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Ashley Barron

Lighting Food

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Hi there,

I am going to be shooting some table-top stuff with ice cream, chocolate, glasses, liquids, cans, nuts, spoons, and fruit/vegetables. Basically the usual food and drink table-top.

Does anyone have any words of advice/tips/techniques on lighting (or even composition and the such)? It would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,


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I'm sure you'll get a million different replies, but I think food looks best when you light it like a car -- it's as much about the shiny reflections as it is the incident light. The "sheen" on food is part of what makes it look moist and appetizing. Without the sheen food looks like rubber props.


To that end, soft back- and edge-lighting can give a nice wrap to the key light and give soft reflections. For the glassware you'll want to make sure those soft sources have sharp, clean edges and are evenly lit so that they show up as clean solid reflections. Also remember the rule of "specular transparency": Incident light falls off with distance, but the brightness of reflections does not (the reflections just get smaller). In other words, you can balance the brightness of the reflections with the incident exposure by moving the source closer and farther away (closer= less relfection; farther=brighter reflection relative to the incident exposure).


For table top you'll also want a few small sources on hand like Peppers or Dedos, as well as finger & dots, and tape. Lighting tabletop is just like lighting a set, only smaller. You still need multiple lights and flags, but on a smaller scale.

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Lighting food is under the tabletop category. Which means it can be slow and painstaking. I know some who often use lots of small lights for their food shots and when it comes to shooting high speed stuff, they use Unilux for liquids. And I have a friend who used something like 15 18k's for one high speed Aquafina commercial shot to combat the high speed exposure and still have some depth of field. Some also utilize a motion control camera and a spinning tabletop to get vibrant shots. They often use a dimmer board system too to bring the lights up just for the shot so they keep the heat down.


It depends on what the shot is and what one is trying to do.


Good luck






PS Plus with food, there is usually a Home Economics department prepping the food so it looks great for every shot

Edited by timHealy

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Any advice I could give would depend on what you plan on doing with the footage. I would recommend getting some food magazines and seeing if that type of photography meets your needs - Bon Appétit, Saveur, Gourmet and even Martha Stewart Living are all great examples of contemporary food photography. The photography from these magazines is very different from say an Denny's or McDonald's food shot for their television commercials. If you can see the difference, you'll know which is appropriate for your needs.


Food photography is often called "Food Porn" so think sexy. You want it to glisten, you want to show off perfect round curves, you want it to move, bounce, and splash.


If you can get a food stylist that's great. If you can't, make sure you have a water bottle on hand to spritz the food. Vegetable oil can also be used to make the food glisten and it doesn't evaporate. Tooth picks can help keep clusters together. Have some tweezers to pick of things from the food or to place things where you want them. Cotton swabs are good to have to pick up crumbs or to clean up edges of sauces. Glue, double stick tape and tack (or even gum) to keep food in place. Rubber cement is sometimes used to simulate water drops.


If you're using ice cream and don't have strobes, keep the room as cold as you can and pre-light as much as you can without the ice cream in the shot. You might want to try to place tennis balls or some similar item in place of where the ice cream is going to be as a stand in.


Great props go a long way too. For magazine food photography, the trend is to use vintage utensil. Take a trip to a local thrift shop and you'll likely find some really great stuff. Tarnished, scratched, and unique utensils when placed on a wood table make for a very charming canvas for the food. Don't forget that plate & bowls convey a great deal too - choose wisely.


As for lighting, I a big fan of strong, rear three-quarter lighting or nearly side lit. Wet or glossy fruits and vegetables glisten nicely. I generally prefer large, soft sources and no harsh shadows, i.e. front fill usually with a big, white bounce card which help show off moist food.


Good luck.

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Also watch your colors. Even more so when lighting with Flos or HMIs. Expect some time to CC the footage after the shot. Take good care of the color correction axis (green-magenta), you don't want your ham to go green (a strange fact that a very large chain of supermarkets here always sends out flyers featuring moldy green slices of ham)!


Cheers, Dave

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Thank you very much Michael and Tim, some food for thought :)


You had to go there ....http://www.cinematography.com/forum2004/style_emoticons/default/rolleyes.gif

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