Stir Fry Food Shoot

Get fired up for food photography with this stirring class.

Lighting, styling and posing hands are just a few of the challenges Karl and Anna faced in this food photography class, where they photographed a still life image of a model holding a bowl of stir fry.

Food photography by itself can be tricky, but when you add a person into the shot, there are a few more things you need to consider. Together, Anna and Karl walk you through the different stages of this shoot, from positioning and posing the subject to styling and lighting the shot.

You’ll learn how to combine hard and soft light, control bright highlights, enhance three-dimensionality and use mirrors and flags to control your light. Karl explains each part of his three-light setup, sharing his thought process and decisions throughout the shoot, while Anna explains how to position the subject, what props work best and why and how to create balance in the shot.

In this class:

  • How to photograph food
  • What to consider when photographing food and models
  • How to photograph hands
  • Food photography lighting examples
  • Food styling tips and tricks
  • Techniques for how to combine hard and soft light

To see how Anna prepared this dish (and for some great food styling tips), make sure to watch the previous chapter.

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.

Often, photoshoots don’t go quite as you may have expected. In this case, what was supposed to be a fairly straightforward shot of a bowl of stir fry turned out to be far more complex than Karl and Anna originally anticipated.

Working through the shot, the pair had to overcome a number of different challenges, including finding the right shooting height and depth of field, controlling bright highlights on the subject’s hands while still maintaining three-dimensionality and even selecting the right props and lighting modifiers.

Using a three-light setup, the pair clearly demonstrate that it’s important to work carefully and methodically and always keep the end goal in mind — make the food the hero. To do this, Karl and Anna had to carefully consider everything from the focus point and clothing selection to lighting setup and props.

When it comes to food photography, even the smallest details count. But with a little care and consideration, you can create something great.


  1. Would love to see a future class for an on location shoot as a lot of work food photographers do is in the restaurant which presents many lighting challenges.

  2. Hi Karl, wonderful tutorial. I had 2 questions for you: 1. What is Anna spraying on the food to make it shine? 2. Are you using manual focus? If yes, how can you see in the dark whether the snap peas are in focus or not? Same with auto focus, my camera refuses to auto focus when it’s too dark.

    1. Hi, Anna covers the spray she is using in the classes but often it is just water, sometimes vegetable oil. I generally focus in manual and check on screen zooming in to be sure it’s OK most of the time the shots are on a tripod so nothing is going to move which means manual focus is easy.

  3. Hi, Karl. I was wondering if the wide aperture like F4 allows natural light to play a part in the exposure, and is the picture pure black without the flash?

    1. Hi Zhangt, there is no natural light in this photo, there is flash and there is the modelling lights from the flash. The shutter speed on the camera is set to 1/500th of a second so that the modelling lights do not have any affect on the picture. The way I always test this, as you will see in other classes, is that I take a test picture without flash to ensure the modelling lights aren’t a problem. In many other scenarios, for example in our ‘Environmental Portrait’ series you will see how I balance natural light with flash for creative purposes. All the best Karl.

  4. Fantastic work for all of you, really like the details! I learned a lot.
    Meanwhile, I was yelling at the other side of the screen: This is not how to hold the chopstick, LOL.

    1. Hi Henrik, I’d use the Mat as you are looking for the most even homogenous spread of light.

  5. Hi Karl and thanks for the reply which confirms what I am finding about location shoots and are the most common requested by clients. They do bring their own difficulties especially if it is a small fast food premises with no tables and your shooting food for menus or online ads.

    A future course on shooting food on location and what equipment you use for this would be a great help. Once again my thanks for this and the great education courses

  6. Hi Karl

    Another great lesson in food photography using a stir Fry dish and the best way to light it but it brings to mind a general problem about shooting food photography for clients.

    Clearly the best option is to shoot each type of food in the studio where you can control and modify the lighting and food styling etc., but what are the best options if the client asks you to shoot the food his chef prepares and is actually on their menu.

    For obvious reasons it isn’t always practical to shoot it in his restaurant because so much of their day is needed to prepare everything ready for opening time so the best possible solution I can think of is to ask the chef to prepare everything for the dishes they want photographed and bring it to the studio to actually cook it

    That way the food can be styled and plated ready for photography and again all the elements of their food and lighting can be controlled. The only other solution I can think of is to have the food cooked and ready to plate in their restaurant and we drag all the studio and styling equipment and everything else to their premises and create a set to photograph the food in their place.

    I am relatively new to food photography and I know that at the end of the day the client brief and what he wants is the most important factor but I wondered what your experience is and how best to persuade the client what will provide him with the very best results.

    Best wishes
    Allan Paul

    1. Hi Allan, I’ve undertaken many food shoots in the restaurant often they look to get them done early morning before the lunch shift and some restaurants have a closed day and you can do them then. There are difficulties with these type of shoots as they often want to include the restaurant scene which can make your viewing angle on the food more limited. The other problem is that I find chefs don’t often understand how to make food look good for photos, obviously a Michelin star chef can but sometimes chef’s creations are not the same as a food stylist who understands what works better in a photo. I’ll look at doing a future course about shooting food on location.

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