To offer detailed food photography classes specifically for food bloggers, chefs and culinary professionals and to help these foodies take control of their camera to get great food shots. This is Christina Peters blog for MDR Photography classes that are all about food photography.
Alright, so normally I would be totally offended if my name was associated with anything “cheap and easy”, however today I make that exception. If you were to buy this in a photo store like B & H Photo and Video – you would pay over $300!
Covering my sliding glass doors, you will see my DIY diffusion panel. It’s huge, at about 10 feet x 12 feet. I made it this big in case I had to cover any doorways, or large windows. I will use A-Clamps to clamp it to things, or I will use two light stands and clamp it to those, if needed.
I chose to use a very durable fabric called Ripstop Nylon. You cannot tear this. It’s also very cheap. I got mine at $4 a yard. Typically is comes in large rolls that are 60″ wide, and you simply order how much you want by the yard.
My Amazon affiliate link for some fabric I found on Amazon on the left. Should you chose to purchase anything, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
This product is $6 a yard and is only 36 inches wide, so really pay attention to the width of the fabrics when you are looking for this.
I bought mine in downtown Los Angeles at a fabric store that sells fabric to the public for almost wholesale prices, called Michael Levine. They have it online for $4.75/yard, but you have to pay for shipping.
How To Make Your DIY Diffusion Panel
If you are only covering one window, you can easily get away with just using one piece of fabric that is 60″ wide by a yard or two at the most. If you want, you can get the edges finished by a tailor, or if you sew, just hem the two cut sides. Then clamp that to your window, or tape it to the glass.
If you want to make a panel that is 10 x 12 feet, like the one I have – it’s super easy too.
Get 6 yards of 60″ wide ripstop white fabric
Cut the long piece in half, so you have two pieces that are 3 yards each
If you have a sewing machine, simply sew the two long sides together
If you don’t have a sewing machine, just take it to your tailor to sew together
I didn’t finish my edges, and they do get some threads coming off of them – if that bothers you, you can just hem the edges
Clamp your panel to what ever works to diffuse the light coming through your window
The Quality Of Light
Above is what our finished shot looks like. The quality of the light is really soft and even. I judge the quality of light by the shadows. We have shadows in this image, but they are nice and soft and help add dimension to our image.
Many people assume that when you are using natural light indoors for food photos, you don’t have to diffuse your light. Sometimes that can be the case if it’s a cloudy day. Then, the clouds are doing the diffusing for you.
In many situations, you really need to diffuse your light if it’s a sunny day outside, even if you don’t have direct sun coming in through the window.
The light is really bright, even though the diffusion panel is knocking down a ton of light – it’s still so bright that I can’t see my laptop very well, so I have it set up in a laptop shade popup tent.
Now – please know that when you use this DIY diffusion panel, you are cutting down the amount of natural light that is coming into your space, and you have to compensate for that. I always shoot on a tripod for these types of shoots, so I can leave my shutter open for as long as I want to.
You will have to let in about 1 stop of light, and as much as 1.5 stops of light. That means if you are at a shutter speed of 1/2 a second, you will have to go up to at least 1 full second (when you double your time, that’s one full stop of light).
What Does A “Clean Highlight” Mean?
If you have a lot of greenery or any other bright colors outside your window, and you are photographing something reflective, you will see those colors and shapes reflected in your subject. Adding a diffusion panel to your window light can clean that right up – and give you cleaner highlights. Instead of reflecting color, you’ll be reflecting the white diffusion panel.
In the image above, I am using two diffusors! One is my heavy duty diffusion panel over the sliding glass doors that I made, and the other is that circular diffusion disc to the left of the set. It’s called a 5 in 1 reflector and the interior is a diffusion panel.
When I am shooting in the studio, I would use artificial lights and control my highlights that way.
PLEASE NOTE – RIPSTOP IS FLAMMABLE, SO DO NOT PUT THIS CLOSE TO ANY HOT LIGHTS OR ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS THAT THROW OFF A LOT OF HEAT.
Here is the final shot with my DIY diffusion panel and natural light. There is nothing distracting in the highlights now, and I didn’t have to do anything to my glass in photoshop. You eye goes right to the food, instead of a distracting highlight. This shoot was for a cookbook, where I had to do 25 shots in two days. If I had to clean up bad reflections in anything reflective, that would have taken me quite some time in post production editing, and I did not want to do that.
So there you have it, a super cheap and easy light modifier for natural light.
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For more food photography tips and tricks, check out my ebooks.
So this was a super fun project with my good friend, Chef Debbi Dubbs. Debbi made a cute book called A Little Book of Cheese, (just click on her website link above for the book) about how to buy and store cheese, how to create seasonal charcuterie boards, how to cook with cheese, and more.
As Debbi is a good friend, we decided to shoot at her house. Debbi prepped for several days before our shoot to get all these goodies you see here for this charcuterie board. We wanted really colorful, easy simply foods for the cheese board so that anyone can do this at home. No fancy food styling here at all. It was just me and Debbi.
Photo gear for the shoot:
I got to her house at about 10:00am. I already knew what Debbi had in her house, so I planned on shooting on her coffee table in the living room. Here is what I brought with me – some of the links below are my Amazon affiliate links. Should you buy an item, I will get a small commission at no cost to you.
Light meter and color meter (I always bring them for a “just in case” thing – please note that my meters are older models made by Minolta no longer made so the links are the closest equivalent available)
WHAT I TOTALLY FORGOT TO BRING – THE POWER CORDS FOR THE STROBE PACKS!
In all my years of shooting, this is the first time I did this. I totally forgot to bring all the power cords for my power packs. They are all in one box clearly labeled, somehow I totally forgot to pack them in the car. Senior moment for sure, which is happening a lot these days!
Normally when I shoot on location, I have my “Location Equipment Pack List” that I go through. For this shoot, as we were just doing one shot for the day, I knew how I was going to light it, I didn’t print out my gear list. Big mistake. After all these years, you’d think I’d know better. As soon as I started unpacking the car, that’s when I realized my “power box” was not there.
So I told Debbi what was going on and I called Speedotron right away. They made my strobe pack. They are a small Chicago company, been around for forever and they still answer their phones. I asked their tech support guy what would power the smaller 1205 pack. Speedotron has special fittings for their power cords, so you can’t just plug in any extension cord into them. I would never find a replacement cord for the bigger pack – the smaller pack was my savior.
I knew that I would not find a power cord for the bigger pack because it draws a lot of power and has a very uncommon shaped power cord fitting. So I figured I could make things work with the smaller 1205 pack which needs less power and has a more common cord plug shape. Sure enough, the Speedo tech support guy told me that any power cord for certain printers and computers would work, so Debbi and I went to Staples just a few blocks away and I found my cord!
So we had a lunch break to relieve all the stress :), went back to Debbi’s and started working on our shot.
Our Set Up
While Debbi started preparing the food, I set up all the equipment and calibrated my external monitor.
I had one main soft box light to the right, and an ambient fill light pointing into the ceiling at about two stops less light than the main light. I also had a smaller camera monitor so that as we were building our cheese board, we can see what we were doing live as we were placing things in the shot, because the big monitor was the farthest from the kitchen and hard to see from the little set.
The camera is rigged overhead with two stands and a pole. There is carpet in the living room, and this is why I did not use a tripod and went with the two pole/overhead rig to try to make things more stable. But even with that set up, if anyone walked by, the camera would move a little bit. Carpet really makes for an unstable set up, whether on a tripod, or an overhead rig like this.
So, I had one main light, which was the soft box, and then I had a strobe head with a 7″ reflector bouncing up into the ceiling for a soft ambient fill light.
I shot at F/8 at 1/125th of a second, and had the camera white balance set to daylight for the strobes, but I always warm that up a bit in Capture One Pro, anyway.
I’m shooting tethered so that I can zoom in and make sure that my shot is totally in focus, and so I can zoom in and look at all the details through the whole image.
Just this one set up took at least three hours with all the food styling. I used strobes because I didn’t want to be stressed about losing the natural light, and I wanted the shots to be consistent in case I had to do any composites later. We shot past sunset. Natural light will shift in white balance, and exposure as you shoot through the day.
The boys, Debbi’s husband Frank and my fiance Scott, were there for moral support, watching tv while Debbi and I worked on the shot.
Then…. we ate the whole thing, and did a very nice happy hour after we were done.
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The biggest complaint from anyone just starting out in photography is the shock when they realize how much money all this equipment is. The struggle is real people, and this adds up very fast.
If you are just starting out, buying used gear can be a great option for you. If you are trying to decide if you want to take your photography hobby and turn it into your career, buying used gear can save you some money while you decide. If you are a pro shooter, you will be buying a lot of gear and buying used gear is always a great option – IF you do your research and buy from the right places.
I buy used gear all the time so I’m going to share with you how I go about getting my used equipment. I’ve learned the hard way, so hopefully you don’t have to.
I’ve been buying used equipment since I was 16. I’m 50 years old this year. So trust me when I say I learned the hard way. But with a little bit of research on your part, you can save a lot of money and get great equipment.
The first section is about Ebay, then I will address other ways of buying used gear, not using Ebay.
BUYING USED EQUIPMENT ON EBAY
One way to get great equipment for a lower price tag is to buy it used from a reputable place. I do use Ebay a lot for gear. I’ve used ebay since it first started. These days, there are many reputable ebay sellers of used photo equipment.
99% of the time, I buy used equipment from a large ebay photo store. I’ll tell you about when I buy from an individual later.
I like Ebay because they really protect the buyers through Paypal. So if you get gear that was not in the condition they said, ebay and PayPal will support you with returning it and getting a full refund. I’ve only returned three items in all my years. I have over 100 transactions on ebay. One was a Phase One digital back and camera for $10,000 – the camera was dead on arrival so Ebay really helped me because of the price point. The other two returns were lenses that were not in the condition as promised.
Here is what you have to look for when buying used gear from anyone on ebay.
HOW MANY TRANSACTIONS AND POSITIVE FEEDBACK RATINGS?
There are two things that are equally just as important when vetting an ebay seller. What is their Positive Feedback rating, and how many transactions have they done so far.
So if a seller has had 26,173 transactions and their feedback is 99.8 – that’s a great seller, and they have a “Top Rated Seller” badge. If they have 1000’s of transactions – they will never have 100 %. They are always going to get some nutcases who will never be happy not matter what they do in life, so you have to account for that.
Now, if they are claiming they are an actual Ebay store, but only have a few hundred transactions and they don’t have a 100% rating – that’s a red flag to me. This seller pictured on the left would be a good seller to consider buying from.
Also, check out their sales page (you click on their name to get to their seller’s page) and what other items they sell. Make sure they specialize in photography equipment, and this one lens or camera they are selling isn’t just a one off piece of photo gear. You need to make sure they know and understand what they are selling.
In this example, Deals All Year only sells photo and video gear, so again, I would feel safe buying from them. So they have to have a ton of transactions, and all photo related.
For some reason, many of the low priced new equipment sellers are in New Jersey and Brooklyn. Seriously, I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is. What they will do is sell new equipment without the manufacturer’s warranty, but include their own warranty. The length of warranty varies per seller. What this means is that if anything goes wrong, the brand that made the gear won’t fix it, but the ebay seller will. I bought my Canon 5D Mark III this way, and it worked out fine.
In my example here, Deals All Year are in New Jersey as well. Go figure.
WHAT IS GRAY MARKET EQUIPMENT?
This is the what Deals All Year says about the Canon 5D Mark IV I just looked up. This is a Gray Market camera. Under “Warranty” it says, “Import Model”. This is a gray market camera. Gray market is any equipment not made for the US market, and most likely will not come with any original manufacturer’s warranty. Some people won’t buy this gear, I’ve bought two cameras this way and it worked out fine.
What I always do is make sure that the store offers their own warranty for at least 1 year. If they won’t do this, I won’t buy it.
CAN YOU CONTACT THE STORE?
I won’t buy from an Ebay store unless they have a phone number on their ebay item listing page, or their ebay store page. This is actually very important. In theory, they are allowed to post their item for sale without a phone number, but if it’s a legitimate business, why wouldn’t they want their phone number listed?
I also call the number to make sure they actually answer it and then I ask them about their warranty. I ask them if the gear is gray, or black market gear. If they tell me on the phone it is, but it’s not saying that in the ad, I totally question them about that and say I’m not buying from them because they are not fully disclosing this in the item listing page.
By the way, I’m writing this on a Sunday at 4:00pm. I called this store and THEY ANSWERED! I talked to someone right away and he answered all my questions.
You can ask for the serial number of the item and call the manufacturer to check where this camera was made. The 5D Mark IV I was calling about was made for the Chinese market so that means it only has English and Chinese available for the languages with the camera interface. They said everything else was the same as the US market.
***This seller says in their terms that they have a 10% restocking fee. I’m unclear if that is for any type of return, meaning if there is something wrong, they will work with you to fix the problem or still charge that fee, I’m not sure and I didn’t ask when I called them.
I do feel that they are still a reputable seller on ebay. So if you change your mind and there is nothing wrong with the camera, you will be charged the 10% fee, which I feel is only fair. Please know I haven’t used them before, I’m just using them as an example here for the post.
Here are some other tips for making sure you are buying from a good Ebay reseller:
Make sure you have a 30 day money back guarantee, whether it’s new, or used equipment. Read this carefully – some of them say they do the 30 day guarantee, but will charge you a 10% restocking fee – that’s huge and a big red flag.
I tend to not buy equipment from an individual unless they have a lot of transactions, at least 200, and a 100% positive feedback.
Read the feedback reviews on the sellers just to make sure they are all consistent with great reviews.
Make sure the seller isn’t shipping from somewhere that is going to cost a lot of money for you, and double check the shipping rates. Buy in your own country! Ask about duty fees if buying out of your country.
There’s a lot of ebay sellers from China that are selling knockoffs. They have lots of transactions but their feedback isn’t near 90 perfect positive. Be warned.
Read the entire ebay listing – look to see if they say, “image shown may not be actual item up for auction”. This means that they are showing you a camera image from the manufacturer, but the actual camera they are selling you might have some scratches or scuffs on it. I avoid those. I want to see the image of exactly what I am getting when used – unless they claim it’s brand new – then it should be in pristine condition, and then, it’s ok for them to show the manufacturer’s photo.
If you are buying a camera, depending on which model, you can ask for a “capture count”. This is how many times the shutter took a picture. You want the lowest capture count you can get. Unfortunately not all cameras keep count of this but it’s always worth asking.
I always ask, how the gear was used. If it was studio equipment, that means it might not be as abused as travel gear. Seriously, I bought a Canon lens from an individual (not a store), and it had dried mud on it! You could barely turn the focusing ring to focus it. So I just took some snaps of the muddy lens with my camera phone and sent it back for a full refund. A store might not know the history of the gear, but many of them do and would be happy to tell you about it.
Immediately upon getting the used gear you bought, test it right away! You cannot delay in this. If you wait 30 days to test the used camera you just bought and it won’t even turn on, you just lost all that money.
OTHER GREAT PLACES TO BUY USED GEAR
If you are not a fan of the Ebay scene, you still have a lot of options. Here is a short list of all the places I’ve bought used gear from, or friends of mine have:
Local Camera Swap Meets – Ok, so before the internets, this is how we bought our cameras. Here, you can chat with the seller and get all your questions answered. A lot of the time, they know the photographers who they bought the gear from, and can tell you more about how it was used.
Your favorite local camera store. Many family camera stores sell used gear. This can be a great option and again, they will know how the gear was used a lot of the time.
Adorma has a huge section of used equipment, and they’ve been around for a very long time. I’ve bought a lot of gear from them over the years, both used and new.
B & H video – I’ve been buying used gear from B & H since the 80’s. They are not the friendliest of folks, but really know their stuff and have a ton of gear.
Hunt’s Photo is in New England and has been around for a long time. This is a smaller family store with a lot of locations. I have not bought from them personally, but I know others who have and they recommend them.
KEH Photo – I’ve bought a bunch of stuff from them too.
For my British friends, another reader suggest this store called MPB based in the UK
Amazon also has people and stores selling used gear – be very careful of the reviews and only buy from very highly rated stores here – there’s a ton of Chinese and Korean knock offs on Amazon now, I’m sad to say. Do your research.
My last piece of advice for buying equipment is to do your research. Here is a great website I always end up going to when looking up gear. Ken Rockwell’s Reviews. It is not pretty, seriously it looks like it’s from 1995, but the info is good and it’s very easy to find specs on any cameras or lenses you are considering.
Once you have your used gear, check out my ebook on food photography to get some great tips on how to used your new equipment.
Full disclosure here, I have never been a fan of social media. At all. I know it’s a necessary evil. I’ve decided the time has finally come that I need to devote some time to my Pinterest account. This post is about how I am going to resurrect my abandoned Pinterest account for the Blog.
Here’s the deal, I am not the expert here, clearly, and I am actively taking Pinterest courses. From what I have learned so far – Pinterest is a visual search engine. It doesn’t matter how many follower you have. Which is a nice change. It uses images, key words, and key phrases to describe those images to help viewers find products, ideas, and content they are looking for – which hopefully leads them to our websites. That’s the goal.
I hadn’t touched my profile in over two years! My blog traffic from Pinterest was only about 2-3%. I did set it up in either 2010 or 2011, and used to post to it occasionally, directly from my blog. However, something happened, and most of my links did not go to their actual blog posts, did not have titles, and had no descriptions! So that’s why I got virtually no traffic from any of my pins.
How Do You Even Begin Cleaning Up Your Pinterest Account?
At first, I just didn’t have any idea how I was going to go about doing this, so I started looking around for some courses. There are several out there. Many of them are taught by women who have made an enormous amount of money off of their courses to the point where they don’t have time to even be involved in those courses anymore. They hire people to actually help support the students who take the courses. It’s just crazy. Not a huge fan of that. These courses are $200, $400, and up to $600.
I found a membership site that is a much more affordable way to learn about Pinterest for $30 a month, so I also signed up for that. The program is called Pinterest Powerup and is taught by Cara Chase. This program has an easy to manage course in it, and she has a 90 day plan to start with, AND does two group calls a month. You can see what’s on her 90 day plan on her blog here: the 90 Day Pinterest Success Roadmap.
The first Pinterest courses I took were on CreativeLive – however, these courses are a few years old now, and I honestly just don’t know if those same strategies are relevant anymore. All these social media websites change their systems all the time. That’s the problem with CreativeLive courses, many of them are pretty dated now.
Let’s Work On Our Pinterest Accounts Together!
It’s much more fun doing these types of projects with friends, as we can all learn from each other. That road map I linked to above is available to the public, so I suggest that you grab a copy for yourself and join me!
BTW, this is not a sponsored post. Cara had no idea I was mentioning her course until I asked for permission to share her 90 Day Roadmap with you. I only just got started in her course myself – so I can’t really endorse this yet, but in just a few days, I’m already seeing some activity on my account. So I’m excited, and I’ll keep you posted.
Here’s what I suggest – take a screen shot of where you are at right now with your account before doing anything new. Tip – make sure you are not logged in when you take your screen shot. You won’t see the follower count if you are logged in apparently – like what you see below – can’t see the followers.
When I started a week ago – I had not made a single pin for over two years. My monthly views were at 85,000 – don’t let that impress you at all. All of my pins were not pinned properly, and didn’t lead to any website traffic. Something happened with my account. All my pins dropped the direct URL to the blog post, and if they had a URL, it just went to the blog home page. That means every pin was basically a bad link, so if the viewer wanted to read the actual blog post of that pin, they never found it.
The image above was only a few days after I started my clean up, it went from 85,000 to 92,000. This figure means anytime your pins show up in the feeds at all – even if the people don’t interact. They key metrics to watch are the ones where people are saving your pins and clicking to your website. So you can take this “monthly viewers” number with a grain of salt.
So, for the last week I have been working on my Pinterest profile and doing a major clean up of my profile page and all my boards. The above image is what my profile shows this weekend – March 16th and 17th. This is after one week of working on my account. The “monthly viewers” is going up each day by several thousand. Today it is 113K.
These are my stats from March 16th below. See the Avg. Daily Impressions number – it’s gone up 677% in one week. I haven’t added any of my own new pins yet! I’m just adding existing pins from other pinners, and cleaning up my boards and pins.
Anyway, here we are. Now I have a plan that I am using (Cara’s 90 day plan), and I’m going to be sharing my results here with you guys. It doesn’t matter what you do – a blogger, or a photographer, you can drive serious traffic to your site using Pinterest.
Now, side note – I also tried setting up a Pinterest account for my commercial photography – I’m having a huge issue with the account – as soon as I turned it into a business account I can’t log in. So I’m just going to work on the blog for this project for now until that gets fixed.
I’m calling this my Pinterest Project
Now that I’ve taken several Pinterest courses, I’m no longer overwhelmed, but excited to jump in. Most of the courses all said generally the same things about cleaning up your account, or starting it from scratch.
I’m writing this post on day 9 of my project. Here is what I have done so far:
Profile Clean Up Week 1:
Change my profile pic from a food image to picture of me (it was suggested to also use your logo if you have one).
Confirmed my blog website was verified with Pinterest.
Confirm I had a business account, not a personal profile.
Confirm I can do rich pins on my account.
Changed my profile description about 30 times (I can be very indecisive) till I felt I covered the appropriate keywords, and I added a link to my free ebook to see if I can get more folks on my email list.
Made Pinterest rearrange the cover image to include appropriate images, by clicking on the edit button for that. When I hid some of my boards, their images were still showing up in my banner image, so I wanted to change that.
Got rid of the boards that don’t make sense for people looking for my blog topics. I had several, like funny animals, beautiful kitchens, that sort of thing. If they are looking for beautiful kitchens, they probably aren’t looking to learn about food photography.
Went through every board and added a description – all my boards didn’t have any descriptions. This helps people find your boards.
I’m adding at least 5 new pins every day from other pinners to help fill my boards while I clean up my own pins.
I only have 11 public boards right now. I made the other boards secret so no one will see those while I work on them. I keep the boards secret until I get at least 25 or so pins on them. then I make them public. I am only going to have about 15 boards max for now. That’s probably shocking for those of you that have over 300 boards on your accounts.
I have seen bloggers with over 100 boards and their boards were not organized very well at all. I would completely lose interest in looking at all their boards when they have multiple boards of the same subject. I’m just organizing my content the way I think it would make it the easiest to find, so each board has a distinct keyword title. No weird, or flowery titles either. Every piece of text you are adding to Pinterest is for searching sake, for SEO.
Profile Clean Up Week 2:
Now I am going through every single pin. Yep, all of them. The thought of that was daunting. I freaked out when I realized I had to do this, so I procrastinated. But it had to be done. None of them have titles and the few that had descriptions were not descriptive using good keywords. I’m just taking my time and going through each pin, fixing the links, adding titles, and adding descriptions. I’m doing a batch of pins each day. It’s tedious, so I give myself a break and go look for fun pins to put on my other boards, then get back to my pin editing.
Next, I’ve set up a Tailwind account to help with scheduling future pins – but I’m not doing any of that yet until I get all my pins cleaned up.
Look at getting the Tasty Pin plugin to make pinning easier for my readers.
Once I do that, THEN I will go through my most popular posts on my blog and rework all those posts to make some images that will be great for pinning.
As of right now, most of the courses I have taken have agreed – don’t pin more than 50 pins a day. More than that is now thought of as being spammy, according to Pinterest. The minimum is 5 pins a day. I’m also heading about a combo of manual pinning vs schedulers.
I’m just doing this one step at a time. So please join me in either starting your Pinterest account, cleaning your Pinterest account, or resurrecting a dead one like mine!
If you liked this post, please pin it with the image below:
Think that looks like natural light? Well it’s not. It’s totally fake. This is something that a lot of students struggle with, but once they get it, it will totally change how they see light. This is easy artificial backlighting for your food photos.
I’ve never shared my signature lighting style before. I’ve had photographers pretend they were photo assistants just to get into my studio to see how I’m lighting my food. I’m now sharing this with you for the first time.
The whole point of this style of light, is creating a large, soft, very diffused light source using a wall. The “wall” needs to be white, so if you have a white wall that you can put your table in front of, then that’s prefect. If you don’t have a wall – don’t worry, it’s super easy to create a fake one.
This post will contain some affiliate links, so if you purchase anything, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Creating Your “White Wall”
If you have a blank wall, but it’s a different color, then all you have to do is put something white up in front of your wall. You could use a white sheet, or you can use white seamless paper like this from Savage.
With the white seamless paper, you can just cut a large piece from the roll, and tape it on your wall. If you have two C-stands, you can also hang it from the C-stand arms, like you see to the right. This image shows a 9′ wide seamless but you can use the smaller 4 foot one instead, if you have a smaller set. I was using this wide seamless to hide the very green wall behind it.
You can use painters masking tape to tape up your white paper, or white sheet to your wall if it’s on the smaller side.
If you are photographing something small, then you could also use a 5 in 1 foldable disk instead of seamless paper, and use the white side right behind your set.
You are going to be lighting this white “wall”, and making this your source of light.
Your Lighting Set Up – The Right Way
Even if you are photographing something small, you do need to have some room around your subject to get this effect. You are lighting the back wall – that is it. Then, you are opening up your exposure to have the front, shadow side of your subject properly lit.
If you are using your camera meter, you have to put it on spot meter, and then put that spot right in the middle of your subject.
If you use a general, overall metering setting on your camera, your shot will be way too dark. Your camera doesn’t know that you are backlighting your subject, and will make it a silhouette instead.
The other trick to this style image is to NOT use a shiny surface. My surface is a matte, white laminate. The shiny surface will show a reflection, and will bounce more light around.
Notice in my diagram, I have two cards blocking light near each light head. This is to stop any light bleeding onto the surface from those light heads. It’s all about carving and controlling your light source.
If needed, you can put your cards on the surface as well – just make sure you don’t see them in your frame.
Also, notice that the placement of my food is all the way to the front of the set as far away from the lights as possible. This, is again to make sure that I am not getting any direct light onto my food. The light is only hitting the back wall of the set, nothing else.
When you are doing this set up with artificial lights, your eyes are going to fool you. Your eyes are going to adjust to the brightness of the back wall, and your food will look dark. All you need to do is to make your exposure bright enough to blow out the back wall, and get a nice saturated color on your subject.
The Wrong Way
There are tons of tutorials where people will literally put a light directly behind the set pointing right behind the food, directly into the camera. This is not a good idea. You will get a ton of lens flare because you are pointing your light directly into the camera’s lens. This technique I am showing you is the opposite. We are angling the lights so that the angle of the light is not going to blast the lens directly with light.
The above set up will give you lens flare. Lens flare will make your images washed out, have color loss, and can possibly give you flares of light that you don’t want. There is a creative way to use backlighting lens flare, but usually that’s not for great looking food photos.
You can also use fill cards in the front, if you just can’t get the ratios right on your food. This product shot to the left has a little bottle in the middle of my set. I have cards around the front, and towards the back as well. The front cards are filling in the front of the product with light, and creating soft highlights at the same time.
I cannot emphasize enough that your food needs soft light. I can always pick out images of food that were lit by a photographer who has a product photography background. They use way too much light on the food, and it’s really obvious to the trained eye.
The way of indirectly lightly your food will make beautiful soft light that is emulating natural open shade light from your window.
So, there you have it. A super easy way to backlight your food.
If you liked this post, please share it in Facebook, and for more food photography tips and tricks, check out my ebooks by clicking on the links below.
This question came up in my Food Photography Club. Any Club member can ask any questions they have in our private user forum. One of my students is painting her office walls and will be using her office for her food photography studio.
Right out of school, I worked for as many photographers as I could in a two year period. I worked for over 35 photographers. Almost every studio I’ve ever been in had white walls. One food studio had black walls, and one had a medium to light gray color on their walls. Everyone else had white. When I was googling this online I found a bit of a debate going on for what is the best color for photography studio walls.
The follow up questions are, what are you shooting and how do you typically like to do your lighting?
Obviously, those of us here on the blog are shooting food, and maybe an occasional food product in packaging when you start doing more work with agencies. Luckily, food isn’t really that reflective – nothing like an actual glass bottle for example. Because of that, when shooting food with white walls, you might find it a benefit to have some extra light bouncing around.
When shooting in a space with white walls, you will have lots of extra light bouncing around. When shooting in a space with gray or black walls, you will have very little, to no extra light bouncing around, depending on how dark they are.
So it really does depend on your lighting style, what color you should paint your studio walls, AND if you want extra light bouncing around it or not.
My studio had white coved walls (coved means they were completely seamless, no right angles), a white movable ceiling (called a flying flat), and had a white floor.
The image to the left was taken in my white studio. I only had two lights lighting up my back wall – that’s it. No fill cards on the front, nothing else. Just two lights on the back wall (I’ll be doing a post talking about this lighting style later).
If you want to do dark and moody lighting, where you have much darker shadow areas, then an entirely white space may not be appropriate for you. Of course you can make any space work as long as you know how to totally control your lighting, and use lighting modifiers to get the light that you want. What I’m saying is that if your style of lighting always leans towards a darker or lighter look, then you would want your walls to match that lighting style.
Darker, moodier images, consider gray or black walls, darker ceilings, and darker floors.
Lighter brighter images, consider pure white walls, ceilings, and lighter floors.
A mixture of both lighting styles, then maybe a light to medium gray would work for you.
Yes, even your floors and ceiling have a huge impact on how much light is bouncing around so you do need to pay attention to those colors as well.
I also have to do product photography for various clients. This is when white walls, white ceilings and white floors can be a problem because they reflect all the light. When doing product work in a space like this, I have to block all the light I don’t want bouncing around, so that I don’t get weird highlights that negatively impact the look of the product.
If you want to do a lot of product photography, and you don’t use your walls to bounce light off of like I do, then you might want to consider using gray, or even black walls.
This actual lighting style is called subtractive – I flood the area with light, then I take away the light I don’t need.
The image above is showing the huge set that I use for glass bottles. You can see all the light I and how I am controlling how it hits my bottles. But, I also light off of my white walls. The lights are pointing into the walls, then I am controlling what light is hitting the product.
How To Pick White Paint Colors
I was shocked at how much conflicting information I found about this online. Picking a paint color is actually very easy. You MUST pick a neutral white, neutral gray, or neutral black.
Neutral means no color or tint is added at all. For a white paint, you would use a white base paint, super matte, no texture, no shine. White base paint is what all the paint brands start with before adding any pigments to the paint. This is great for a pure white wall.
How To Pick Gray and Black Paint Colors
This can get trickier because the color black is a mix of several pigments together. So there are warm blacks (more yellow/red tones) and there are cool blacks (more blue tones).
Talk to the person mixing the paint and tell them the colors have to be as neutral as possible. So that would mean a black or gray paint that has equal amounts of pigment being added from each color to yield black. You can actually ask to see the formula that they are blending together to get a sense of the colors they are using to make the gray or black paint.
Some of the folks mixing the paints don’t understand when we say neutral that we really, technically, mean neutral. They might try to talk you into a warmer color. Just insist that you do understand and it’s for photography, not necessarily for a design statement.
What Shade Of Gray Should You Use?
If you choose gray for your wall color, you will have a ton of options for the actual shade (how dark it will be) of gray. I suggest to get some paint samples in three different shades, a light gray, a medium gray, and a dark gray. The shade that you use will most likely depend on the size of your space. If you have a very small space, then you might want a lighter gray. If you have a larger space, you might want to go darker.
The shade of gray that you want will also depend on how much natural light you have bouncing around in there and if you want to lessen the amount of light bouncing around, or not.
Get your three shades of gray you are testing, and paint very large patches on your walls – at least 3 feet square. If your walls were lighter before, be prepared for how much light this will cut down in your space. The darker the gray, the less light will be reflecting off of your walls.
What Type Of Ambient Light Is In Your Space?
I need to point out here, even if you know you bought a neutral paint color – your lights will completely affect how these paints will look. If you have very warm ambient lights that are 3200 Kelvin, your walls will look very warm in color. If your ambient light is daylight or 5600 Kelvin, your walls will look much cooler, if not blue depending on whether you are getting direct light, or open shade light.
Please keep this in mind because when you start painting, your mind will play tricks on you, and you might second guess your paint colors.
Remember that you are painting the walls to be used when doing photo shoots, so when you are not shooting and have your ambient lighting turned on, you might see a radical difference with how that room looks.
Rosco Photography Paints
Rosco is a company that makes photography gels for lighting. They also have an industrial line of studio paints. The problem is that they are very expensive at $50 a gallon. They make a TV white, and a TV black. They also make a bright chroma green and blue color for video production.
Please know that for some reason, they are calling their light gray paint white. THEIR WHITE PAINT IS NOT WHITE!
A while back, Benjamin Moore paints had a “Photography White” color. They don’t make it anymore, and you don’t need it. For white, just get their neutral white base paint.
But Don’t I Just Use My Camera’s White Balance To Fix My Color Balance With Lighting Anyway?
Sure you can. The goal though is to create a space as neutral as possible, so that your lighting is clean to start with. You can paint your walls what ever color you want. Just know that you will always have to do some color correction on your images. My goal is to make as little post processing editing work as possible.
The worst colors to use would be pinks, purples, reds, and greens. This will color contaminate your light when shooting and could be hard to correct later on in post.
Let me know if you have any follow up questions by posting them in the comments below.
If you would like some great food photography tips, check out my ebook by clicking on the image below.
This is a round up of all the food photography lighting posts on the blog, including the behind the scenes of several shoots that I've done.
Super Easy Side Light. This post is all about using one artificial light and one fill card for your overhead images. That's it. I show you the light that I use and where to place it.
Super Easy Side Light #2. This post is all also about using one artificial light and one fill card. This time it's for your tabletop images. I use the same light as above, and show you where to place that as well.
Four Types Of Artificial Light: This post is all about artificial light. If you want to do food photography, eventually you will need to learn how to use artificial light. You will learn your options, and the pros and cons of each one.
Softbox Equipment Review : This is an equipment review where I go over the differences between a cheap softbox, and a more expensive one. I set both of them up and show you the quality difference.
I thought it would be helpful to put all my posts about certain equipment in one place for you. I'm going to start with all my food photography camera and lens posts. I'm organizing each roundup by equipment type to make it easier to find what you are looking for. Then, there will be one final page that lists all the roundups.
As always, let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
What is the best camera when you are on a budget? Buying a camera is completely overwhelming. There is a new camera born every 5 seconds. I made that up, but it certainly feels true. In this post I hopefully can shed some light for you to make your decision a little easier.
Here’s a little mini post for you. I’ve been getting questions about this quite a bit recently.
This is something that we all need to do, and there is a right and wrong way to clean your lens.
Our lenses actually have coatings on them. These coatings help with creating good looking images. The problem though, is that these coatings are quite delicate and need to be handled with great care.
NEVER, EVER ATTEMPT TO CLEAN A LENS WITH YOUR SHIRT, WITH A PAPER TOWEL, OR ANYTHING NOT MADE FOR COATED OPTICS!!!
You will scratch your lens if you do this. If you wear eye glasses, the same rules apply. It just kills me when I see someone put a dry paper towel on their glasses to clean them. You will get hundreds of tiny scratches in the coatings of your glasses.
You need to get a good lens cleaning kit. They are not expensive at all. This is a kit from Amazon that has everything you need for under $15.
When looking for a good lens cleaning kit – it must say that it’s for camera lenses specifically, OR that it is made for optics that have coatings on them. This is very important. DO NOT USE GLASS CLEANERS. They can ruin the coatings on your lenses.
Here is what you need:
lens cleaning fluid made for photography lenses, or it must say for optics that have coatings on them
a blower device that will let you hit the lens with gentle blasts of air – not canned air!
a lens brush can be handy
Some of these kits, like the one below comes with “lens cleaning paper”. I never use these. I’ve scratched lenses before with these kinds of tissues, so I always use the micro fiber fabrics instead.
Please Note: There is something called a “lens cleaning pen”. I also never use these – I do NOT want anything stiff or rigid touching the lens. So in the kit you see below, I do not use the lens pen, or the lens paper. I use the other items.
This is my Amazon link – should you choose to purchase this item, I will get a few pennies at no cost to you.
HOW TO CLEAN YOUR LENSES PROPERLY
Take your lens off of your camera. You need to be able to look at your lens from all angles when cleaning it, and leaving it attached to your camera will not help.
First thing to do is use the little bulb blower – there are some that are called air rockets or air blasters, and those work great too. Use the blower to get any large debris off of your lens. Really spend time with this first part. Any debris left on the lens can scratch it with the next steps.
If there is any debris still on the lens, then very gently use the lens brush – not the pen but actual brush with bristles to try to get the debris off the lens. Do not apply pressure. Very gently just sweep the brush to see if you can get rid of the debris
Now, if at this point there is still debris that you can see on your lens – let’s say you dropped it in sand – I would stop the process and take it in to your camera store, or to the manufacturer for a professional cleaning.
Ok, if you have successfully removed any debris that you can see, now we are ready for using the liquid cleaner.
Never spray your lens directly with the cleaner! Spray the micro-fiber cloth with cleaner. You do not want any cleaning fluid getting at the edges of the lens and seeping into the lens. Do not saturate the cloth. Too much liquid could made streaks on your lens.
Very gently wipe the lens with your sprayed micro-fiber cloth. You are not using a lot of pressure here. Do not grind the cloth onto the lens surface.
If you are trying to remove a thumbprint, the thumbprint will contain the oil from your skin, so you might need to do a few passes with the sprayed micro-fiber cloth.
If your cloth is too wet, and has left a streak, wait for the cloth to dry. Then just put on a little bit of spray on the cloth, and attempt to clean off the streak.
It really is a delicate procedure, but as you get used to doing this, you will learn the right amount of spray on your cloth, and pressure to use on your lenses.
If you are photographing a liquid that will be splashing – put on a high quality UV filter on your lens to protect it. You must clean the filter in the same manner so that you don’t scratch it.
There you have it. Let me know if you have any questions.
Want some great food photography tips? Check out my ebooks all about food photography.
Doing dark and moody food photography with natural light is very challenging for a lot of folks. I’ll show you how I did this shot and give you some tips on how to do this at home.
There are always several challenges using natural light in the first place for any shot. The sun is constantly moving, so your exposure will change as a result of that. Then, if you are in an area like I am near the beach, there will be clouds moving through the sky all day, which will make your color balance shift radically as well.
So if you are struggling with just those two things, welcome to the world of natural light shooting. It’s just part of the deal I’m afraid.
The image above is a composite of three images – not to make it dark and moody, but for the action. I have one shot for the pancakes, one shot for the sugar explosion, and one shot for me holding the sugar sifter. My compositing had nothing to do with the dark and moody feel. That’s just the way I designed my set. When you are compositing shots like this, they all have to be the same exposure so that they blend nicely together. I’ll be showing you all this in another post.
Dark and Moody Food Photography Tips
Ok, all that being said, here are some tips to help you with your own dark and moody shots.
You have got to make all your props, surfaces, and backgrounds dark – meaning pick dark colors. I see so many students struggling trying to make an image dark and moody when their plate is white, their napkin is very light pink, and the surface is a really light color. This will NOT work for a dark and moody shot unless you do some heavy post processing on this image. Make it easy on yourself, get a set of gray and black napkins, surfaces, and plates. You will eliminate the problem of your props being too light this way.
The food must be the brightest color in the shot, or the only color in the shot. Successful dark and moody shots have food that stands out. Your eye goes right to it. It doesn’t have to be super bright in color, it just has to be the brightest color in your image.
Control your light source. If you are in a room that has several windows at different positions, block off all the light but for one window. You want only one light source for this type of natural lighting. In most cases, you will not be using any fill light (light that you pop into the shadows to lighten them up).
Keep it simple! Good lord, I see all sorts of shenanigans online with food inside home made wood boxes, and tons of cards blocking light. For cryin’ out loud, if you follow the step above and control the light to make it come from only one source, you won’t need any of those stunts. I shoot in a room where every wall has a window. I simply close every blind except for the window I am using. If I am still getting light bleeding into my set from another area, I just rig a card on a stand with an A-clamp to block it. That’s it.
Do NOT severely underexpose your shot to make it dark and moody. I see this all the time. People take a regular shot and just make it really dark in Photoshop to try to make it dark and moody. They end up just making a dark and muddy shot instead. You have to plan for this type of shot in advance. You can’t make a regular shot with light colored props dark and moody by simply making it dark overall in Photoshop or Lightroom. The only way to do that would be with a ton of Photoshop work, which is what I’m trying to have you avoid here. I might underexpose my image by a half a stop of light, that’s it.
So the only thing that is different with this set is the surface, background, and all the props are dark. That’s it. I don’t have any cards blocking light. I’m not using a fill card. This is the same natural light that I use for all my shots that I shoot at home.
About the food styling
Alise, my food stylist here did a few things that made these pancakes looks great.
First off, to have the pancakes all be the same size, she measured the batter to 1/2 cup for each pancake. She simply used a boxed pancake mix here.
She says she loves cooking on this little electric grill. It’s the Cuisinart Griddler for about $70. This is my Amazon Affiliate link for that (should you buy that product, I will get a small commission at not cost to you).
To make the syrup not sink into the pancakes, she sprayed them with Scotchgard. Do this outside.
Alise also used waxed paper in between each pancake so that she could move them easily when they are stacked on top of each other. If you don’t do this, they will stick to each other and be difficult to move around on set.
She also used Poligrip, a white cream for dentures, yep, that’s right denture cream to stick the berries on top of the pancakes. It’s great for sticking food together. We use it all the time. Make sure to get the white version and not the pink. You can hide the white version easier.
The other trick up Alise’s sleeve is she uses Piping Gel mixed with pancake syrup, and applies it using a squeeze bottle onto our pancake stack. This mixture is very thick and will stay right where she puts it. Then she can use a brush to manipulate the syrup afterwards. Remember she sprayed the pancakes with Scotchgard? This makes a protective barrier between the syrup and the pancake so that she can just use a brush and white off what we don’t want.
So there you have it. A simple dark and moody shot with simple natural light. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll be showing you how I made the final shot with a composite in another post.
If you want to see some great food styling demos on video, check out our digital version of the Food Photography workshop. I am offering this digital version at a discounted price until November. We are still editing the final product right now and it’s looking beautiful.