Food Photography – Behind the Scenes | Lighting Through a Doorframe

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Hello hello everyone! I’m going to do something different today and share a look behind the scenes with you. I’m hoping this post will be helpful for those of you who would like to simulate the look of a large softbox or a window with an artificial light source.

Below is the shot I’m going to talk about. What I did for this macaron photo is shine a light (I used a strobe) through a narrow, indoor doorframe. I use this technique now and then and find that it works well.

Salted Caramel Macarons

All right, let’s take a look at what went on behind the scenes. This is what the set looked like:

All the behind-the-scenes photos are fairly dark because I keep the room dark so that I can only see the light of the strobe and can prepare my set accordingly. My camera is on a tripod and connected to my iMac with a long USB cable, I have Lightroom open and am shooting tethered.

I have a piece of white felt on the table, which helps make the fabric on top look soft and pillowy, a trick I learned from this fantastic book a few years ago: Food Styling for Photographers. On the felt is a napkin (the exact same one that is also hanging in the back as the background), on that napkin is another napkin, a piece of paper, the cookies and the milk bottle and glass. To the left of the macarons are two square styrofoam blocks that act as reflectors and fill in some of the shadows.

Here’s a slightly closer look:

Behind the set is a napkin that is hanging from a clothes rack that I bought at Target a while ago. I asked Dan to cut down the vertical metal rods for me (they were about 6 feet tall originally) so that I could use this contraption as a movable background holder. I like to do that because I like the look of hanging fabric as a background but you could also pin fabric directly to the wall behind your set.

Now to the light. Here is another angle of the set:

To diffuse the light I have a white curtain hanging on a tension rod in my indoor doorframe. (The frame leads into a fairly dark hallway). Behind the doorframe sits my strobe with its modeling light (see notes) turned on so that you can see it. No light modifiers of any sort are attached to the strobe. Too much light was spilling onto the background of the set (in other words onto the hanging napkin) so I clamped a piece of black cardboard onto the rack to block the light in that area of the set. The doorframe keeps the light contained and directional and the overall scene looks (at least to me) like light coming through a window. (In case anyone is interested in my camera settings, they were: ISO 100, f/3.2, 1/125 on my Nikon D600 with a 105mm macro lens).

I used to use this setup every day for a few months some time ago but it became a bit of a pain since the door I was lighting through was also the door through which I had to exit and enter the room. I eventually got tired of it and bought my large softbox (Hensel Ultra IV Softbox – 35×58″ (90x150cm)), which gives me very similar results. But, if you have a light and no large softbox, it’s an option!

Anyway, that’s really all there was to it! What do you think? Do you like the light? Does anyone else use this technique? Let me know, I can’t wait to hear read your thoughts! :)

Notes: What is a modeling light? I figure some of you may not be familiar with the concept of a modeling light so I’ll quickly explain what that is. So, a strobe unit actually houses two different light sources: 1) the flash that will fire very briefly and very brightly at the same time the shutter is released and 2) a “regular,” continuous light, which is called the modeling light. The flash is what illuminates the actual photo but the modeling light is what illuminates the scenes during setup, before the photo is taken. The modeling light’s purpose is to let the photographer see how the light from the flash will fall onto the set, where the highlights, shadows and reflections will be. Because of that the modeling light is a HUGE help in setting up the set, without it the photographer would literally and metaphorically be working in the dark.


  1. Denise | Sweet Peas & Saffron says:

    Nicole, you’re my hero! I have struggled with my artificial lights and given up so many times…this is just what I needed to see. Love the way the light mimics a window. I would never in a million years guess that you were shooting in artificial light :)

  2. Karina says:

    Nicole. I love you. I really do. Can I transport you over here to work with me for a day? Just a day. I’ll make you donuts ;)
    Thank you so much for this. I absolutely love all of your tips, and I can’t wait to be a better photographer!

  3. Helen @ Scrummy Lane says:

    This is wonderful information – thank you! I really like the idea of using the clothes dryer as a backdrop holder, too. I’ve been really struggling to get my light set-up to work consistently since moving from Australia (= great natural light) to the UK (= mostly crappy dull light) so every little tip like this helps!

  4. Maggie says:

    This is such a great read! The lighting in this picture is so soft and beautiful, that it’s really like natural light. Sometimes I found the light coming from the softbox is still too harsh, especially when I place the strobe close to the object. Sometimes I use a diffuser, but it’s quite clumsy. This set up is so smart. Definitely will try out next time. Thanks for sharing all the details Nicole :)

    • Nicole B. says:

      You’re welcome, Maggie! Glad you like it! What size softbox are you using? I used to have a small softbox and found it difficult to handle because the light was still pretty hard. Love my big softbox even though it really takes up a lot of space.

  5. Shihoko says:

    wow, this is how you do it. I like your soft lighting photos and have not imagined how dark the set were. The photo looked like it was being taken in a blight sunny day. Wow, I have learnt a lot and my photos have a lot of room to improvement. Thank you so much for showing me behind the scene..

  6. Di@BibbyBibbyskitchen says:

    Nicole! What can I say? Sheer brilliance! The lengths we go to for the perfect shot? And you certainly have them. Thank you for being so transparent with sharing your knowledge. Just love the magic you create through the lens.

    • Nicole B. says:

      Haha, there’s no end to the length I’ll go to for a good shot! (Was that what A-Ha was singing about all these years ago? :)) Thank you so much for coming by and for leaving such a lovely comment, Di!

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