Food photography … on the fly | Montreal Event Photographer


As much as you plan, as much as you discuss with a client, as a working professional, you always need to be able to deal with any situation.  And that is sometimes easier said than done.

Backstory:  I was hired for a high profile food trade show to cover presentations, preparations, over 25 vendor stalls and some other things for 2 days.  There were over 1000 vendors from all continents in a pretty huge space, my client was pretty much Spain.  We discussed rates, we discussed needs, I had them send me the important images and made myself available on the spot for any unknowns (such as the Spanish ambassador coming in from Ottawa unannounced).  They asked if I was free a day before for another event, at 8:30am, in a local restaurant.  Weird I figured, a little early for an event, but hey, things were running pretty fast so no worries.

I show up at the restaurant and it was basically me and a local tapas.  “It’s just you and me” she told me.  Here I was with my event photography kit, which isn’t really the same as my food photography kit.  Unprepared?  Well, I always have enough gear to pull off pretty much anything, but don’t always lug around a full mobile studio.  No time to head home and grab more gear as they needed the images by 1pm to be used (among other things) for the press… so time to make the best with what we have!  The client showed up, after validating their needs and discussing image usage and new rates, we went off photographing the plates.

I don’t have a blog to only show case what is awesome in my job, but if I find lacks and misses and it can help someone else, then up the blog post goes! 🙂

What was I missing from my food photography kit that I don’t have in an event coverage kit?  I don’t have any lights.  I don’t have a tripod.  I don’t have a reflector and I don’t have a macro lens.  So here’s what I did:


The tripod ensures that the photo can be taken at very slow shutter speeds, at low ISO (higher image quality), at a smaller aperture… basically, a cleaner and sharper image.

  • Today’s cameras can go to decent high ISO without any image quality degradation.  So let’s boost that up a bit (I went up to ISO 400-800) to ensure a faster shutter speed.
  • Let’s move some items closer to my setup so I can use them to stabilize the camera … a bar stool, another table, a box.  Add the 2 second timer to trigger the shutter, and you have no camera shake.
  • Double and triple check focus on your LCD.  Not just looking at the image, but zooming in on the LCD to really see what is in focus as shooting at f/2.8 for that nice depth of field with such small subjects can be tricky to nail focus without a tripod,


When I mean no lights, I mean no lights of my own (strobes or continuous).  But I had the most wondrous of all lights available… the sun!

  • Re-arrange parts of the area for your setup so that you have a table with a nice top, a nice angle to use the restaurant as a backdrop and is also near a window
  • Look at the clouds and the sun outside.  A totally cloudy days is best as the clouds act like a softbox and make the light softer (less harsh shadows).  If the clouds will be moving, maybe find a different spot so you have consistent light.

My shoot lasted just under 4 hours.  While the most was done with clouds, the sun did peak out at some point.  Here is one of the images I took (composition is off, shadows too harsh) which I never sent the client.  Notice how pronounced the shadows are compared to the other images?  They are defined and obvious, which is NOT what I was looking for.  I love contrast in my show photos and portraits, but not with food.  Some yes.  This much?  Oh heck no.





A reflector is such a wonderful tool for natural light portraits and almost a must for food photography.  Lighting your food somewhat from the side will create some shadows (you do want some definition after all), having a reflector on the other side to bounce light back in to soften those shadows makes (personally) an overall more pleasant image.

  • Foam core is my go to product.  It can be cut and shaped as you need.  And it’s fairly cheap and re-usable.
  • No dollarama in sight?  I grabbed the white box the chef had used to bring in her food.  Not as reflective as the foam core or a disc reflector, but close enough, it bounces light back in for the effect I was looking for.

The image below (as most images) had the white box close to the side of the plate to bounce light back in and soften those shadows a bit.




Getting up close to food to really showcase the texture of the ingredients is a big plus in getting your client a variety of images.  All macro shots gets a bit redundant (like taking photos with only a fisheye lens or applying fugly selective colouring to baby photos.. .sorry… I really don’t like cliches like that 🙂 ).  And the bugger for me is that my 100mm f/2.8 macro lens is so beautifully sharp… it is actually one of my preferred lenses for portraits as well.

  • Creatively crop!  I’m not a fan of cropping products and food, but in a pinch, with today’s high resolution sensors, you can cut parts of the image to enhance the feel.  Check with your client before hand how the images will be used to ensure you can output the highest quality in the biggest format they need.
  • Many zoom lenses have a macro mode or macro capability.  While this is more of a marketing gimmick from lens manufacturers, it does mean that your lens will be able to grab focus while closer to the subject.  Not a true macro lens, but can do close ups in a pinch.  My go-to lens from pretty much anything I shoot is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II which does allow for closer focus.  With proper composition and using a bigger plate in the back of the smaller one to enhance the size difference, here is the result!



The whole point of this is that photography is not about gear and unloading 40k of technology at a client’s place.  Sure, some tech is needed to get your images, but it is mostly about knowing light and controlling it.  It is about knowing what you have and how to use it.  I had the client there with me and after a few images shown on the LCD, they were totally in love with the style and feel of the images.  Sure, there are shadows that bother me and things that aren’t perfect, but overall, I’m very pleased with the images.  And added bonus, I got props from the Spanish consulate on the images!

Unsure exactly what they were going to do with the images (their graphics person wasn’t available), I had to find a few styles for them and reproduce each style on each piece of food.  Ensuring that there was room for text (if they wanted some) but if they added no text, the image would stand on it’s own.

Here are some others from the series.










1 comment

  1. Once again Pierre you have done a great shoot… The results this time are even better than your normal work in my opinion… Hope all is well with you…


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