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Breakfast Cereal

We don’t do a lot of editorial work, but sooner or later (mostly later), what’s happening in the world of editorial food photography makes its way into commercial photography. And that is what’s happening now with commercial photographers and their clients, who are finally embracing a trend toward more natural-looking food shots, in terms of both styling and lighting. So being able to re-create natural looking light in the studio can be a good skill to acquire.

That is what we were presented with on this assignment: The art director wanted us to make the subject look natural and not overly lit.

Technique

A bowl of cereal without milk wouldn’t be very appetizing, but that doesn’t mean you’re selling the milk—you’re selling the crispy flakes, and using real milk might make them soggy or cause them to sink. That is why in many of the cereal images you see, it’s not milk at all—it’s glue. And not always glue; sometimes it’s Wildroot Hair Tonic, a perennial favorite among food stylists.

Bowls of cereal are also regularly styled by filling the bowl with a base of instant mashed potatoes and then pressing the flakes into that base. This technique will keep everything in place while you wait for your client’s approval. Once everyone is happy with the placement of the flakes and any inclusions, like almonds or granola, it’s time to add the “milk.” Just make sure to cover all the mashed potatoes.

Lighting

For this image, the lighting was based on what I had learned at the restaurant when I was taking pictures of my lunch. One light aimed at a couple pieces of foamcore to simulate the window light, and one light aimed at the back wall for overall fill. I did add a few small mirrors—one to illuminate the top of the cereal, and one to brighten the shadow side of the bowl. You can see the reflection of the mirror on top of the front blueberry. It helps the definition of the blueberry and keeps the shadows on the flakes from getting too dark.

part02_05fig04.jpg

arrow2.jpg Here is the lighting arrangement for the cereal image.

Power settings (watts per second): A=94, B=285

Image Post-Production

You can always add more milk. That’s why it’s better to capture images in stages, rather than wait to make your first exposure until you have just a little too much.

We go even further, capturing the image just before the milk is added. That way if the stylist mistakenly gets milk on a flake that we wanted to be dry, we don’t have to start over; we can just use the Clone tool in Photoshop to bring back the dry flake using the previous image.

For the cereal image, we captured the milk at a variety of levels. The first shot was the overall winner, but we liked that there was milk visible in front of the flake on the second shot. So we copied that area into the final image.

part02_05fig05.jpg

arrow2.jpg RIGHT I accidently discovered the beautiful light that was waiting for me at my front door.

ISO 100, 1/4 sec, f/3.5, 50mm lens on Canon DSLR

Food Stylist: Jacqueline Buckner

part02_05fig06.jpg

arrow2.jpg LEFT Here is an additional capture of mushrooms in a similar composition.

ISO 100, 1/4 sec, f/3.5, 50mm lens on Canon DSLR

Food Stylist: Jacqueline Buckner

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