Behind the Scenes – Shoot One:

Here are a LOT of behind the scenes photos from my first shoot with that Fabulous Food Stylist.

We used a local studio that provided ample space for us to spread out, but we even then we stuffed it to the gills with props and gear. And no, we didn’t use any of their lighting or camera gear. I prefer mine – I know it inside and out. 

Here’s a closer look at our mess….er,…. spread. 





Texture. Color. Patina. You seriously can’t ever have enough table space for props. LOL _CJP3931


Jennifer mixing something up…jen_bts_041

The Profoto Air transceiver – this little ditty is fabulous. I can control the output of several groups of lights from this little camera-top control. So far, it’s worked flawless for me. I have two of these babies – remember, you always need back-up when you’re working for a client. _CJP3788

Profoto D1 Air 250. I know there are a LOT of pros out there who want MORE POWER!!! Profoto offers the 500ws and the 1000ws D1 heads, but I opted for the 250. When I first started this little journey of putting together my own little kit, I actually bought the Profoto Acute 1200 kit with three heads. The problem was, it was too much power on the bottom end. I learned a might bit quick, I didn’t WANT all that power on the top end to shoot at f/16. I wanted that kiss of light on the bottom end so I could shoot at f/2 – maybe even lower.

After I bought the Acute kit, I remembered when Cory Howe and I were always trying to find ways “dump” power with an old set of Speedotrons. We used to run a head out into a dark corner, away from the set, aim it at the wall, and let it go. That allowed us to get main light down to a point were we could shoot at f/4. Even then, sometimes that wasn’t entirely what I wanted. LOL

Then Profoto introduced the D1 head. The D1 Air 250 allows me to shoot at 4ws if I need to. And that’s especially true if shooting my main light at 6-8ws, and I need a touch of fill using a 5 degree grid with a second light. 

Yup. There will be those who ask why I don’t just shoot with the speedlight (Nikon SB800?). 1) It runs on 4 AA batteries, which 2) makes recycle times ridiculously slow – even when plugged into a second 6-battery battery pack – or the batteries will eventually fry out. 3) The light spread in a big soft box doesn’t suit me. Add it all up, and I much prefer the “Big Lights”.

So for me, and my style of food photography, it’s not about nuking my set at 1200ws. It’s about that little kiss of light on the bottom end. …even from a big strobe.

Yes, there are less expensive Big Lights on the market. I’ll explain later why I prefer these over the others – but remember, it’s only a matter of personal preference. If you’re in the market for big lights, get what you like and what fits within your budget. _CJP3852

This was my computer set-up for the shoot. The 2013 1.7GHz i7 MacBook Air with 8GB of ram and the 512GB PCIe flash drive. I was using Capture One Pro 7 as my tethered shooting software – it’s flipping fabulous, and saved my files to a 500GB external slimline drive via the USB 3 port.

The file size of the D800E couldn’t choke the MacBook Air, so I had no worries about the D610. I also had a couple of Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 Desk Top speakers. Holy crap these speakers are sweet. _CJP3811


Please leave a comment or let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks for reading,


Lemon Strawberry Shortcake Dessert


The last of this series with Jennifer Janz –
A Fabulous Food Stylist

Gear used:
Nikon D610 with battery grip
Nikkor 85mm f/2 AIS <— Yeah! I love it that much.
Profoto D1 Air 250 with a 3×4 soft box <— there is SO much you can shoot with a single strobe.

Still looking a little rustic, we switched up the set and when soft white. More than any other photo from this series, I wanted this one to look like we were serving these desserts on a white farm table next to a big window. The soft white gives the overall feel a bit more a vintage farmhouse kind of feel without going over-the-top rustic.

This is also an instance where I couldn’t get everything absolutely perfect in camera, and I ended up doing a little simple retouching on the table for the final photo.

Behind the scenes photos:

1. Setting up the standing for lighting and composition

2. Testing the lighting and propping
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3. What about a more contrasty background and no spoon?
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4. Nope. Like the lighter background and it needs the spoon – Jennifer adds the first serving
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5. Tethered shooting so I can see what’s happening on screen – can make instant color corrections here

6. Add the second plating, check the lighting, composition, added a micro green garnish for a little color
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Note that diagonal line/shadow leading your eye to the second back serving. That was annoying, and that’s what I really had to take out. We also switched spoons for the final – it had to be less distracting so your focus remained where it should – on the hero. On the dessert. I’ll discuss the concept of the “Hero” as I get further into this blog. Just know every plating should have a “Hero” as a visual focal point.


Rigatoni + Grilled Summer Squash Ribbons

Final photo

This was another fun rustic editorial set with Food Stylist, Jennifer Jans –
A Fabulous Food Stylist

Camera Gear:

Yes! You read that right. I used an old vastly under appreciated manual focus Nikon 85mm f/2 AIS lens. This photo wasn’t captured with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AFS, nor the 85mm f/1.4 AFD. It wasn’t even captured with the plasticky 85mm f/1.8G or D version. It was photographed with a small portable (built like a tank) manual focus lens.

I’m going to lay it out there right now. Food photography isn’t a moving subject unless you’re photographing the activity in the kitchen. So there’s really no reason to shell out thousands of dollars for the 85mm f/1.4G or even a $1,000 for the older 85mm f/1.4D.

I’ll be providing a lens reviews as this blog progresses, but for now, I’ll say, this little 85mm f/2 lens is a gem, as the photo above will attest.

For this set, I used one strobe – a Profoto 250 D1 Air with a 3×4′ soft box camera left. I used white foam core camera right, supported on a stand just over the food as a bounce card for a little shadow fill, but not to the point where it killed the depth and texture of the set. It’s amazing what you can do with a single strobe, and you’ll see all shoots where I use only a single strobe. Why use only a single strobe? A single light source gives me that “natural window light” feel, but with much more control and consistency.

Here’s a few in progress photos from this set:

1. Picked our main props
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2. Testing props, lighting, composition, and checking on one more contrasty prop
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3. Refining the propping, composition and lightingFreshPic Day 20221

4. A high camera angle to show you the strobe set-up – that’s a huge light source compared the set
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5. Blocking the platter for food plating off set


6. Resetting the plate to finish the food styling on set

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A couple of notes:
Blocking off the plating so you or a food stylist can plate off set is such a nice convenience. It’s much easier to work with a little elbow room rather than scrunched up on a stool under lights, foam core and in between the table and the lens – sometimes that lens can be only a few feet away.

The 3×4′ soft box in comparison to platter is huge, so you get that BIG soft enveloping window light affect.

For this editorial style shoot you’ll also note, we adjusted the final propping from our original thought – we removed the silver bread dish, it didn’t work for us. We also adjusted the final composition/camera angle for the final shot. Once the food was put into the serving platter, it just felt better to get in a bit closer and a bit lower.

In the end, the best thing you can do is “get it right in camera”, so there’s less work on the back end.


Blue Cheese Burger Melt with Homemade Veggie Chips

_final shot

Nikkor 85mm f/2 AIS burger shoot with food stylist Jennifer Janz –
A Fabulous Food Stylist

Jennifer and I had a little theme going for this two day shoot. Kinda rustic. I love that natural look. For this particular backdrop, I draped three old burlap sacks over my backdrop stand. At f/2 it created a nice soft warm textural feel to the image.

Gear used:
Nikon D610 with battery grip
Nikkor 85mm f/2 AIS <— there’s that old manual focus lens again
(2) Profoto D1 Air 250

We used a black slate serving platter on an old wooden table top. I used 3×4′ soft box camera left, and a Profoto D1 5 degree grid, camera right hitting the face of the burger. You can also see the little extra highlight it gives to the right side of the beer glass – just a nice little touch of sparkle. I also had a couple of white foam core bounce cards upfront and top (both sides), plus a little gold collapsable reflector camera right to give the chips a little warm kiss of light.

Here are some in-progress photos from this set:

1. Jennifer working on an alternate set up with three burgers

2. We dropped down to a single burger composition – note the burger facing directly forward

3. Adjusting the lighting and composition

4. Testing a flag on the background. Nope! Too dark. We also rotated the burger a smidge

5. After we approved our final shot, we did a “Monster MASH” on the burger…just to see it. Meh!

Here are some “Behind the scenes” of the this set-up: 

1. Yes I shoot tethered. I want to know exactly what I’m getting for the final shot
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2. Even the set gets messy as the food stylist puts the finishing touches on the hero plating.
An additional note on this particular photo; you can see the second gridded strobe on the opposite side of the table pointing at the burger.


3. The view from behind the burlap curtain – lotsa bound cards and reflectors_CJP3760

4. A wider view of the set, where you can see Jennifer Janz prepping for the next shoot. You can also see the 3×4′ soft box acting as my window light source. I’ll have a future post about light sources (strobes vs. windows) – the virtues of both.

5. And finally, look at that tiny 85mm f/2 AIS lens. It’s so tiny, yet all kinds of awesome_CJP3771

I hope you enjoyed this post, where you “get behind the scenes”. I plan on showing more of this in future posts, so you can see how I push light around, even when using two or three light sources.


Quinoa Salad in an Endive Bowl


final photo

Macro food shoot with food stylist Jennifer Janz –
A Fabulous Food Stylist

Camera Gear:
Nikon D610 with battery grip
Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AFS Micro
Profoto D1 Air 250 with a 3×4′ soft box

I love getting up close and personal with my food photography. I want it right in your face, where you can really see the texture, colors, and all kinds of deliciousness. But I’ve never taken it to this extreme, where I use a macro lens. In this particular instance, I really wanted to see the individual grains and texture of the quinoa – even though I made that groovy awesome little green onion curl the ‘Hero’. The red endive leaf was backlit to make the white veining more textural in the bokeh. This was one of my favorite shoots from this series.

Gear note: Using a crop sensor camera like the D5000 or D7000 would be perfectly acceptable for this shoot. Even if you want the full frame DSLR sensor, the D600 can be had for around $1,200 used. I grabbed mine for $1,400 as a back-up camera. If you’re shooting for money, “YOU HAVE TO HAVE BACK-UP GEAR”. There is no debate. That includes additional lighting, additional bodies and additional lenses. If you’re shooting for yourself, meh! No worries.

This was also a single strobe with pushed back further than directly left of the set, so we could see more of the leaf glow. I really brought the bounce card down over the top and in the front to give the salad in the endive bowl more light.

Here’s alternate final


Here are some ‘in-progress’ photos:

1. The empty leaf placement for composition and preliminary lighting
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2. Filling the leaf bowl with quinoa and readjusting the lighting
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3. Adding the additional elements to the salad for color and texture, readjusting the bounce card
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4. A cutting board full of chopped goodies for this salad presentation

5. Jennifer working on the salad – when you’re this close in, it’s all about precision LOL