LOCATION FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY – DIRK BOSHOFF
A while ago on shoot in Mozambique I experimented with a quick and simple, yet effective food lighting set-up using some of my old Nikon SB800 flashes. Although I prefer the control and versatility of studio lights, in this case we had to travel light and this was not going to an option. So we opted for just taking the SB 800’s, some triggers and a reflector/diffuser and hoping for the best.
In many cases I tend to revert to one of favourite lighting set-ups as it is reliable and quick. Often speed and efficiency is more important than being too pedantic or perfectionist. It’s a “Key and Kicker” set-up.
To do this you create a main light, or the “Key” for which you will be exposing for. The key light is set in such a way as to flood most of the foreground with diffused, even light.
The “Kicker” is set up off in the background with either a snoot or honeycomb of sorts to avoid lens flare. The kicker is almost a must have in food photography to give a bit of a glisten to the food. This is good to ensure that the food doesn’t look too dried out. It is always a good idea to also have a spray bottle, a small paintbrush and some olive oil to shine up some of the food when the shots are taking a bit long and the food starts drying out.
In the examples below, almost all were shot with a polarizer to manage the skies and since a polarizer will reduce glare off any non-metallic surface it works wonders on the salad leaves and the plates. Most of the exposures are in the same general range when we were working with flash. The process was to try and balance the exposure on the food (the flash) against the backgrounds (often full sun). It is often easier to start you calculations on the ambient exposure as this you cannot manipulate much.
Here is one of the calculations to help you along:
- Full sun exposure using sunny 16 rule: 100 ISO, f16@1/125th
- If we wanted to shoot using f5.6 for Depth of Field the exposure would be 100 ISO, f5.6 @ 1/1000th, we chose to rather shoot on 250th as this was the maximum we could get the radio triggers to sync with the camera. So we have 3 stops too much light….
- The Polariser we were using reduced the exposure by 2 stops, we dropped the ISO to 50 and we are at correct exposure for ambient at this point.
- The GN of the Nikon SB 800 flash is 38, remember GN = Aperture X Distance.
- If we wanted the kicker light to be a touch brighter than the ambient to give us white, clipping highlights we would need to be a stop brighter and the Key needs to be equal to the ambient.
- I am working from an unhealthy mix of experience and memory, but the kicker was at around 1,7 meters from the food, so this means that if we used the flash on full power we would have got an Aperture of around f22, compensate for the 50 ISO, that makes it f16, compensate for the Polariser (another 2 stops). That makes it f8, one stop over the ambient, ideal for a kicker.
- The key light in the front was a lot closer at around 1 meter, but once it had passed through the diffuser we lost another 1,5 stops. So we are down 4,5 stops (50 ISO:1, Polariser:2, Diffuser:1,5). If we shot all full power on the front flash at 1 meter the required aperture would be f38, if we reduce this by 4.5 stops we are at around f8. But we want this to be the same as the ambient light at 5.6, so all we do is reduce the output of the flash to around half power. Done…
Some of the shots were done in shade and partly cloudy conditions, but the calculations just change for the ambient light.
Take a look, hope you like it.