Two-Light Food Shoot Tutorial by Scott Kelby | KelbyOne

Welcome to the fifth post of my “Photo Recipes” column. When it comes to lighting, I’m one of those “less is more” guys and I try to get away with using as few lights as possible. In this tutorial, we’re going to do a two-light set for a food shoot, shot on location at the restaurant just after the lunch rush. We chose a dark corner in the back of the restaurant so we’d be out of the way.

Figure One

The first image is of the restaurant’s signature cocktail with an incredibly yummy burger as the backdrop. One of the benefits of a food shoot on location is that you often get to eat the “stunt food.” That’s the food you use to set up the lights and get your angles and such right. Then when everything looks good, you eat the stunt food and the kitchen brings out a perfectly prepared fresh one for the actual final shoot, and as soon as it’s done, you eat that one, too.

Two-Light Food Shoot Tutorial

Scott Kelby

Figure Two

Here’s the over-the-shoulder view of my shooting position where you can see the lighting setup. I’m using two Westcott Spiderlite TD6s, which are daylight-balanced continuous lights (they’re always on). These are my go-to lights for shoots like this (food shoots, product shoots, etc.) because being able to see the light as you position the subject makes lighting things like food really easy. Plus, they don’t get hot at all, so it doesn’t affect the food.

Two-Light Food Shoot Tutorial

The lights are positioned opposite of each other. The larger softbox is behind the food and to the side, which is actually the måain light (I try to get most of the light coming å behind for food shoots), and the smaller one is in front on the opposite side, providing some fill light. We put a large piece of white foam core behind the food as the background only because the wall of restaurant was so dark it just didn’t look good.

Even with these two decent-size softboxes, the front side of the food on the right was still a little dark, so we put a small 8×10″ piece of white foam core in front to bounce some of the light from the two softboxes back into the food to open up those shadow areas. You can also see I’m shooting tethered directly from the camera right into my laptop using Lightroom 4 (it has built-in tethering capabilities).

Figure Three

From this angle you get a better view of the white bounce card (foam core) on the right. You can also see the location setup, which makes use of one of the tables in the restaurant, pushed up against the wall with the large white foam core board in the background.

The food is sitting on two things we brought with us: At the bottom is a white tablecloth stretched tight over a piece of white foam core with gaffer’s tape on the back side so it’s really nice and flat. This is a trick I learned from Joe Glyda’s class on shooting food on Joe is amazing—he was Kraft Foods’ in-house photographer for years, and knows every trick in the book. On top of the stretched linen are two inexpensive 12×12″ pieces of shiny marble tile we bought at Home Depot because they do such a great job in creating reflections for product shoots.

Two-Light Food Shoot Tutorial

Figure Four

This is probably the best view to really see the position of the food relative to the lights, the bounce card, and my shooting position. I’m on a tripod with a Manfrotto three-head bar and a Tether Tools laptop table attached. You can also really see the tiles and the stretched tablecloth underneath.

Two-Light Food Shoot Tutorial

Figure Five

This shot shows the camera setup better, so I wanted to include it. I’m shooting a plate of ceviche, and you can see the lighting setup hasn’t changed, which is what’s great about this setup—it works for a lot of different foods. The one thing I did add for extra highlights is an inexpensive makeup mirror (the type you buy at your local Walgreens for $5) that sits on a small metal stand and tilts up and down. That way, you can tilt the mirror until the highlight falls exactly where you want it on your food (great tip I learned from famous food photographer, Lou Manna).

Two-Light Food Shoot Tutorial

Two-Light Food Shoot Tutorial

Camera Settings: This image was taken with a Nikon D3S and an old 70–180mm f/4.5–5.6 macro zoom lens, at a focal length of 135mm. The camera was set to ISO 200. (I generally try to shoot at the lowest ISO I can in the studio, and ISO 200 is native for most Nikons. At ISO 200, it delivers the cleanest, noise-free files. On a Canon camera, I’d shoot at ISO 100 instead for the best-quality files.)

In a studio setting, I normally shoot in Manual mode, but with continuous lights like this where I don’t have to worry about exceeding a sync speed for a studio flash, I shoot in Aperture priority and let the camera set the shutter speed. For this photo, it was 1/60, which on a tripod is no problem whatsoever. The f-stop was f/5.3, almost wide open. The reason I chose the lens I did was because of its insanely shallow depth-of-field, as seen in the final ceviche shot.


Food Photography is a specific field with some unique skills. Learn what you need here in these courses on KelbyOne by Nicole S. Young or this one by Joe Glyda. We have this great free video tutorial on PlanetPhotoshop   for how to add actions to your daily workflow to save you time on those often repeated steps.