Hot Soup for the Soul

With the arrival of winter in New England, nothing is more comforting than a large bowl of hot soup. I make a lot of soup this time of year. Mostly to simply inhale the soothing aromatic steam (one has to get some moisture in to those sinuses, after all).

However, photographing steam is not nearly as easy to shoot as it is to enjoy.

Steam likes hard light like any other texturally nuanced subject does. The swirls, eddies, and details thrive under the harshness of a bare bulb. But, hard light isn't always desirable.

Case in point-

My vision for this shot is of a bowl of hot steaming soup sitting on a table in a beam of beautifully soft window light.  I want the viewer to know and feel that this soup is putting out some serious aroma. They need to know and feel that the soup is hot.

A few problems present themselves.  Window light is weak and soft.  This does not bode well for my steamy textures. Like I said before, steam likes small, hard light.  So, I have to improvise.

First, I set up a strip box to mimic the characteristics of a window. This gives me power, more so than natural light, while maintaining window light's characteristic softness and size. I do not want the shadows cast by the bowl to be hard and I want the light to wrap itself around the bowl.

This problem is solved. Now, the steam.

Again, steam likes hard light.  I'm not doing myself any favors by setting up a soft box.

See below:

As you can see, the steam is weak and feeble.  The soft box's large, soft light has wrapped itself around the steam and smothered it.

Here is the trick: use a snoot.

A snoot is a small round tube that is fitted over your strobe.  They generally only have an opening 2" in diameter. In other words, small.

Snoots are a photographer's best friend.  They are capable of putting light in just the right places — be it to highlight hair, or a face, or . . . well, steam.  They require a bit of finessing, so patience and attention to detail pays off.  Your goal is to highlight the steam with enough light to show the juicy details and striations.  But, you must be careful to only put the light where you want it to be.

Here is the setup:

I placed the snoot very close to the soft box to maintain the same general direction of light.  In fact, most times, I place the snooted light right in front of the soft box! But, I did not do so here because it distorted the nice spectral highlight in my bowl.

The f-stop for the snoot is up to you. The higher the EV, the more details you will squeeze out. But, you need to find a happy medium, or else it will look … odd, and nothing like what your naked eye sees.

I set mine to 1 stop over my soft box.

Here is the result:

[caption id="attachment_4378" align="aligncenter" width="700" caption="Mamiya 645AFD / Imacon Ixpress v96c with 150mm f3.5 AF - f8 @125th 100iso"][/caption]

The 1 stop difference was the closest setting I could get to what my eye saw.  Converting the image to black and white further enhanced the effect. I am quite pleased!

So, when you're envisioning your next shot, think about what types of light you will need based on the subject matter.  Here, I needed two.

And, for goodness sake, eat your soup before it gets cold.