UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021. Here is what I am up to now. -DH


On Assignment: Munchies

We do an annual survey at The Sun on how people snack - what they eat, how much, how often, etc. I thought it would be fun to play around with the items a little by shooting them very close and lighting them for detail and texture.

Mind you, this is basically a porn shoot for me. I love junk food. Luuuv it.

So much so that I am constantly practicing one form of girth control or another. I could kill a large bag of Cheetos before halftime if the game is good enough. Fortunately, I have recently come across the junk food equivalent of methadone in Ruffles Baked Potato Crisps.

They are great, with only three grams of fat, none saturated. No kidding, they'll make you forget the real thing. I actually prefer them to the original model at this point. Unfortunately, the whole bag still has 30 grams of fat. So I still have to be reasonable about it.

But for this assignment, we were shooting the high-test stuff. Oreos, Cheetos, chocolate - you know, the stuff that makes life worth living. I mean, we had some token healthy snacks, if you don't count the salt. But we knew what folks were really eating.

If the lighting and color scheme looks familiar, it may be because I decided to give these a bit if a Jill Greenberg treatment. I didn't go all the way, as the texture precluded getting that wrap-light sheen. But I did model the light in similar, but more subtle ways.

I do the homage thing a lot when looking for a starting point in the studio. But always out of genre. Kind of like, "How would Timothy Greenfield-Sanders shoot a tomato?"

So, I used hard light everywhere. One speedlight was directly behind the subject, pointed at the background. The front light came in from high, and slightly to one side. Different foods were front-lit from different directions.

The front light also had a very tight snoot, made out of Cinefoil, a matte-black aluminum foil. The exit hole for the light was the diameter of my finger, which allowed for some light control at the macro level.

My separation lights came in from the back and low, on each side. They also had (normal) snoots on them, mostly to control the flare that would come from their being aimed almost back at the camera.

It was an odd scene, really, with a Cheeto, for instance, impaled on a toothpick and surrounded by four speedlights. I found myself wondering if a Cheeto had ever had four speedlights around it before.

But that idle thought was quickly put to rest by an unforseen problem: How to shoot the Cheeto in such a pose so it did not look blatantly phallic.

(Sheesh, the things we have to quietly take into consideration...)

Once I got my lighting scheme nailed down, the shoot went pretty quickly. We'd sort our way through all of the ugly specimens and find a good poster child example to shoot.

It was a fun exercise, and I was surprised to find out (a) how much texture there really is in those little snacks when you get up close, and (b) how many ugly ones you have to eat look through to get to a good one.

I used a D2XS to get a big file size, and extreme detail. I was shooting through a 55/2.8 macro, with an extension tube to get even closer. Everything was shot at f/22 or f/32.

Dang, just writing this makes me want a Reese's peanut butter cup.

Alas, it was all for naught as the designer ended up using the boring examples they had me shoot on blow-away white. She even cut out the potato chip.


In the end I thought it looked very pedestrian, and that we missed a chance to do a snazzy looking page. I mean, this stuff would have looked cool really big, IMO.

Ten years ago, I probably would have walked into features and uncorked a few choice words and blown the very working relationship I have been trying to nurture. But now, I just see it as part of the job. And I instead focus on the fact that I really enjoyed both the shooting process and the result.

One of the most important things I have learned in the last ten years is not to use the paper's final product as your validation point. You have to shoot for you.

To stew over something that is in someone else's control would just be damaging to the working relationship and maybe even to my output on the next shoot. And nobody needs that.

Besides, I can always comfort myself with a bag of baked Ruffles.

Click on a pic, and then click "all sizes" to see them really big. If you want me, I'll be in the kitchen.

NEXT: Hero Fan


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