Contained in this post are 10 strange photography tools that I have in the studio for shooting food. I’ll also tell you where you can get them as well. I’ll be mentioning or linking to a few companies here – none of the companies or links are affiliates.
#1. “Shaved Ice”
Looks like shaved ice, doesn’t it? It’s actually a space age polymer. Ok, it was space age maybe 25 years ago or more. That’s when I bought this, 25 years ago and it still works great. Seriously! A tiny bit makes a massive amount so I still have half a bottle left. In the lid of the bottle, in the shot above, you can see how tiny the granules are before you put water in it. The pile on the plate was about a teaspoon of the granules mixed with water.
This is called Poly-Sorb. Of course, now this company is no longer around, however there is a great special effects place in New York called Trengove. To this day, I still can’t pronounce their name.
The shaved ice product that Trengove has is called “Ice Powder”. You can find this in their Products > The Lab > Photo Effects page.
Ok, so this one is not very mysterious but I get asked all the time in class where to buy these. A-clamps are found in any home improvement or hardware store. I have big A-Clamps and small ones. This one is holding a fill card. I also use them to clamp down fabric on surfaces when I get a really stubborn wrinkle. I use them to clamp backgrounds onto poles. I have about 20 of them. There’s loads of uses for these.
Here’s the trick. Photo stores also sell them, for four times the price. Did you know that adding the word “photo” to any item you sell will triple the price of it for no good reason??? The A-Clamps at home depot are $.99.
#3 Fan Brush
I’ve had this guy for about 20 years. When I can’t find it I freak out on set. I start throwing things. Ok, I’m exaggerating. I’m just trying to get the point across at how such a simple thing can be so great to have.
This is called a fan brush. It’s not the soft, make-up kind of brush called the same thing. It’s a paint brush. The reason why it’s so special is the bristles are very rigid and excellent for dusting crumbs off your set or plate. You can get the bristles right near the food, without disturbing it, and whisk away the crumb you didn’t want to show.
I use this every time I shoot food. I even take it with me to Chicago, NY and Dallas.
#4 Various Tweezers and Tools
I’m including several items here that either I use every day or the food stylists do:
- tweezers of various sizes
- tiny spoons for styling food in small crevices or laying fake bubbles onto coffee
- small spatulas to move food around on a plate
- eye droppers to put sauce into nooks and crannies
- syringes to place drops of glycerin mixed with water onto tomatoes or even onto a glass for condensation
Here’s a shot of Marcella using tweezers to adjust her pie filling
# 5 Oils and Brushes for Keeping Food Moist
When I shoot food, many of the food items get dry very fast, like chicken, beef, burgers, you get the idea. In the image above I have olive oil and veggie oil. When we are photographing a protein that does not have a sauce on it, that’s when the stylist will paint it with oil, right before I shoot.
If the food does have a sauce on it, then the stylist will paint the sauce onto the food instead of the oil.
Here we have another brush. Most styling kits will have several brushes for all these different types of “food painting”.
#6 Table Wedges
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I use these little guys all the time. These are called table wedges and restaurants use them, or they should! Sometimes you can find them in CVS or Rite-Aid.
We use them to level food or build it up on one side. Makeup sponges can do the same thing.
#7 Foam Booster
Another fun product from Trengove is the Foam Booster. It will create a head of beer that will last for a very long time. It comes with instructions and it’s very easy. Just experiment a little first. This shot below would have been very hard to do without this as the foam on light beers fall very fast.
#8 Dot and Finger Kit
Here’s a nifty thing I use all the time too. This kit is very expensive to buy, however, those crafty folks out there can easily make some of these with a metal clothes hanger and either panty hose, cheap imitation white silk from the fabric store, and a solid black cloth of some sort. You use these to block light and to make bright spots on your food, or set not so bright.
You should use a c-stand to hold these. However, you could hold it just outside of your set to block a bad highlight, or something like that just before you shoot. To handhold the dot or finger, your camera has to be on a tripod AND you should be using a cable release to take the picture as well.
It’s probably the most bizarre and dangerous burger you’ve ever seen, right? I circled the two t-pins holding the tomato open on the burger. My good friend Denise Vivaldo and I teach a very fun class called Food Styling and Photo Techniques. She is demonstrating how to style a burger here. She needed the tomato to appear to be wider in diameter so that it was in proportion to the diameter of the burger. So she cut open the tomato and pinned it down. We are actually looking at the back of the burger here.
We also use t-pins to pin down lettuce on the burger too. You’d be surprised how many uses you can find for t-pins.
#10 Fake Ice
Here is my collection of fake ice. I have some expensive pieces and some cheaper pieces here. I have small shards, cubes, and large shards. The color of the fake ice isn’t a problem as it takes on the color of the liquid you put them in.
I got my shards from, you guessed it, Trengove. They have a large range of fake ice all the way from perfect, beautiful cubes that are $50 each to a bag of shards for $28.
When shooting beverages, it’s very handy to use fake ice so that you have plenty of time to work with your shot. I also spray the “condensation” on the glass. It’s a mixture of glycerin and water. This way your icy cold glass stays that way for hours.
I hope I gave you some ideas that you might be able to use on your next photo shoot.
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