Lighting 102: Cooking Light Assignment | Discussion

We talked about this assignment in terms of shooting for a polished a simple look, as if for wall display, or a calendar. There is no question in my mind that we could pull several great calendars out of the pool of assignment photos.

I had the impossible task of looking through all of the photos (whew, there were a lot) and picking out a selection to feature and discuss on the main site. This was not an easy thing to do, both in terms of quality and quantity.

As a photo editor, this is exactly the kind of problem one wishes to have: Too many choices. But for one guy, it pretty much kills the day before you have the chance to write word one.

Before I get to the photos, a couple of items:

First, there were many, many great photos. I was floored by the breadth and depth of the submissions. You were clearly paying attention in the light control discussions. Many of the photos submitted could stand up to inclusion in just about anyone's portfolio.

Second, such a constricted subject range, it was inevitable that there were many similar photos and even some near duplications. Don't be irked by that, if it affected you. We were working in a pretty tight sphere.

Third, some of my very favorite photos -- several of which which would have been included on this page -- were submitted in such a way that I could neither add a tag to them (to note it as a standout) nor grab a pic URL for the blog. If someone knows the exact reason behind this, please illuminate me in the comments so I can instruct people how to change their photos if they choose.

On these particular photos, I was at least able to fave them. So, if you happen to see your Cooking Light shot in the first four or five pages my faves gallery, please add a tag saying "standout" to your photo. This is how I am ID'ing the ones that I thought went above and beyond. This way, it'll be included in the slideshow linked below.

And, even though it is possible to do, please do not add the standout tag unless it appeared in my faves gallery. I want to make this set of photos searchable without having them drop off the top, as they will in my faves gallery. Much better to get there next time with your camera and lights than now, cheaply, with your keyboard.

As for the photos below, please click on them to see a larger version and/or check to see who did it. There are some great photos here (heck, there were a hundred great photos in the batch) and your comments on the ones you liked best are much appreciated by the photogs. If you would like to ask lighting questions of the photographers, do so in the comments of the actual photos. And if they left little or no lighting info, please rag them mercilessly.

Links to the whole slideshow and other sets follow after the photos.


The Dirty Dozen

The quality of the specular highlight on this one is just gorgeous.

There were many photos similar to this one in composition and I did not want to duplicate too much. But it is clear that many of you get the idea of softly (or partially) illuminating an off-camera object (fill card, ceiling, etc.) whose sole purpose is to be reflected in the shiny surface of your subject. The actual lighting of the scene is done (typically) with another source.

Varying the relative intensity of the two sources gives you total control of the two zones. You should note that the source that reflects typically takes very little light to accomplish the job.

Nice textural contrast, too, with the cut-up surface. Click on the pic to see setup shots in his stream, too.

This wine capper, one of a few similar versions, was a very nice example of lighting on two completely separate planes.

The photographer was nice enough to include shots done with each light individually, which is great for learning purposes. (The setup shots were done with a red gel instead of a blue one, but you get the idea.

Click through the photo for a link to the setup.

Lewis Hine gets reincarnated in this photo of a garlic press.

Those broad light sources, not far off axis, are great for photographing matte, semi-reflective objects. This photo had an industrial quality to it that I just loved.

The textural contrast in the background really works, too.

This is certainly the most sensual rendition of an ice cream scoop that I have ever seen.

My favorite part? The warm vs. cool specular reflections. You'll have to click through to see the ingenious method the photog used to get them.

The contrasting textures and chiarascura-style background arrangement on this one totally work.

The effect is not so much done with light (normally that's the whole idea) but with a dark-to-light transition that is hidden by the subject.

A simple idea, executed very well.

I love the repetition of textures in this photo.

This is not an easy thing to accomplish, as the reflectance values of the spoon and the brown eggs are quite different.

The photographer was kind enough to include a lighting setup shot if you are interested in learning more. There are lots of setup photos incuded with this assignment, actually. You'll find a link near the end of the post to a search for them.

(Extra thanks to those of you who shot and tagged setup pix.)

This is art.

I am even at a little bit of a loss to reverse engineer it, too. The notes say a snoot from above, but I do not know how that yields the creamy metal highlights up top.

The photog has several other versions which merit seeing in their stream, too. I am gonna have to stare at it a little more and figure it out.

As a group, the propensity to shoot knives bordered on fetish. Not that I can blame you, seeing some of the cutting instruments at your disposal.

This shot (and the next two) really show off specular control in blade surfaces. Again, you are shooting a reflection. THis is the key to specular control in flat, metal surfaces.

This knife shot produced a great juxtaposition of tonal densities. Great highlight control, too.

Double points for the setup shot (always appreciated) which you can see under the photo if you click on it. You will smack your forehead when you see how easy this was.

If you know exactly what you are doing when you shoot it, of course.

Today, I learned a great idea for a macro backdrop: A laptop computer.

Wonderful thinking, and always available. You could use your desktop, too, of course, if you sport a flat-screen monitor.

The knife and plate pick up the tones of the backdrop in a lovely way, which the photog enhanced with a little blurring in post. I think you could get a similar result with aperture selection. Or focal-plane shifting, if you are so-equipped.

But the takeaway here is the creative thinking on the any-way-you-want-it-to-look backdrop.

Last, and certainly not least, I cannot stop looking at this photo.

Less is more, here. Way more. I love everything about it - the composition, the tones, the highlight control, the feel - everything. Triple aces.

I was surprised by so many photos from the whole group, actually. You have set the bar pretty high right out of the blocks. I don't know what you are going to do to follow this up. Just a wonderful selection of kitchen photos, with far too many good pictures to do the whole group justice on one page.

You can see all of the assignment-tagged photos (over 1,000) here. You can see the final entries here. Photos that people tagged as setup shots appear here.

You can see the slideshow of some of the other ones I really liked here. And be sure to check the first few pages of my faves gallery to see if you had something I could not access. Please add the 'standout' tag if it is in the gallery.

And of course the discussion thread, with lots of interesting words and photos, is here.

Which was your favorite? What did you love that I missed? (This is just one person's opinion, you know.) Are you guys impressed with yourselves as a group as much as I am with you?

Sound off in the comments.

NEXT: Umbrella Specular Portrait


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Anonymous very1silent said...

The privacy settings control who can add tags, notes, and comments to photos.

Go to
and change the settings

August 07, 2007 7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sweet Mother of Pearl, those pix rock. Nice job, peeps.


August 07, 2007 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Smith said...

I'm happy just having my pic flagged up as a standout! What an amazing amount of quality work was produced. I really struggled to come up with any decent ideas. Can't wait for the next project though! I'm really going to throw myself into that one. This one was great fun, both to watch and to take part in. Thanks to you, David, for seeding it and then the enormous task of going through all of the photos, and to everyone else for participating. Pats on the back all round methinks.

August 07, 2007 7:44 PM  
Blogger tfrancis said...

pretty chuffed to be included in the standouts :-)

flickr id: swansea photographer

August 07, 2007 7:48 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

The group as a whole produced some amazing work. Unfortunately the same can not be said for me. I tried my best, but was very disappointed with all of my results. I am still having a lot of problems in pre-visualizing the shot, and that makes it difficult to light the shot for me. I guess I need to go back to the beginning and read everything again and give it another go. Congrats to all of you who are setting the bar so high. I just wish I could reach it.

August 07, 2007 7:57 PM  
Anonymous Joan3RC said...

Hey Brian,
Don't kick yourself... it will come to you. I wasn't totally happy with my results either, but I'm pleased with what I'm learning and that is tons. Do I understand it all? Conceptually, I get it, in practice... well I have to do that a wee bit more and that's ok. That's what I'm here for. It's easy to feel 'out shot' while viewing so many great examples in this group, but I've learned in life to keep practicing and work against yourself and not the work of others. You'll drive yourself nuts it you constantly go for the top rung... it's murder on the chin.

August 07, 2007 8:51 PM  
Blogger James said...

All I can say is what others have already stated. There were some really cool submissions. I was amamzed. Even though I did not make the 'faves' list, I did receive some pretty favorable comments.

I have a long way to go and when I finally get my copy of Light: Science & Magic, I'm sure I'll get the preoverbial 'light bulb' moment when it all comes together.

I just kind of got the whole specular highlights thing but still not entirely. Taking a picture of a reflection and using whatever modifiers for the purpose of being reflected in the object. I guess the key is getting that reflection to do what you what it to do. That will bake your noodle.

Good job to those standouts.

August 07, 2007 9:03 PM  
Blogger SoulJah said...

I'd rather hang them up on the wall in it's own frame than having them being hanged as a calendar. Truly amazing works with nothing much than pieces of paper and a little flash.

I know I needed much more thought when composing mine, but it's good to know where I was kinda incorrect with my approach and where to go from there.

August 07, 2007 9:30 PM  
Blogger Hugh said...

I'm disproportionately thrilled that you included me in the standouts. Looking at the thread for the assignment, I saw so many shots that I rated above mine.

I literally did a little air punch when I saw my shot!

Flickr id: |3ud

August 07, 2007 9:31 PM  
Blogger SeanMcC said...

I knew there was no hope of mine getting in. I really needed to work harder on the concept.

At least thought I had a non kitchen photo favourited in the midst of it all. Thanks David!

August 07, 2007 9:46 PM  
Anonymous pmiska said...

incredible work everyone! i learned a lot working on my own shot, and I feel I just learned as much looking through the slide show!

DH, can't say thank you enough for the blog. for someone who always wanted to take a photography course, but never had the chance, you blog makes my day!

August 07, 2007 10:16 PM  
Blogger innerglowphoto said...

David, I did not envy you as you had to narrow the field to so few with so many amazing shots. The work posted here was totaly inspiring.

August 07, 2007 10:37 PM  
Anonymous kc kong said...

Congratulations to all who participated in this assignment! Reading a lesson on our own is own thing but getting down to doing it is the way to go. Thanks to those who made it to this page ... super duper work!... you're an inspiration and motivation!

August 07, 2007 11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as I would have loved to make the top list, I do have to admit that my entry was one of my best photos that I've done, and it got great feedback from you guys (which I really appreciate). I've been learning so much here and just scratching the surface of what can be done. Next assignment I'll just have to push ahead even farther. :)

Jean (strogg)

August 07, 2007 11:51 PM  
Blogger ajmiller said...

Thanks for the inclusion in the Dirty Dozen, well pleased. Thanks also to everyone who commented. I've also added the setup this morning, re-did it as a lot of people contacted me to ask how it was done. ( and just to prove it wasn't a computer generated image!!) As David said, easier than you think (definitely easier than I thought).
grater setup

August 08, 2007 4:07 AM  
Anonymous jgentsch said...

Oops, I'm very flattered to be included in the lineup. I've been watching the submissions as they came throughout the week and was so impressed! There were so many images I'd considered to be very strong and much better/interesting than mine.

I added the setup shot for my
image of the fondue chinoise sieves. About the highlights: I believe the reflections from inside the metal shaker as well as the light bouncing round from the sieves help to balance the highlights (at least that was the plan). In order not to end up with just white lines, I made sure that almost all of the highlights fell within in the exposure range. The remaing bit was to fiddle around trying to find a good angle for the flash.

August 08, 2007 4:26 AM  
Blogger ovendelon said...

I still can't believe that my photo is listed here! My english is really poor on words, but even in my native language i would not have the words to thank David for making this blog, and making so much for us!

August 08, 2007 5:19 AM  
Blogger treeffe said...

Dear David, your choiche of favs in this assignment is another good opportunity to study and learn the fabolous world of lighting.
I'm glad you've choosen one of my pictures as a fav (even if not in this assignement...)
I was on vacation and It's has been incredible to notice the boost of views...

Thanks David!

August 08, 2007 5:24 AM  
Blogger Hugh said...

When I went to the pub last night, my pic had been up for a week and had had about 40 views.

Woke up this morning and it's got over 700!


August 08, 2007 9:18 AM  
Blogger Gaddy said...

Everyone did such a great job on these. I saw quite a few that were way cooler than any advertisement picture I've seen. Good job everyone and I can't wait to see what we have in store for us next!

August 08, 2007 10:48 AM  
Anonymous Tim Solley said...

Wow, absolutely fantastic work to everyone. David and the Strobist readers really are proving to the world that you don't need to be a pro to shoot like a pro.

Love the knife shots especially.

August 08, 2007 10:58 AM  
Blogger Jakob said...

Kinda OT, but is there anyway to get an email when a new assignment is posted? I totally missed this one...


August 08, 2007 11:26 AM  
Blogger Gordon said...

happy to be in the standouts! Some amazing work in there with much better light control than mine I think.

August 08, 2007 12:17 PM  
Anonymous milehightoad said...

David, thanks for creating this monster community that is the strobists and for all of your efforts on a daily basis. I have learned much about 'Less is More' and it's a blast.

Jeff (milehightoad)

August 08, 2007 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You should really consider organizing a Strobist Photo Book, based on the best strobist photos.

The idea would be to give examples of the various lighting setups and the effects you could achieve. The book could feature a full page borderless print of the photography on one side, and setup photos and comments by you and the photographer on the other. I don't know if other people would be interested, but I would definitely buy it. It would be a great source of "technically backed up" inspiration, and would also generate revenue and recognition both for you and the featured photographers.

August 08, 2007 5:51 PM  
Blogger Ryan Macalandag said...

More than the final photos themselves (which were really exceptional. congratz, everyone), the set-up shots are inspiring because it shows the sharing of knowledge by this teeny wincy strobist community. Somehow, we are all teachers and students here, and vice versa.

August 08, 2007 9:21 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

I was so thrilled when I saw my picture selected! I gushed to the wife that it felt like back in grad-school when I got my first paper published :))

Several people requested a setup shot for the ice-cream scoop, which (*whack*) I neglected to take at the time.

However, I did spend 10 minutes today evening replicating the setup in all it's glory. You should be able to view the highly polished and complicated setting here

August 09, 2007 12:11 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home