Food Photo 101 – Lesson 2 Results


Lesson 2 was all about directing light. I was hoping to have some good morning light again, as the time change means that it’s too dark when I get home to have much light coming into the dining room. Unfortunately, mornings this week have been cloudy, so not much luck for me having good natural light.

I want to thank Nika for another great lesson… This one will prove to be really useful right from the start.

I figured this was a good way to try out how white balance would need to change for the light in the dining room, and I ended up with using the ‘Incandescent setting’.

Task 1: My Light Bouncing Equipment

fp101-2-01 Gear.jpg

I mostly used foamcore. This is can be found at art supply stores, and it bascially posterboard glued to a white styrofoam core, which gives some stiffness so it will stand up without bending.

I picked up a few sheets of foamcore: 3 white, 2 black and one kind of a silvery grey. I also took a piece of cardboard and wrapped it with aluminum foil and snagged a mirror my wife had under her sink in the bathroom. I have some cheap lights that I can use, too, with translucent umbrellas, and my camera tripod made it into the shot a bit, too.

The problem with the lights I have is that the bulbs are too stark in color. I really need to replace them with more natural light bulbs, which shouldn’t be too difficult. I got 3 tripods (2 tall, 1 short) with 2 translucent umbrellas for something like $50 on ebay to use for photos, and they do pretty well for my needs right now.

So that’s my light bouncing stuff!

Task 2: Bouncing Light With A Mirror

For this task, I actually played a bit with both the mirror and the aluminum foil on cardboard. I set up a white background by simpley putting the big sheet of white foamcore on the chair behind where I was shooting. I also put the smaller white foamcore on the right side of the shots, since I didnt’ have the styrofoam that Nika used. I have a confession here; I hate styrofoam! It gives me chills like fingernails on a chalkboard!

Here are my shots with different ways of bouncing the light…

fp101-2-02 No Bounce.jpg

In the first shot, I just had the white board to the right, no mirror or foil used.

fp101-2-03 Mirror on Eggs.jpg

The next shot had light bouncing off the mirror onto the eggs in front on the right.

fp101-2-04 Mirror On Vampire.jpg

Here, I bounced the mirror light onto the vampire (yes, it’s a vampire if you look closely!)

fp101-2-05 Mirror on Chicken.jpg

In this shot, the mirror light is bounced onto the chicken. I noticed with this that shiny objects can reflect light like the bright light from the mirror in a way that’s kind of harsh. I made a note to use more diffused light when the subject is shiny.

fp101-2-06 Foil on egg.jpg

I switched to the aluminum foil, bouncing the light onto the eggs a bit.

fp101-2-07 Foil on Vampire.jpg

Then I bounced the aluminum foil light onto the vampire.

What I learned after reviewing the photos from Task 2 was that I preferred the less harsh bounced light from the aluminum foil, and it caused less obvious reflections off shiny objects like the chicken. However, the mirror provided more light (brighter) due to reflecting the source light more.

Task 3: Use a Black Background, Then White

I took the 2 pieces of black foamcore and set them up with one for the background and one under the subject. This worked pretty well, actually.

fp101-2-08 Black no bounce.jpg

The first shot was just the subject with no bounced light. If anyone can guess the movie reference I loosely used for these shots, well, you watch bad movies too much (like me)!

fp101-2-09 Black Foil.jpg

In this shot, I bounced light with the foil held back a bit farther, but I did notice some of the shadows were lessened on the right.

fp101-2-10 Black Mirror.jpg

In the 2nd black background shot, I used the mirror, again held back a bit farther. The shadows are less prominent then the previous shot, without the bounced light overdoing it.

fp101-2-11 Foil Close.jpg

I thought the reflections off the eggs were sharper than I wanted, so I used the foil again, but moved a lot closer with it. I think the results were a bit nicer than with the mirror, as the shadows are lessened, but there’s less of a reflection point off the eggs on the right.

fp101-2-12 White Mirror.jpg

Then I switched to white foamcore for the base and background. I noticed he whole shot showed brighter this way. Trying to get rid of the harsher reflections, I tried bounding light off the mirror from further away, which ended up not helping the shot much.

fp101-2-13 White Foil.jpg

So then I switched to the foil, but moved in closer. The softer light didn’t reflect too harshly, and the shadows were lessened a bit.

fp101-2-15 White Close White.jpg

For the next shot, I got rid of both the mirror and foil, and I moved the white foamcore on the right into the shot more, much closer to the subject. This actually did a great job of lessening the shadows and had no reflection off the eggs at all. This was my favorite shot of this series. I got the idea to do this from the pears I did in Lesson 1, when I got an accidental reflection off one pear to lessen shadows on another.

fp101-2-16 White show Foil.jpg

The last shot of this lesson for me was more foil, but I moved it in really close. I didn’t realize at first that my hand and foil got in the shot, but I left it to show kind of behind-the-scenes of what I was doing. I like the result, but I think it may actually have taken too much of the shadow out of the shot, though I’m going to play with this a bit more.


This was kind of fun to do, and I forced myself to do some things I knew would help with lighting. There’s a whole lot more to do, but I now have some very basic methods of improving my lighting without much hassle or cost!

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About Curt McAdams

I guess I'm a bit of a foodie, learning to cook from my mom, then getting obsessed with outdoor cooking, competition barbecue, bread baking and just about all things food. Lately, I've been trying to upgrade my photography skills a bit, though I still have a long way to go.

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  1. I’m jealous of all your light modifiers. I was able to pick up a piece of white foam board (I went searching for some after reading your post) at the craft store and I put some tinfoil around some cardboard to use as a reflector, but sometimes they are difficult to work with because the white foam board is too big and the tinfoil one is too small. The only mirror I have in the house is a huge full length one. I’m sure my equipment will fill out over time though.

  2. Michelle, I used whatever I could find to prop things up, the backs of chairs, boxes behind, etc. For the mirror, I used my wife’s makeup mirror on a stand, and the foil had a ball of foil that it would rest against. It was cheap and easy, really. I need to add some mylar screens, though, to soften the light a bit, too.

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