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:

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
  1. To add steam to the shrimp, I used a hand steamer (the one I used was only $15 at Bed Bath & Beyond).
  2. Then photograph the shrimp with steam using the hand steamer (it took a lot of trial-and-error to get the “perfect” steamy look).
  3. Also photograph the shrimp with no steam.
  4. 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.