Making A Mini Studio

As you've probably noticed, I've been posting a lot of food photos lately. It turns out that if you want a food photo that's nicer than your typical Instagram shot you'll need to put some thought into it. I made one attempt at a food shot by just winging it and the photo was horrible. So I had to put some more thought into it.  

I've been a longtime listener of the This Week In Photo podcast and one of the regular contributors is the very talented food photographer Nicole S. Young, so I bought her book.  Her book is full of great tips and ideas, but also assumes that the reader has a tabletop to work with, I clearly don't. So what I had to do was take her setup ideas and adapt them to the tiny truck.

When selecting the gear to shoot with I had to make several compromises. First off, I still have to be able to get the shot, otherwise this whole process is pointless.

Next up, the gear has to be small enough to store it out of the way. We don't have much storage space and every little bit counts.

And last, it still has to be fairly small when setup. Karen has to be able to cook with the entire thing setup. She needs far more room to work with than I do if we want the food to look and taste great. 

So follow along in the captions as I setup the mini studio. Sometimes I make small changes, but the general idea is the same for each shoot.

This is the space I have to work with. It's dark and the quality of the light is poor so I setup the camera to block out all of the interior light and rely on my flashes.

This is the space I have to work with. It's dark and the quality of the light is poor so I setup the camera to block out all of the interior light and rely on my flashes.

The first thing I do is create my big back light. This light simulates the beautiful indirect sunlight you would normally get from a north facing kitchen or dining room window. I use a LumoPro LP160 flash mounted to a Cactus V5 radio trigger hanging from a tiny GorilaPod that I close into the top of the passenger window. I face the flash to to window and prop this chunk of white foam core art board in there to bounce the light back into the truck.  By setting the flash at its widest zoom setting and bouncing back into the truck I'm making the light source appear bigger and softer.  

The first thing I do is create my big back light. This light simulates the beautiful indirect sunlight you would normally get from a north facing kitchen or dining room window.

I use a LumoPro LP160 flash mounted to a Cactus V5 radio trigger hanging from a tiny GorilaPod that I close into the top of the passenger window. I face the flash to to window and prop this chunk of white foam core art board in there to bounce the light back into the truck. 

By setting the flash at its widest zoom setting and bouncing back into the truck I'm making the light source appear bigger and softer.  

I picked up this folding 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser on sale for $44 last summer. I wedge it between the seat and door. The light from the flash bounces around between it and the foam core board. As you can see, it creates a giant soft back light using nearly no space in the truck.  If I had the room to setup reflectors around the food then this one light would be enough. But since my space is so small I need to add another light.  

I picked up this folding 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser on sale for $44 last summer. I wedge it between the seat and door. The light from the flash bounces around between it and the foam core board. As you can see, it creates a giant soft back light using nearly no space in the truck. 

If I had the room to setup reflectors around the food then this one light would be enough. But since my space is so small I need to add another light.  

To fly this umbrella over the seat I use a Manfrorto Super Clap and Magic Arm. The clamp attaches to the lip on an open storage space and I use a second LumoPro flash and Cactus to trigger it. The shoot through umbrella is the bi-fold unit found in the Strobist kits at Midwest Photo Exchange. These umbrellas are cheap to replace and fold up really small for storage and portability.  

To fly this umbrella over the seat I use a Manfrorto Super Clap and Magic Arm. The clamp attaches to the lip on an open storage space and I use a second LumoPro flash and Cactus to trigger it. The shoot through umbrella is the bi-fold unit found in the Strobist kits at Midwest Photo Exchange. These umbrellas are cheap to replace and fold up really small for storage and portability.  

Here I set a cutting board on the seat to use as my working surface. You can see that the light is significantly better than when I started.  

Here I set a cutting board on the seat to use as my working surface. You can see that the light is significantly better than when I started.  

Here I setup a couple more reflectors on the sides. I use these to help gather my light and fill in the shadows. The reflectors are just cheap foam core art board that you can buy for a few dollars a sheet at any Walmart, Fred Meyer or art and crafts store.  At this point I also grab a random object and use it as a test model while to set my exposure with. In this example I'm using salsa given to me by a friend. My settings are set in manual mode and typically fall around ISO 100, f/8 @1/200th with daylight white balance and "standard" picture style. The flashes usually land around 1/16 to 1/64 power. I use the histogram and "blinkies" as my exposure guides, getting it as bright as I can without overexposing it. 

Here I setup a couple more reflectors on the sides. I use these to help gather my light and fill in the shadows. The reflectors are just cheap foam core art board that you can buy for a few dollars a sheet at any Walmart, Fred Meyer or art and crafts store. 

At this point I also grab a random object and use it as a test model while to set my exposure with. In this example I'm using salsa given to me by a friend.

My settings are set in manual mode and typically fall around ISO 100, f/8 @1/200th with daylight white balance and "standard" picture style. The flashes usually land around 1/16 to 1/64 power. I use the histogram and "blinkies" as my exposure guides, getting it as bright as I can without overexposing it. 

As you can see here, this setup creates some wonderful soft light that totally wraps around the subject. There are nice, evenly lit, highlights and you can still see the texture.  

As you can see here, this setup creates some wonderful soft light that totally wraps around the subject. There are nice, evenly lit, highlights and you can still see the texture.  

To mix things up some I have a selection of inexpensive pieces of cloth to lay down and use as a tablecloth. I try to find complimentary colors or a pleasing pattern.  

To mix things up some I have a selection of inexpensive pieces of cloth to lay down and use as a tablecloth. I try to find complimentary colors or a pleasing pattern.  

You can see here that a simple piece of material can change the look and feel of the photo quite a bit.  

You can see here that a simple piece of material can change the look and feel of the photo quite a bit.  

So there you have it, a fairly basic and easy to setup studio for the truck. I'm sure that as time goes by I'll come up with some creative ideas to mix thing up a bit.