the same exact material for a different purpose- drama, kitchenware ad, etc.), you don’t want competing shadows on the plate. So I’d suggest you move your keylight right above the table. Then use side-lighting and/or bounce to get your sparkle and fill in your shadows. You can use flags and negative fill to increase contrast on the sides as well. Softer light is a little easier to work with since the inevitable shadow spill is much less noticeable and will be more even, and it’s just kindof nice feeling. Also, at this scale, tiny adjustments of flags make a big difference… that’s my thoughts on the subject anyway… thanks for making me think about it! :)

  10. Rafael Ortiz-Guzman says:

    I photographed the Jane Fonda “Food for a better living” cookbook. we shot lots of the photos in the book but we mixed in original footage shot in a Milo Motion Control system with an Arri 35C, overheads as if we were shooting a car and small peppers lights to accent. The results were just phenomenal

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