It’s Not An Instagram Filter: Creating On-Camera Effects with Andrew Scrivani

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In a digital world where Photoshop, Lightroom, and other software programs are used to enhance and manipulate, we often lose sight of how difficult it is to capture certain effects using just your camera. It’s commonplace to look at a photo, wonder “How did he or she take that?” and conclude that they must have enhanced it in Photoshop. The full-color photograph above, shot by world-renowned tabletop and food photographer Andrew Scrivani, is one that has practically zero work done in post production. No filters. No major lighting manipulations.


To find out how he made it happen, we asked Andrew to take us step-by-step through both his shooting techniques and thought process.

The Set Up

The key to this image, or any image for that matter, is having the right light. Here, Andrew employed the Arri Fresnel 150, a light perfect for creating powerful spotlights. “I took the light and put a snoot on it, then adjusted the snoot to the smallest aperture or hole,” says Andrew. Applying the snoot gave Andrew a narrow, intense spotlight, but it was not quite small enough, Andrew explains, adding, “To make an even smaller beam of light, I wrapped cinefoil around the outside of the snoot.” The result could be described as a “dot” of light. Andrew then extended the light on a boom arm and hung it over the area where he planned to place the glass.

Next, Andrew built his shooting table using a piece of black plexiglas and a layer of glass. “I placed the black plexi under the glass and placed my glass on that surface after checking to make sure that everything was clean and spotless.” With his glass, table, and light in place, Andrew had one more element to consider — the background. He opted for a basic   foam core and placed it behind the table. “The tricky part is finding out how far away the background should be from the table. If you place it directly on the table, chances are you aren’t going to get the results you want.” The reason this step is so important is because the light source, which as we know is a small dot, is to be aimed at the background, not at the glass itself. Aiming it at the subject would cause unwanted glare and shadows. “The light on the boom travels over the glass and is just shining light on the wall behind the glass which avoids unwanted shadows.” Placing the foam core 6-8 inches behind his shooting table gave Andrew the effect he wanted. “ By aiming the light at the background, I was able to get the light to bounce off of it, through the glass and onto the plexi.”

Andrew mounted his camera on a tripod directly in front of his subject. He used a cable release to avoid unnecessary movement.

Shooting the Image

Here, you can see Andrew’s final shot before post-production work. Notice how he takes out the prism effect.

With everything set up the way he wanted it, the shooting process was a game of trial and error. In the end, Andrew found that setting his aperture at 8, his ISO at 100, and his exposure at around 3 seconds, yielded the best results. “I wanted it to highlight the halo above the glass and make the entire image as crisp as possible. That meant shooting at 100 and shooting at 100 with that lighting setup always calls for a tripod and cable release.”

Post Production

The only things Andrew changed in Photoshop were minimal dust, highlight, and glare spots — that’s it. “The cleaner your products are during the shoot, the fewer touch ups you will need to make in Photoshop,” Andrew says. “I spent a total of 5 minutes on this in post-pro.”

To find out more lighting and tabletop tip photography tips, be sure to catch Andrew’s course January 16-18. Also, make sure to check Andrew out on Instagram and Twitter.

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Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.