Tips and Tricks for a Budget Shoot


Food Photography


Lesson Info

Tips and Tricks for a Budget Shoot

What we're gonna tackle here, and this is a little bit more of the kind of where we're just gonna have a little fun here. We've gone over a lot of different things, but a lot of people are consistently asking me, "What am I gonna do about low light "in my kitchen, in my dining room? "I wanna be able to shoot at home. "I wanna have some tips that will help me "bring more light to my table." And then, after that, we're gonna talk a little bit about the same problem when you're in a restaurant trying to take pictures with your smartphone. And we'll actually do a couple of those. And I have a couple of slides that we can talk about the difference between what just simple tips can do to make those better. So the first things I wanna talk about is some of this kinda low-budget gear. Some of it you're already familiar with from yesterday. I talked about these flags, this company is called RoadRags and they have this kit where you can put these together and I showed you these yesterday. And th...

ey're really helpful, and you can clamp them to a stand. They're not very expensive, you could take them with you. Especially if you're gonna do some stuff when you're on vacation or whatever. You can carry these around, you can throw 'em in your luggage, they're really light. It's a cool setup, too, because they break down. And you saw me struggle with it the other day, but that's only 'cause that was brand new. So you don't have to worry about that. But then again, we talked about gaffer's tape, and gaffer's tape, again, is not really expensive. It's something you should always keep around because you can use it for a lot of different things. And you'll see, when I get to setting this up, why that's important. All the little cards and all the little reflectors that we talked about, and even the little discs, the little light discs. But you don't need the small light discs, because you don't need to spend the money on them if you don't want it or you don't have it, and that's okay. But you can find little pieces of cardboard or little pieces of foam core, and those can be really helpful. The clamps, we talked about the clamps, right? These are good to have in different sizes. They help stand up the little boards. You clip your things onto stands and lights and different things. These are great, they're really helpful. And this is the other thing I wanted to talk about, 'cause this is sort of the key to the low-budget lighting on the indoors. This is just a clamp light. So this has a little clamp on the bottom, and you can clip it onto things. Now if you have a light stand, or something like a light stand, that can stand next to your table, you have the opportunity to just do something like this, and it's gonna hold. It's basically like a work light. It's really inexpensive, but what I've put inside of the work light is a photoflood. This is made by a company called Eiko. And basically, this blue bulb, it looks really funny. Even when you turn it on, it throws a really kinda blue-green light. But for whatever reason, these are, when you're in camera, they look very much like daylight. So this is a really nice, inexpensive. Now these only have about a six hour life to them, so when you're playing with them, leave 'em on when you're shooting, turn 'em off when you're not, and they run a little hot. So you have to kinda be careful with them. But with these little clamp-on lights, which you can get at any hardware store I'm pretty sure, you could see that the interior of them is reflective. So any light that's in here is gonna throw a nice wide swath of light. And honestly, you can pretty much afford to buy a couple of 'em, and you can practice the difference between where you move them. You can have 'em at different heights. You can have 'em on different sides of the table. You can create light and shadow. Or you can practice like a single light source by putting a couple of them together, because they're not super powerful. But what I like to do with these also is, you have the opportunity when your light bulbs are in these things, and you don't have to use these, you can use fluorescent, you can use anything that's gonna throw light on the subject. Because remember what we talked about with white balance correction. You can make really significant corrections when you shoot in RAW, and you can slide that over and brighten it up, even if it's really orange or really blue. So one of the other things I like to do is if the light is a little too harsh for me, this kinda plastic sheeting and stuff I buy at a plastic shop, there's a lot of different versions of stuff like this, but the thing about this is it doesn't melt that easily. So when I wrap it around, I'll cut a piece of it and I'll wrap it around here, and I'll either clamp it on or I'll tape it to this with gaffer's tape, because gaffer's tape can take the heat. And it'll diffuse the light even further. So it gives me the opportunity to manage the light in a couple different ways. Now, depending on how much equipment you have at home, and if you wanna do things like this, this and this essentially do the same thing. You can pop this in front of here on another stand or clamp it on, and this is, again, throwing that softer, whiter light on the subject. It's diffusing it, it's knocking down your harsh shadows, and it's knocking down your harsh highlights. It's balancing out your light. So you have this, and then, what we try to do is build around it. This is a smaller version of what we called the V-flat yesterday when we built this. And you can keep something like this in your home. It doesn't necessarily have to be this huge, but quite honestly, you could slide that under a bed. You could stick it behind a door, possibly. You could throw it in the garage. Depends on what kinda space you have. I mean, if I was able to keep things like this in my space in New York for years, you could do it, too, 'cause my space was the equivalent of a little cubbyhole. So, I'm not gonna leave this up for now, because I want everyone to be able to see what I'm doing, but you get the idea that I'm here, I'm still here. And the same thing goes true for these as well. When you're in your home studio. So we had the V-flat there, we can always kinda build out a little bit here. These can be on a stand. They could be held by somebody, if you're working with somebody. Young children are really good for this, 'cause they'll hold it and you still won't see them. (students laugh) So, you set up your table, you have bounce cards, you have your light, it's easily diffusible. And now you have a home studio setup as something that you could work with. Now, even if you're working in your kitchen and you don't have room for stands and all these other things, that's what's great about these clamp lights, is you can clamp 'em onto your kitchen cabinets. You can open the cabinet up and clamp it right and put it right over your stove. Clamp it onto the hood over the stove, so you wanna shoot something right on the stove. It gives you a lot of opportunities. And because, like I said, we have so much flexibility with the digital file that we shoot, we have a lot of opportunities to create a low-budget quick setup, opportunity to do things in your home before you're a professional, or even when you're professional, because you might wanna capture something and you never know how good the file is gonna come out. So you give it a shot, you do the best you can to set up the lighting, you get a good file, and then you work with it in post and you see how far you can push it before it starts to not look natural anymore. So a lot of these things you wanna push back a little bit. So even when these are up, for me, even when I have the table set up and these are all there, I still may put smaller ones in on the table closer to objects, because I might wanna push specific amounts of light back onto the subject. So if i wanted to put something right back in here on the pizza, I can bounce some specific light right there. Or, if I wanted something a little sharper, I could go to that silver fill card where, now, I'm creating a highlight by doing something like that. And you can actually see it right there. You can see how that has pushed a considerable amount of light right onto that. And even though this is providing a bigger, wider amount of light, this is providing a specific point of light. And again, none of this is super expensive. The clamps, the bulbs, the gaffer's, the cards, these clamp lights, maybe a stand, some more foam core to make V-flats and to make bigger cards, you're talking about under $100. So, there are solutions out there. Do you wanna shoot your client's cookbook this way? No, but the reality is that you might wanna shoot your dinner this way. And if you're a blogger, you might be able to really work with this and get some significant help. The other thing you could do, now, we talked about the V-flat, right? Which is help in a daylight situation. But what you can do with these things as well is I have daylight here on my right, coming in from the right. I can move this around to the other side of the table and create a fill light. It doesn't have to match the light exactly. All it has to do is provide a little bit of pushback. So let's say that there's not enough light to really push back strong, but the ambient light in the room is okay. This can provide a little bit of fill light as well. So you can use it as a principle light, as your prime light, but you'll probably also have the opportunity to use it as a fill light. And then depending on how bright it is, you can control it just by pulling it away from your table. Diffusing it maybe even several times to make sure it's what you want. But I don't think the power of these bulbs is such that they're gonna throw so much light on your subject that you're gonna have a problem diffusing the light. If anything, they may not be powerful enough and you might wanna add multiples. So you have a couple of 'em, and you could put 'em in different places. So that one is helping me on the back side. Say we're in the dark now, we're at home and it's nighttime. These will probably help push out a good portion of the light that's in the room. The ambient light, from your overheads or whatever. So if I have one here, and I have one back there, I may start to create that same flow that we have with the daylight idea, where the light's coming in from the right across the table, sweeping down and trailing off to shadow. Where, if you don't have the fill, it may just drop off too hard. But this one might help, the left one might help let it drift off more naturally, where you have that nice, easy, directional light. So, the concepts of understanding and manipulating light can be applied whether you are using extraordinarily expensive lighting equipment, like on a movie set, daylight, which comes for free, or even something like this, where you can set it up. It's still better than the light that you have in your home, and it's something that you can manipulate a little bit more easily than whether you were just shooting in an environment where you have no control over the light, or bouncing the light isn't really doing enough for the food. And the fact that these are balanced a little differently, and the light that's coming off them is a little closer to the Kelvin scale number that you're comfortable with, it may not be 52, but it may be 38. And that's certainly better than the lower end. So you still don't have to push as far in post-production. So I think this is a really simple setup. And there's a couple different ways you could do it. I've seen people do everything. I've seen people use their lamps, take the shade off. Any time when you can get practice with manipulating light, whether it be just daylight out in the yard or setting up lights and lamps and everything else, you're honing your skills as a photographer. You're practicing the manipulation of light. It doesn't have to be expensive to do that, and it's important to understand that because I think a lot of people are under the misconception that unless I can afford professional equipment, I cannot make professional images. And, like I said, you may not want to try to sell those to an advertiser, but the reality is that there can be still quality images that you're proud of, that are commensurate with your level of experience, and show that you're growing as an artist. So when you do these things, be mindful and don't be self-conscious about it, just do it. Just do whatever's comfortable. If you can afford this, then do this the best you can do it. Don't worry about whether or not it's the right thing or the wrong thing. At the end of the day, there is no right and wrong in photography when it comes to the final product. If you can make a final product that you're proud of and that other people think is beautiful, then you've done your job. And you're on your way to being able to do it with professional equipment, with help. And quite honestly, when I first started as a photographer, I didn't have any help. And by doing it that way and learning every aspect of what I do, and trying to create light different ways, it became progressively easier as my jobs got harder. Because then, I could delegate things to other people because I understood what their job is. And this is one of 'em, ya know, a lot of jobs and a lot of photographers have lighting techs, their assistants handle their lighting for them. They say, "I want it to look this way." And the assistant goes, "Okay." And they go and they light the job for them. So the idea is, once you have the understanding, sometimes you don't even have to do it yourself anymore. Basically you tell and teach other people how to do it for you. And that, again, is about the progression of becoming from an amateur to a starting early professional to somebody who has graduated to the point where you're making a really good living doing this job. So don't be afraid to do things cheap, it's worth it. So do we have any questions that are about what I just did, about the setup and what we're talking about? Darius Design wanted to confirm or ask, "Are you using the 500 watt or the 2500 watts?" On this bulb? On those bulbs, yeah. That's a good question, I didn't buy them (chuckles). I'm not sure, I have to look on the bulb. This is active participation. 500. Awesome. They say 4800 Kelvin on them, just so you know. That's pretty remarkable for a little bulb like that. And the fact that it's blue like that is very bizarre. But honestly, it's weird, the first time I shot with them I was really surprised by just how great the pictures looked in camera. From what you see with your naked eye, to what the camera reads, to how the sensor reads it, it was remarkable, because it makes the white judgment, the white balance correction, and it looks great. Yeah, Kristen? I actually do have a question. A minute ago you mentioned that you wouldn't shoot a paying client's stuff like this. But at what level is it appropriate to use lower budget equipment for paying clients? Well, I would say that you'd have to judge as how well you're able to manipulate this to make it look as good as it could. I think that you have to have the critical eye on your own work to say, "I'm not comfortable "giving this to a client," or "I am." And I think once you've mastered a technique that you're comfortable with, and you feel confident that that's good enough, then I think that's the watermark that you're looking for. Leah, you had a question? I do, yes. So, do you, when you're using these, do you turn off all of the ambient lighting within the house that's not 48? It wouldn't hurt, but you need a modeling light, then. Because you won't be able to focus the camera. So you might wanna leave enough light on in the room where this is overpowering that light. But if you don't have enough light on the subject, and in strobe technology, in the way we use strobes, they have what's called a modeling light, which is a little pinpoint of light that's on the table that the strobes are gonna push out as soon as they fire. You need that to focus the camera. So I would say just enough light to see, and then be able to manipulate and play and move it around to see if you're gonna get what you want. Okay, thank you. Sure. Andrew, there are so many questions coming in now, very specific questions about the bulbs and the stands. Everybody wants to make a shopping list, huh? They all want to make a shopping list. Where do you get the foam core? So we'll just ask a couple of them if that's okay with you. Yeah, sure. All right. Smoothie, who is Maya from Israel, asks, "Is there any way to make your own bluish light bulb "if you don't have access to such equipment?" Like I said earlier, I don't think it's necessary to buy this specific equipment, it's just these are things that I'm familiar with that I know are relatively inexpensive. You can order them online, and I'm pretty sure they have the Internet anywhere that people are writing in from, so you can order them online really easily. These in particular are made by a company named Eiko that make lots of different light bulbs. But you can also use those curly ones, those curly white ones, those are pretty cool. They don't throw as much light, so you have to use more of them. And actually, I have one that I bought at a photo store that is that big, and I have it in one of these. And it throws just enough light to give me what I want. So it's between that and your camera settings, you should be able to work it out where these give you enough light. Cool, and Snappy Gourmet asks, "What would be your suggested next steps "after this type of lighting good for food, "soft boxes or umbrellas?" Oh, soft boxes, yeah. I think that any multiple diffusion devices, where you're able to pop a strobe head through some kind of a diffusion and then have the ability to diffuse it again, sometimes that's the best way to go about it. We're, at some point, hopefully gonna do some more of this and talk about advanced techniques in lighting for food, because there's a lot to talk about when it comes to lighting food artificially, because it's a whole 'nother skillset. And there's a lot of things that you can do. This is lighting food artificially. When we start talking about using hot lights and strobes and soft boxes and umbrellas and silks and all kinds of things, this is days more of information. Thank you. Great. Okay, so we've conquered the idea that we can, oh, is this plugged in now? See? So it does throw a decent amount of light. And then, like I said, you could start to diffuse it, or kinda pull it in and out and give it. You never notice, though, when you use these things, right? And that's what's nice about the ones that you can move around, that when it's here, it throws a certain amount of light. And when it's here, it's different. And as you move it closer or further away, it changes the light direction. And when it changes the light direction, it gives you the opportunity to see it differently. It's worth it to have, not just kinda tented off sometimes, but it's worth it to have the ability to move it around. So, either a big light disc, or you can even make a frame with this stuff that we showed before, a little wooden frame or something. And you can use that as well, as a diffusion device. So there's way to make things on your own where you don't have to spend a lot of money, or you don't have access to a camera shop, or you're not quite sure how to do that stuff online. That's fine, because these things can be DYI a little bit, you could do a little DYI with this. It's a good method, and again, you can, the thing that's nice about these is they're so light and easy to move around, that you can all of a sudden change your lighting angle and get something dramatically different. And you could see the differences as I play with it. And depending on what you put in front of it, there's different thicknesses of this stuff, and it'll knock down the light. When they make silks, you could see how that's different. When they make silks, the big things that you put on frames, they make 'em by stops. So when you put a silk up, it's a 2-stop silk or a 3-stop silk, and that basically refers to the fact that, that's way too loud. So the silk itself will knock down the light either half a stop, a stop, two stops, whatever. So that's kinda the same thing I'm doing here, right? I'm using different thicknesses of opaque fabric. I've seen people use paper on the window, ya know, put paper up on the window. There's lots of different low-budget techniques that you can use to manipulate light. The best thing about that is that, for the most part, once you master the sun, the rest of this all kinda fits together for you. 'Cause you start to see the light, you could start to, "Um, see the light." When you start to see the light, you can manipulate it better. But until you start to see how light plays on things and understand that the source is coming this way and we can move it and bend it and shape it, then these things become easier to play with. Because you understand that if I have the light here, what is that mimicking in life? What is that mimicking if I put it up nice and high, if I put it low, if I'm sweeping it across? It's all different, and you're manipulating it the way you want it. So it's important to experiment. I must've said the word experiment about 50 times the last few days, but it's important to understand that that's part of this process, is experimentation.

Class Description

Learn how to break into the world of professional food photography with the world-renowned commercial photographer, stylist, and NY Times columnist Andrew Scrivani. During this mouth-watering workshop, Andrew will introduce students of all levels to the essential food photography tips, lighting, styling techniques, gear, shooting styles, post-production processes, and fundamental business principles needed to turn your hobby into your dream job.

Using his wealth of experience gleaned from working with industry-leading magazines and cookbook publishers, Andrew will take you step-by-step through the basics of recipe selection, food prep, and prop styling. On the second day of the workshop, Shauna Ahern (of Gluten Free Girl blog and book fame) will join Andrew to chat about food blogging, recipe writing, and how you can use food photography to make a beautiful blog that will grow your audience.

Whether you are a seasoned professional photographer looking to expand your skillset, or a novice holding nothing more than a smartphone, this workshop will provide you with the strategies, tips, and techniques needed to stand out, and land that delicious food photography job.


Kalissa Tozzi

This course shares great knowledge and information on food photography for people interested in doing this as a profession or as a hobby. I always had a curiosity to learn more about the topic because I love cooking and I love photography, but I had no idea about what it entailed. I think Andrew does a great job in covering the details of what food photography is all about for people who are new to it. He covers all the basics, and gives a very good foundation for students to take the next step (either to build a business or just have fun). Andrew comes across very humble, friendly and motivating which makes watching the videos and learning much more enjoyable and less intimidating.