Monthly Archives

October 2009

Food Photos


Last Sunday we finally got a chance to shoot the Garlic Clove Foods products in their cooked/prepared versions. In the photo up above are the grains out of the packages and placed into a light box. The photos below were taken in Dean and Amy’s backyard.

We arrived at 10:30 and immediately started shooting. We were outdoors in the backyard and we didn’t use anything but natural light for the food. I know – us, using natural light! Crazy huh? Actually – as much as it seems like I don’t like natural light photographers – I just don’t like the ones who don’t know how to work with the sun and instead use it as an ‘excuse’ to create bad photos rather than a light source… but that’s a whole other rant.

For most of the shoot there were clouds hanging around which did a great job of diffusing the light just enough to power down the sun but still create nice shadows on the table. Now you can always push enough light to get rid of all shadows and make a really clean photo – but with food that’s not what I want. I don’t want it completely ‘clean’ because it doesn’t necessarily look sterile, but it adds that sterile feeling – and I don’t want food photos to look or feel sterile.

Of course you can’t have a big messy plate of food just plopped down with a spoon. But you can warm up the photo and give it context and set it down in a setting where it looks like it would actually be eaten – and not just a white background with some glowing soft light. Of course, I like to photograph people so maybe I’m just completely out of my realm here and shouldn’t be saying anything at all.


This is a wide shot of Leah helping me test out our light setup for when we shot Dean and Amy with their kids. Since I’m mostly a strobist photographer – here’s the strobist info:

  • Sun diffused through clouds in the upper left
  • Umbrella’d 285hv camera right (you can see the tip of the umbrella)
  • a bare Vivitar 2600 in the back right corner – that’s what’s lighting up the side of Leah’s face


Aside from all of the technical light stuff you normally have to worry about when making photographs – with food it’s even more important that you get a good composition with interesting lines, shapes, and textures. All of those.

And I didn’t just want to shoot the same 3/4 circle-plate overhead shot. You know what I’m talking about. The ones that started out as artsy but is now food-photos-by-numbers.

Yeah. I didn’t want to just get those shots – and when I did, I always tried to add some other items that would just barely edge into the photo. Sure you want to emphasize the specific dish – but not if it’s an uninteresting photo. Because then you end up with a photo that focuses on the product but that no one gives a second thought. Of course – there are examples where this is just wrong.

We have to admit – we’re not food stylist and we probably couldn’t have cooked all of the food to make it look anywhere near as delicious. That’s all Amy’s doing and she did a great job.  Sure, we moved plates, silverware, and glass – but come on, if the food looked bad… it would take a lot more work. I’m not saying that it would be impossible – because I’m pretty confident we can make most objects look good – but a lot of the work in the cooked food photos was already done for us.


Since this was all real food and not just pretend food – we all sat down to lunch afterwards.

Still. Here comes November and more photo shoots.


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This is Dean and Amy of Garlic Clove Foods. Leah first met Dean at a farmer’s market down the road from us – she bought one of their pilaf mixes,brought it home, and it was so good that I actually asked about what I was eating. This stuff is REALLY good. So we bought more. Eventually after buying more and more of their products we were talking to our friend Jenn (of Indigo Bath and Body – she sells her goods at the same farmer’s markets) and she mentioned to Dean that Leah and I are photographers and eventually they hired us for a photo shoot.

They’re actually the reason I bought my IKEA light box and started practicing shooting products. I wanted to be able to give Dean and Amy photos that looked expensive and not like the stuff you normally see from small businesses that sell their products at farmers markets. Plus, they had just gotten new packaging a few weeks ago so along with the packaging, I wanted their photos to be upgraded.

Other than the general improvement in the design/layout of the package – these bags not only show the grains, but they make it so the layered grains are managed better and seen more clearly than the previous packaging. You can focus on the quinoa, the bulgar, and the other ingredients – and I wanted to make sure that it was all lit properly. I’m still overcoming some issues with the reflection off the bags but I think I made some progress in that area for the most part.

Old Product Shot.

New Product Shot.

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But what about actual ‘food’ photos? Those are for the next shoot coming up this weekend.

I had always intended on getting a shot of the two of them along with their products – but then the opportunity arose for them to be featured in a local business journal, so we scheduled a mini-shoot last Sunday (yes, it was our third shoot that day after the family portrait and the AIDS Quilt.)

This took place at Return to Eden – an independent natural foods grocery. If you know anything about us we’re all about light in our photos and we’re always trying to make sure that it’s not boring. Even though this was possibly going to be used in a print newspaper where they flatten all the colors and remove all contrast in the photos, I still wanted the photo to be better than what I often see being printed in business journals (while being ‘safe’ enough since this was yet another first ‘type’ of shoot for me.) I didn’t want a flat composition where they’re up against a wall, or simply beside a table of their products. (and don’t worry – the photo should still look great even after the newspaper treatment – of course we took several shots and we’ll just have to wait and see which one gets used)


So we had them throw their new packages up on the shelf (we pushed back what was already there and used two shelves) and then I put them right in the middle of the angles, making sure that all of the lines – from the shelves to the lighting – direct you to focus on them. I was also pleased with how we got two zones of light with the brighter light up front and then the dimmer light in the back from the dairy section. Your focus is where it should be, on the products (two rows and they’re the most brightly lit) and then on Dean and Amy.

(of course if I was even smarter, I would’ve remembered to pull out my new polarizing filter to take care of the glare off the packages)

Leah is a few feet to the right off camera holding a bare flash at Dean’s face – but I didn’t notice that it wasn’t going off until afterwards when I looked at the photos. I can imagine how it would’ve brought another level of the photo – but it may have also been too much. I’m going to believe that things worked out just right.


It’s hard to see in the small versions of the photos – but there are some pretty good catch-lights in their eyes giving them an extra sparkle for the newspaper.

This shoot took about 15 minutes. Since Leah’s flash apparently didn’t go off at all, the setup was a single umbrella’d light to the left and then just slowing down the shutter long enough to pull in the ambient light in the back. A nice quick photo shoot.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt


Click Here for more photos of The AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Last Sunday, right after shooting the family portrait we hiked all our gear over to the other side of the park where the AIDS Memorial Quilt was on display during AIDS Walk Atlanta. The headquarters of The Quilt is here in town – and actually down the street from my office. Once Leah and I were hired for the shoot – I looked up every photo I could find ever taken of the quilt.

But this Google search should give you an idea what’s out there – because this is generally it: Click

Most photos people shoot are strictly of the quilt – and if they do get people in the shot, you see a lot of the back of their head and no faces. So we initially set out with two goals – focus on people looking at The Quilt and then also get their faces in the shots.

The panels are 12×12 and I was having trouble fighting the sun across that distance. Looking back I should’ve pulled out more flashes and just over powered the sun – but I didn’t. What I ended up using at the time were four lights. The sun at people’s back (mostly) – one flash to their right, one on the left and then my arm snaking out towards the middle of the quilt for more fill light. In the shot above you can see all lights working together – the sun at their back casting the strong shadow, the light off the woman’s left cheek, the light from my left flash causing the shadow from the pamphlet in the man’s right hand, – and then the fill light right in front of them.

When it worked it looked great. When it didn’t work, it looked like a bad shot from a point and shoot camera.


Since this was a park exhibition of The Quilt – all of the panels were flat on the ground – which made it a real challenge to try and get a variation of shots. I mean, you can only do so many angles of people looking down at The Quilt. I brought it up a little and got some shots like you see above, but I didn’t think about the best shot until long after we left the park. Maybe I can get it next time.

It also looks like we’re going to be the archival photographer for The Quilt so I should be able to work on this a little bit more.

Click Here for more photos of The AIDS Memorial Quilt.