Food Photography and Styling: Adding Steam

By | 2017-06-01T18:21:26+00:00 March 22nd, 2011|13 Comments

Oftentimes the food we photograph loses its steam pretty quickly, even if it’s still hot. That little puff of steam adds so much to the photo … it plays with our senses and makes hot food look appetizing. There are some weird methods to add steam (microwaving cotton balls and other cotton products that should go nowhere near food) but I discovered another way that is actually pretty simple (thanks to a food stylist from a Kelby Training course I saw a while back). So, heres’s an easy way to add realistic steam to food photographs:

Behind-the-scenes photo …

    Gear used:

  • Canon 430EX speedlight as the main light shooting through a diffusion panel (the inside of a five-in-one reflector).
  • Black foam core in front of the light to serve as the background
  • Fork taped to a set of wooden chopsticks that are taped to a Manfrotto Magic Arm
  • White foam core to the left for front fill-light
  • Reflector/white foam core underneath shrimp on fork to add white color bounce
  • Camera set on a tripod with cable-release to trip the shutter

To add steam to the shrimp, I used a hand steamer (the one I used was only $15 at Bed Bath & Beyond).

Then photograph the shrimp with steam using the hand steamer (it took a lot of trial-and-error to get the “perfect” steamy look).

Also photograph the shrimp with no steam.

The last step is to put both images in the same document in Photoshop and mask them so you have steamy shrimp in one half of the image and the nicer looking fork (plus no hand-steamer) in the other half of the image. (Here’s a tutorial on masking if you need help.) For some other photos I’ve done similar to this I’ll also photograph the “no steam” image with a little more reflector fill in the front to brighten up the metal on the fork (my “reflector” was a white paper towel most of the time). Some of the frames I got were okay and didn’t have the steamer in the photo, but there may have been residual steam below the shrimp, or my hand in front of it “muddied up” the color of the metal in the fork, so masking the two images together makes for a much cleaner photograph.

About the Author:

My name is Nicole and I'm a photographer, author, & educator living in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. When I'm not making photos I'm writing books and tutorials for my online store, Learn more about me and my story here.

13 Comments

  1. Robert Nixon March 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    I really love this tip on using the hand steamer to give food that fresh off the stove/grill look. I have been trying to do learn food photography recently and am finding that it is every bit as tough as I heard it was. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Glen March 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Wonderful tip Nicole. Thank You.

  3. Wow! Last year my boyfriend and I spent a couple of hours trying to photograph a steaming cup of “coffee” and couldn’t do it. I never thought of using a steamer – and I have one.

  4. Michael March 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    Great tip! I love your blog.

  5. Mika March 22, 2011 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    I love your blog, your tips are always so brilliant…
    I can’t wait to read your book…

  6. Mark March 25, 2011 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    That is a great idea. Thank you for sharing it!
    Also, congratulations on the 50Kth download from iStock!

  7. Sandra Cunningham March 26, 2011 at 7:40 am - Reply

    That is such a great idea. Thanks for sharing it!
    I’m so glad I found your blog so many great tips!

  8. Haven March 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    Wow!Excellent food image with smoke………….

  9. Michael Cox March 29, 2011 at 8:45 am - Reply

    Great info thanks for sharing Nicole!

  10. Roion Kovenkin August 2, 2011 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Haha. Nice idea with the steamer =) Good job. Thank you for this tip )

  11. Steve Lynch July 4, 2013 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Hola:
    Is the “steamer” a portable steam iron? Or is ir something else?
    Saludos
    Steve Lynch

  12. Hamad AlMansoori September 12, 2013 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    Great Job, Thank you so much for the useful information

    cheerz

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