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Adventures in Food Photography: Pears and Light – 1 of 4

March 14, 2010

Since I have started doing a considerable amount of food photography for our blog, I recently registered for an online food photography class at The Picture Perfect School of Photography. It is a 4 week course and I have decided to blog my homework assignment so our readers can benefit from what I am learning.

I had almost all the required camera equipment, a digital SLR camera, three lenses of varying focal lengths, a tripod and a remote shutter release. Click here for a list of my camera equipment. The only thing I needed was a reflector. Sure I could have used a white foam core board but the pleasure I get from going to B&H Photo on 34th Street in Manhattan and browsing had to be had. I dragged Talia with me to buy the 32“ reflector and ended up spending much more than I had anticipated on various other accessories.

I had never used a reflector before but after the first lesson, I can’t imagine not using a reflector for photographing food ever again.   Life Saving Tip: By the way, I learnt this the hard way, but hold the collapsable reflector away from your face while opening it.. that’s all I have to say!

The first lesson was about natural light and the importance of it in food photography. Whenever I have photographed food in the past it has always been in natural light and never with the use of a flash. This lesson confirmed that that was the right approach although flash can be used selectively if you really know what you are doing.

The lesson discussed shooting with one ‘keylight’ or a main source of light and rotating around the subject to shoot from various angles with the reflector parallel to the light source. I did that but what was most surprising to me was how much difference the reflector made.

My Shooting Setup
I set up my subject (pears borrowed from Talia and not to be returned) near a full glass door on the morning of an overcast and rainy day. Not the ideal day for shooting indoor with only natural light, but that was the only time I had. I set up the camera on a tripod, and set up focus using the auto focus feature. After the composition focused was locked, I changed the focus to manual to keep it from changing again. Then I framed the composition so it fit well within the frame. Then I walked around to where I wanted the reflector to be and held the reflector in the desired position. With my remote shutter release, I fired the shot. I repeated this for all the pictures I took.

I used the 28mm 1:1.8 lens for these photographs. I would have liked to use my 100mm 1:2.8 lens but the space I was shooting in was limited and I couldn’t stand back far enough if I wanted my object to be as close as possible to the already dim light. The diagram below illustrates that angles I shot from, the position of the keylight and the reflector.

Angle 1
This is the most common method of shooting. Pictures below illustrate the results with the reflector at varying distances from the object. It is interesting to note how the shadow of the pear on the surface changes with different placement of the reflector.

Angle 2
This too is a good angle for shooting but the shadows are getting darker and harder to work with since the light is coming from a bit behind the subject.

Angle 3
This is a very difficult angle to shoot from since the keylight is directly in front of the camera. You have to tilt your camera down so you don’t get lens flare. This is also more dramatic and I think I will use it very selectively.

For my assignment I submitted the following two photographs.

Lens: Canon 100mm Macro
Aperture: F/2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/5s
ISO: 100

Note to self: don’t use a macro zoom lens when fruit is not fresh as I did!!


Lens: Canon 100mm Macro
Aperture: F/5
Shutter Speed: 1s
ISO: 100



See the second lesson Adventures in Food Photography: Salsa and Lenses – 2 of 4.

See the third lesson Adventures in Food Photography: Lemon and Textures – 3 of 4

See the fourth lesson Adventures in Food Photography: Pepper and Macro – 4 of 4

See a list of my photography equipment.

-by Noerah

22 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2010 3:04 am

    I like the photos you chose, and I like how this class is going. Thank you for going into great detail about what you did to take the photos. I use a similar set-up for my photos. I just don’t have a true reflector. Instead, I use a white binder, but it isn’t doing its job as well as before.

    • March 16, 2010 5:19 am

      Thanks Memoria! The class is great fun. I thought going into detail would be a way for me to catalog what I learnt so I refer back to it later. I also like helping people and sharing my knowledge. You should definitely invest in a collapsable reflector. They are under $20. I could have use white foam core too but I love to shop tech. -Noerah

  2. March 16, 2010 8:15 am

    This is great! I can’t wait to see your posts as you go through the course! (I will be taking notes)

    • March 16, 2010 8:54 am

      Thanks! And please feel free to ask questions. I love to share the knowledge I gather.

  3. March 16, 2010 9:07 am

    Thanks for sharing! I admit I get really confused by all this photography technique (even the dummies books) so it’s great to see you explain it!

    • March 16, 2010 9:12 am

      You’re welcome. Stay tuned to lessons 2, 3 and 4.

      • June 9, 2011 9:44 pm

        I lost track of this series, as I had a baby shortly after! Anyway, I am re-reading now that I’ve learned a TINY bit more…I just got my first lens (other than the one that came with my camera) and can see a huge difference already. But I don’t yet know what this reflector is–I went to B&H’s website but am a bit overwhelmed. Can you suggest a good reflector that (and I know this is asking a lot in photograpahy world) which is not too expensive?

  4. March 16, 2010 10:33 am

    Thanks for demonstrating the effects camera position, reflector, and light on the food. It is informative source for me while taking food pics next time. A related post on food photography at may be helpful as well for beginners. Please let me know what you think.

    • March 17, 2010 7:38 am

      Good tips at the end of your post. It is very important to use unstained dishes. The stains tend to magnify and look worse than they are.

  5. March 16, 2010 1:22 pm

    I am so right behind you on this photography class! I’m hoping to get to do one next year, after Spanish (though, I think I may keep going on the Spanish, too). At least in the meantime, I can enjoy your progress! These are amazing shots, and interesting to see how little changes impact the overall feel of the photo! Nice work!

    • March 17, 2010 7:33 am

      There are other online courses in photography that this place offers. I might take something in May. Maybe we can do it together.

  6. March 16, 2010 2:20 pm

    And I am so right behind Rebecca. I’ve always been a little obsessed with the way light impacts photos… and it’s a big source of frustration for me as I shoot anything food related. Thanks for sharing all the details as you go!

    • March 17, 2010 7:34 am

      Glad you enjoyed the post and found it useful. I can’t wait to complete my next assignment this weekend.

  7. March 16, 2010 3:41 pm

    i’m looking forward to seeing the rest of your homework ;p

  8. March 17, 2010 8:16 am

    interesting. i didn’t realize these were backlit. I mean, I guess I could have figured it out, but it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to backlight. cool.

    • March 17, 2010 8:30 am

      Angle 3 was back lit. It is amazing how much light changes the subject and almost makes it ‘taste’ different. -Noerah

  9. March 17, 2010 8:23 am

    Thanks for letting us know all the details. I don’t know anything about food photography, so I benefit from the knowledge you’ll share. Looking forward to reading more from you!

  10. peasepudding permalink
    March 22, 2010 4:12 am

    Great tips and wonderful photos, thanks for sharing.

  11. March 25, 2010 12:47 am

    Fantastic! I’m so interested to see these photos and your fantastic explanations. I’m trying to improve my own food photography, so this is so useful for me. I’m definitely going to invest in a reflector!

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