Food Photography Tip – Photographing Food Using Real Fire

food photography steaks on grill


Food Photography Tip – Shooting Fire

Okay…  The food photo shown above isn’t the one we did in the video, but it was done using the same technique. A apologize in advance for the poor video production quality.  Basically, I just set up a go-pro, turned it on and then edited in a few still images.  There’s nothing fancy about the video, but I think it does a much better job than sell photos ever could of showing you just how this food photography technique is accomplished.

Setting up a fake grill

In the video, you’ll see how we set up the fake grill.  What isn’t real clear is the fact that the light box with the colored get attached, is under the grill, facing up at the Plexiglass surface supporting the briquettes.  Used fireplace ash is used to “age” the coals to make them not look as though they are right out of the bag…  The flame wand shown in the video is connected to a 5 gallon propane tank via rubber tubing.  The actual set is a pain in the butt to set up and requires extra people that know how to use this equipment.

The Process of photographing food on the fake grill

Basically, the process starts with building the set so that we get all the background in the shot that we think we’ll need.  Then, we compose the best we can with dummy (raw) food so that dummy food photographer can compose and light the set.  After getting the Art Director so sign off on everything, that’s when the fun begins and we get down to making fire!  The only tough thing about doing food photography with real fire is trying to figure out the correct shutter speed to use.  The flash usually makes the shutter speed unimportant and irrelevant, but the fire requires a longer shutter speed than normal.  That’s why we turn off the lights to shoot.  Normally, the shutter speed is so cash, that the ambient light is overpowered completely by the flash and there is no problem with the exposure being affected by the fluorescent lights of the studio.  But the orange of the flame required me to leave the shutter open longer than normal, maybe a 1/2 second, as I remember. If I would of left the studio light on, everything would have turned a little green.  My normal shutter speed is 1/125th of a second.  Much faster than that and my “duration of flash” from my Norman strobes, would cause a slight inconsistency.

Putting it all together

You’ll see that many shots are taken and composited together so that we can pick and choose from many different flame positions and heights.
This technique is very dangerous and we have had “issues” with small explosions, but nothing too serious.  I wouldn’t suggest you try this at home people… I just thought I’d post this to show you how professional food photographers do what they do.
Enjoy, and let me know what you think.  Please take a moment and comment or ask a question.  I’d appreciate it!

Watch the behind the scenes video of how to photograph food on a grill

Hey!  Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.  I’m here to share and I’m sure that some novice food photographers have questions about what I’ve said or what I’ve shown.  Go ahead, do it! POST A COMMENT :o)


  1. Rhowena MacCuish · March 4, 2014

    Interesting video, always great to see behind the scenes work.

  2. Cj · March 8, 2014

    Fascinating 🙂

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    • Michael Ray · March 12, 2014

      You’re welcome. I plan on posting something at least every Monday morning. Hopefully, I’ll stick with it. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  6. Yos Kebe · March 15, 2014

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  7. Geoff Binns-Calvey · May 19, 2014

    Michael- great stuff! If you ever have a shot where the coals are really featured, I have a nice set of acrylic “hot coals”, hand cast from real, half-burned coals, for rent. Keep the great blogging up!

  8. Elina Gomez · May 21, 2020

    I personally like real firing food photography. Here this is also a great experience here and some knowledge gain. Thank you very much for nice article.


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