How to Take a Picture of the Steam From Your Meals




Many of you saw my scrambled eggs Instructable and commented on the main picture. You might be wondering how I did that. So here is my Instructable to teach you one way to take a picture similar to it. This is just my method, if anybody else has their own, please comment!

Step 1: Materials

Here is what you will need:

  • Window/door where the light shines through
  • Hot food/beverage
  • Spot to place your food where it is in direct range of the sunlight
  • Camera
  • Morning/Evening time slot.

Step 2: Find a Window

Find a window in your house that lets the light in well. I have a door near my kitchen table, so the light flows in nicely. Find a time when it is either morning, or evening. This way, you can catch the sun's direct rays as it is rising or setting.

Step 3: Grab Your Camera

Once you have a good window of light shining through to where your food it, walk to the opposite side of the food from where it is getting the direct light.

So if the window is shining on the right side of the plate, move to the left side to take the picture: and vice versa.

Take your picture with a decent camera that can focus pretty well. If you can see the steam rising from the hot platter of food; you are in the right spot.

Take the snapshot, and there you go.

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    85 Discussions


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 3

    its the time it takes for the camera to close the shutter... if the shutter is open for a long time, you let more light in, and the other way around.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Pretty sure he meant what shutter speed to shoot at.
    I'd say any under 1/50 is okay since the steam is slow, with the lower the better.


    10 years ago on Step 3

    WOW! I can not believe it! I have taken pics of my moms hot foods but even though they were steamy hot,no steam showed up but now I know why! THANKS!

    2 replies

    11 years ago on Introduction

    It helps also to have a background that contrasts to the steam ("vapor", fine). I'd also heard a trick for really getting the steamy look - take a tampon soaked in boiling water and hide it behind the food - supposedly a trade secret of pro food photogs.

    13 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I've heard of that trick too! If the idea of a tampon kinda grosses you out, a cotton ball soaked in water and microwaved is supposed to work just as well. :P


    That's the one I've heard of as well. What can really get gross is how a lot of the meat you see photos of is actually 100% raw, and just painted to look freshly cooked. Sometimes they'll use a blow torch and just cook the outside edges to give it a nice grilled look. And white glue for milk...ew


    yes, the world of food photography is...umm...interesting. One time I looked up how much the special glass/plastic ice cubes they use in their drink shots cost and some of them are $50 or more! I've also heard that they put eyeliner on "grilled" veggies, lipstick on strawberries, waterproofing spray or hairspray on cake, spray-on deodorant for the frost on grapes or cold glasses, frosting mixed with more powdered sugar for ice cream, dish soap in milk to make it bubbly...the list goes on and on! you definately do NOT want to eat the food from a big photo shoot.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I know a food photographer and the ice cubes that he uses are liki small blcks of puttey that when placed in water expand into a ice-cube-like lump of jelly


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    yeah...i think i've heard of somthing similar (maybe the same?) where the material is similar to gelatin. Oh, and here's another odd trick: in shots with chicken or other poultry, not only the the photographers photograph the meat raw, they also use a syringe to inject mashed potatoes under the skin to make the chicken look fatter and healthier....i think that's a bit gross, personally.


    I went on a job shadow with a food photographer recently, and the food stylist there was talking to me about how most of those tricks online aren't true. Nearly 100% of the food is real, and just cooked/plated with precision. She's been doing it for 15+ years.

    Actually photographers use whatever means necessary to accomplish whatever effect desired. They have a responsibility to provide an effect which appears better than reality.

    The stylist that I talked to specifically told me that at none of the seminars, classes and other meetings she had been to had she ever heard of people actually using those outlandish ideas that they've been talking about. (Professional food photographers rarely prep their own food. There's simply not enough time) Besides that, there are laws guiding what food can and cannot be faked per the picture's use. Think of it like this: A restaurant can't tell someone that if you order their wings you'll get 50 if it only comes with 25. Similarly, you can't show them meat with mascara grill marks if the meat you sell doesn't come with mascara grill marks.

    I have worked as a professional photographer in a commercial art studio. Everything you see is an illusion. Every blue sky is created with a polarizing filter. Sunsets don't always look so orange. Sparkling water doesn't glisten that much. Pizza cheese doesn't really stretch that much. Reality is exaggerated. Rough complexions are made soft with filters and soft reflected lighting. Fast food hamburgers aren't really that thick. The illusion is created with a wide angle lense at a low angle. Everything is enhanced. There are no laws controling such illusions. If you see it in print or on TV chances are that it's not real...

    There are laws guiding advertising, you can't take a picture of one thing and sell one thing and claim it's something else. It may be a lighting trick, but it's still real food.

    Please tell us which laws you are referring to. In the Netherlands the situation is:
    -On a tin can is a picture of beautiful fresh herrings surrounded by not too much tomato sauce with a bit of fresh green herbs on top, a fresh leaf of lattice on the side, on a dish, with very small print "serving suggestion". All this is real food but there is actually a lot of sauce, no fresh herbs or lattice in the can and the herrings actually look nothing like those in the picture. Legal.
    -in a TV commercial a room full of people holding glasses that have fake "dew" on one side, a layer of gold on the other side, the fluid and foam inside the glasses looks for the camera just like what beer should look like in our minds but actually is totally not related to beer. The few words of text spoken in this commercial do advice the viewer to buy a certain brand of beer but not a word that tells us the lie that these people are actually drinking beer. Legal.
    -In food magazines in pictures how to prepare the perfect food they actually use dry ice and hot tampons to create the steam, play dow for the ice cream, wall paint for the sauce and so on. They are selling glossies, not food. Legal.
    -In movies food has to look great, shot after shot. Who cares if it's actually edible? Legal
    Indeed it's not legal to tell customers that they can expect fresh fish, fresh herbs, fresh lettice and a dish inside a can. Who would believe such a claim?

    Exactly. The photographer was telling me about a job he did for a chain of BBQ restaurants. They brought about two dozen slabs of ribs, cooked them all up, and then he and his stylist picked the best of the batch.