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On Assignment: Gas Station Tacos

I did a quick "RestRev" (as they were affectionately known back at The Sun) today at the R&R Deli, a Mexican joint located inside of a gas station in Jessup, MD.

Just small flashes, and working fast. After all, I certainly did not want those delicious Tacos de Carnitas to get cold before it was time to eat…

I wanted to shoot it as is, which meant one immediate problem to solve: The styrofoam container is bright white and the insides of the tacos are both dark, and in deep shadow.

So in addition to the usual soft back light for texture, I used an Orbis ring flash adapter on a 3rd SB-800 (not seen above) to reach deep into the tacos.

First step is to dial down the ambient exposure until no available light is coming through. This will enable more control when adding the light from the flashes next.

If you start with the ring light, you can adjust the exposure until you can just see into the depths of the meaty carnitas goodness. Then add the soft backlight (that's the SB on the right, bouncing off of the white wall) to get your main illumination. Finally, add the gridded SB from the left to increase the texture up top.

For what it's worth, I almost always use a large-ish source from the back as a main light for food. (That's the basis of the lunch box contraption I blogged about last year.)

And the two weirdly shaped things holding the flashes are Justin clamps, which are perhaps the most versatile little speedlight holders on the planet.

Normally when you shoot food, presentation matters a lot. The food is staged, with an eye towards minimalism and sophistication.

In this case, I wanted to shoot it exactly as delivered, as an homage to the fact that absolutely awesome food is being served out of a tiny kitchen that shares a roof with a Shell station. So the only "styling" involved was to remove the lid from the red sauce.

Suburban Howard County (where I live) might not be world famous as a culinary destination -- yet. But we are starting to get some pretty darn good food from all over. and FWIW, I'm not the only one praising the gas station tacos, either.

Next: Tenor Nathan Carlisle


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