An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked

One Perfectly Lit Salad


No one ever warned me about the addictive nature of food photography. That’s right, it’s a very slippery slope; It begins just as a fun little past time, taking snapshots of some meals you had, a few treats you want to remember, all innocent fun. But before you know it, you get in so deep that you must stage every shot, cook and bake specifically to photograph the end results, wind up spending hundreds of dollars on a new camera, lenses, a tripod, lights- And you know what? The pictures still aren’t top notch. It takes much more than fancy equipment to take decent photos, and I realize now that I’ve been using them too much as a crutch, and without even fully understanding my camera. Recently, this field has been drawing my attention more and more, and I want to dig even deeper still.

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of not only meeting Lou Manna, but taking his food photography class, in a group of 9 other photo-enthusiasts. I couldn’t even begin to share the tips and teachings that I pick up from those 7 1/2 hours, but I would encourage you to sign up for his next class if you’re interested. Believe me, it’s worth the cost and effort of getting into NYC, if you’re not local.

One thing that really opened my eyes was the lighting demonstration. Poor lighting is a common complaint for any photographer, beginner or pro, and it was just incredible to see how easily dark spots on a subject can be remedied. For example, here’s my haphazardly arranged salad, with one overhead softbox and one strobe:

Pretty dark, huh? All of those leaves create tons of shadows, and the radicchio is a deep purplish brown to begin with. Now, without adjusting the camera settings, moving the current lights, or adding any more, Lou helped me to achieve this:

Magic! And, a whole bunch of mirrors. By using mirrors to bounce back the available light, it wasn’t as harsh as shining a light directly into the salad greens, but still bright enough to bring some detail into those shadows.

As you can see from the set up, it only took three mirrors and one white card to make all the difference. Pretty amazing stuff, if you ask me.  This one class is going to stay with me for a long time… Not only was it a wonderful learning experience, but Lou is such a nice guy, it would be impossible to walk away from this workshop without a smile on your face.  Seriously, think about taking his class if this sort of stuff appeals to you at all- I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Author: Hannah (BitterSweet)

Author of My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, Vegan a la Mode, and Easy as Vegan Pie.

40 thoughts on “One Perfectly Lit Salad

  1. Impressive stuff! All of the elements in photography are so intricate – I love photography, but don’t get to take much of it. Someday I’d like to invest in professional equipment and workshops, but that won’t be for a while.

    I’m glad to here it was such a valuable experience for you!

  2. Thanks for the posting. It’s great stuff to know. I just got my first camera Canon DC330 I love the thing but lighting is always an issue. As much as I’d love to go to a class of his I just can’t afford to at this time. But I must thank you for this post to give a clue to lighting. I’m off to get a few mirrors tomorrow ^_^ and give it a shot :D

    Hugs and Kisses

    P.S My mom (who isn’t vegan) bought your book last week and she says she loves it.


  3. it’s like the supermodel of salads!

  4. I’ve recently stumbled across your blog and what drew me in was the food photography. I’m excited that things could be potentially better!

  5. Oh yes, food photography is DEFINITELY addictive!!

    Sounds like a great class!! And that salad looks wonderful.

  6. I know what you mean. . . those are some amazing results. And since I have no idea what a softbox or strobe are, guess I could use that class!

  7. Your photos are always glorious. Mine are always terrible and I know it is the lighting. My house is naturally pretty dark and I usually end up taking my photos at night so I use a flash. Yucky! I’m sure that is why no one tries my recipes!

  8. Wow! That looks delicious! :) What a cool thing to learn – I really want to take that class!

  9. Thanks for showing us a “behind the scenes” look at your shot! I love what. 3 mirrors and a white card did to your shot. Amazing photo. Sounds like an great class!

  10. that’s so awesome, Hannah! what a brilliant class! and now your got more photography skillz to take with you and apply all the time! yay!

    i love the “behind the scenes shot”, too! that’s awesome! :D

  11. I already love your photos so I can’t imagine them getting any better! But I look forward to seeing how you experiment with stuff. =)

  12. fabulous! I’m looking forward to seeing more of your food photos . . .you just keep getting better and better!

  13. Wow, what a difference! Sounds like a really interesting class.

  14. thanks for sharing the tips….i am now venturing into the photography world more seriously myself….this is very useful…
    but i must say your shots have been very beautiful already…i am excited to see what is to come…

  15. wow what great photos and nice treats you ve got in your blog :-)

  16. You are so clever! I’m always wondering how people get such amazing shots of their food. The salad looks absolutely perfect. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  17. Looks great! Hmmm…the class is in NYC! I will have to think about this one. So tempting.

    No, you can’t use Kool-aid to dye Cotton. It won’t take the dye. Only animal fibers or nylon.

  18. That is so cool! I’ve always wanted to take a photography class…I would love to learn all the tricks and techniques to taking an amazing photo.

  19. Thanks for sharing this photography tips, Hannah! Can’t wait to try it out at home.

  20. Great stuff.
    I have Lou’s ‘Digital food photrography’, and if his in-person style is the same as in the book, then the class is worth every penny.

    He has a well-honed nack for removing the mystery from shots, and it’s so comforting.

  21. So cool! Thanks for sharing! I would love to take a food photography class someday! I never thought about using mirrors, guess I have a lot to learn…

  22. That’s so cool! It’s awesome how little tricks like that can make such a huge difference.

  23. I’m actually reading his book on digital food photography right now. Amazing to learn how people achieve the pictures we see in ads. I still don’t really understand some of the technical stuff though :)

  24. Ah.. so the trick is to add some mirrors. Thanks for sharing.

  25. It looks delicious! How can you make such beautiful pics?

  26. These are great tips, swettie! Thanks so much for sharing…even with just my point & shoot, more light is always a good thing.

  27. Hello! Your photography was already lovely, I can only imagine how amazing it will be after that class!

    I just ordered/received your e-book and wanted to say that I can’t wait to try everything in there… especially the coffee buzz bars! I’m a typical, coffee-addicted college student and greatly appreciate all of the good ideas for lunches in there. I’m already getting sick of the vegan stiry-fry at my campus (the only decent option they have…)!

  28. I think your food photos are beautiful as is! Thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes shot – very interesting!

  29. I can certainly see the differences between the pictures, but I think they’re both pretty good! That sounds like a really fun class and I can’t wait to see more beautiful photos in the future!

  30. Wow, what a lot of effort, but well worth it.

  31. I work a couple blocks from Adorama and had no idea they taught classes. Thanks for letting me know! And nice to know I’m not the only one addicted to food photography. My boyfriend looks at me like I’m nuts when I set up a shot… haha.

  32. wow :-D this behind the cameras photo is fantastic! really good job dear!
    have a pleasant day!

  33. Facinating, I need to get to a Dollar store for some litle mirrors, now! I love the paper you’re shooting on too.

  34. Thank you so much for sharing the tips you learned with us! I’d heard about using mirrors along with a reflector card to get the best light indoors, but never followed up on it. Now that I’ve seen how well it works, I’ll be accumulating a few in conjunction with my EGO light and card to see if I achieve a marked improvement on my photos. To think, like you mentioned above, all I cared about at first was getting ‘good enough’ photos that showed ‘just enough’. Now my main goal is much, much higher than that, and after perusing through many blogs, and spending quite a bit on a new camera and other equipment, I don’t want to settle for ‘eh’. I want ‘glorious’! :)

    I’m so looking forward to trying this! Thank you SO much, again!

  35. What a huge difference.. The only mirror in my house is in the bathroom but that might change soon :)
    Heard of Lou Manna when I was looking for a food photography book.

  36. I just bought Lou Manna’s book. I would love to attend one of his classes but I don’t own an SLR camera yet and it seems that is one of the requirements of attending his class.(besides taking a trip to NYC)

    Thanks for the photo tips! My biggest problem is lighting and I am going to use your tips on my next photo. The photos on your blog are great!

  37. I used this to improve the lighting on my Vegan Citrus-Basil Cupcakes but I hadn’t gotten the mirrors yet so I used a aluminum pie plate. It worked! Thanks for the tip!

  38. Wow, this is so cool! I will have to get some mirrors & try this sometime. :) Your pictures are always so beautiful.

  39. What a great opportunity to take a class from such a well known photographer! I thought you were pretty dang talented already… can’t wait to see more photos now!

  40. I would love to get more into food photography and this class peaks my interest. But after reading his requirements, I’m not sure I’m ready to take it. I feel like I don’t know enough about my camera and won’t be prepared. It’s very intimidating. What all do you need to know prior to signing up?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s