How I Shot Black on Black Food

BoccaLupo, Bruce Logue, Greg DuPree

Black subjects on Black backgrounds is a tricky photograph to make. 

Do you see how many elements in the photograph above are black/dark?

Do you see the top right corner?

In this post, Greg Dupree shares with us how he photographed black subject on black background. Read how he controls light and decisions he made for this photograph.

About the Photographer

Like most photographers…no matter what discipline they are in.. I think they still like to consider themselves artists.  It sort of came along with a natural progression.

As a kid, I had a love for Comic books…I think my mom bought one for me just about every time we went out. I was constantly drawing the characters thinking one day that I’d be an illustrator. Once my teachers found out I could draw I became the one allowed to get out of class early to work on a mural, school t-shirt design, ect.

From High School into my early college years my appreciation for art history and theory helped refine my painting skills. My influence and style quickly changed from early realism to a very Robert Rauschenberg expressionistic, pop art feeling. It was then I learned about combine painting and began incorporating illustrations and photographs into the pieces.

I started realizing the similarities between painting and photography using the same elements of color and tone, light and composition. There was something about developing your own film and printing your own images that soon each piece started becoming more photo and less painting.

I then fell in to commercial photography doing portraits and fashion while assisting Hans Neleman in New York…who at the time was also shooting some pretty elaborate still life photography. After a while I moved back to Atlanta and began assisting as many people in as many disciplines as I could for years.

My personal work changed a good bit after realizing shooting fashion wasn’t what I wanted to do. There was a bit of a “scene” in the fashion photography world..and it certainly wasn’t my scene. I kind of shot everything at the time. A lot of food, travel, portraits and general interest stories for magazines and catalogs..

I started being asked to shot a lot of restaurant reviews, I’d go shoot food, portraits of chefs, crowded restaurants, drinks,  you kind of had to do it all, Interiors, portraits, still life ect. and while my work incorporates a lot of genres….it all began to become culinary based and now I believe intermingles pretty well.

 His Food Photography Process

When I am called for an assignment there are usually at least a few meetings weather it be by phone or email describing and detailing the job. With an advertising or catalog client there are quite a few more along with storyboards, color scheme, layouts ect…. They usually have a more specific idea they are going after. With an editorial client I usually have a lot more free rein.

Food Photography Camera, Lenses and Other Gear

It will vary obviously for any given situation or client. For most of my advertising work I use a phase one back on either a Mamiya 645 or the rz67d. For most of the catalog and editorial I will use a DSLR in which my case is a Canon 5d II.

For this job it was an editorial and I knew we were going to be pretty mobile with a lot of shots so the Canon is what we used….and for this shot it was with the 100mm Macro. We brought pretty minimal gear to this knowing the light was going to basically be taken away by cards.

We originally had a kino light bank set up, but then decided to go with daylight but I would have modified it the same way with the bank…Just by subtracting what was there.

I added a cross bar to my tripod to be able to get directly overhead without any leg obstruction and a cable release with the mirror up because I knew there would be a bit of shake with the cross bar and slow shutter speed. As far as software…I was tethered to my Laptop using Capture One.

First Decisions I Made

Yes, that image is actually from a restaurant review assignment like we talked about earlier. Being for a magazine they left it up to me for the overall look…They just had specific dishes they wanted to showcase along with interiors, portraits ect.

The restaurant we were shooting was Bocca Lupo in Atlanta where Chef Bruce Logue is pretty known for his Black ink pasta….It’s ridiculously good.  So going into it I knew I wanted this to be a black pasta story. I thought it could be really pretty keeping it all in monochromatic tones.

This particular shot for the magazine was going to be an overhead shot, I also thought of it being a double page spread so we had to keep in mind the gutter was going down the middle and we didn’t want anything to get lost. I also wanted to leave a bit of room for type if this was to be the opener of the story.

Food Styling and Prop Styling

I had a stylist friend of mine Yvonne Orchard helping me out and pulling props. We discussed the overall feel and keeping it monochromatic and dark, so we pulled a lot of surfaces, bowls, plates, stemware, glassware, linens, ect all in sorts of muted tones and natural textures.

For this shot we actually wound up shooting it directly on the floor. Even though we brought surfaces and they had existing tables, the floor inside the restaurant was a great charcoal stained concrete and played off the texture of the bowls we selected…so it worked perfectly with the look we were trying to accomplish.

Lights I Used for Shots 

Most of my work is actually lit, I work primarily with Profoto and have a few Elinchrom Ranger Batteries for portable use and on this I think we did start out with a 4 bank Kino Flo but switched to window light because the way the sun started coming through. The restaurant had a bank of windows to camera left and behind.

The sun was over us so the light coming in the window was pretty diffused minus a bit of pop coming off a wall with metal siding outside. I had 3 large 3×4 black foam core cards to camera right, bottom and top right corner knocking down the light on the right side making it more directional since it was spilling all over in there.

I then had a few smaller strips of black cards placed at camera left and left corner at various distances trying to take down a little light and dapple it a bit without creating hard shadows.

I then had an open ended 1/2 stop silk flag camera left creating a bit of vignette with a small black card down in the left corner making it even stronger to the edge. Then a 1/4 stop finger just bringing down the highlight side of the cheese so it didn’t blow out.  Lastly I held in a small white card just for the reflection in the fork…to clean it up a bit.

Advice to Readers and New Food Photographers

If your new…Find people whose work you like and assist as many different types of photographers you can. I’ve heard of too many assistants that wouldn’t work certain jobs because they “only wanted to do fashion”. Everyone does things differently and has a different approach to lighting…It’s only going to help you.

You can follow me for latest updates and posts. On Twitter, on Facebook and website.

One Question for You

I hope you learned about how to create a photo of Black Pasta from this post. In the comments below, in one line (or more), tell us what was the inspiring thing that you learned from the post.

  • LIsa

    WOW. I love this and thank you so much for all the details. I am a newbie and some made perfect sense and some didn’t but I understood it. I loved all the thought process you shared before the shoot. The end product really is stunning.

  • Hung

    Would it be better if you have a graphical demo about the actual setup in the article? 🙂

  • Great article but now I have to Google ‘open ended 1/2 stop silk flag’ and ‘1/4 stop finger’ because I have no idea what those are 🙂

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