Sunday, January 17, 2016

How to capture steam in food photography : DIY

How to create a storm in a tea cup ? 


This is my second post on how to capture steam in food photography. For the beginner post click here. 

Here it is for everyone who requested a second tutorial...

Have you ever as a child, added paint between a sheet of folded paper and rubbed it. Then opened it to find interesting patterns...capturing steam is a lot like that. You know you will get a beautiful pattern of steam, but you will not know what the pattern will look like.

In the beginner post I covered the peripheral aspect, more about the set up.

For a person who has worked with Steam and has been successful, but wants to add more drama and movement. Here is how.

Having gotten a bit of experience, it might be a more rewarding exercise to have the freedom to move 360degrees, so you can get the best possible steam you can.

Camera setting : there is NO magic setting for steam. I have images in all ranges of shutter and aperture settings. Keep a deeper (sharp) DOF*, you do not want the steam to melt into the background.  However, if you want a soft dreamy look, don't listen to me.  However, either ways I highly recommend to keep the ISO to the minimum you can. Steam is nothing but vapor and you do  not want it to merge with noise due to high ISO to dilute the nice crispness you could achieve with a low ISO. Do not underexpose the shot, it will not capture a lot of small details (light steam). Adjust a good exposure with the available light.

Background : Have a dark background, either in the form of a surface or prop, or  a dark shadow. To capture steam in a white background is to try and look for a black cat in a dark room. (literally - not in reference to metaphysics or philosophy)

Light: nice and bright light, for a good exposure. Even though you may have a dark background, you still need good light to capture a white steam.  Backlight and side light: after years of capturing steam, that's probably one of the best directions to get the storm in a tea cup.

Framing : top down shots do not work that well. 45 degrees is ok, but for good drama  go eye level - to capture the nice dramatic vertical movement. Portrait orientation helps.

Props : when you are using a coffee mug or tea cup, it's better to have a narrow mouth. So the heat loss is reduce and you can have steam coming for a longer time - you seem to get more swirls too.

Most important : use your eye, before you start shooting, place the warm beverage in the setup and walk around it - 360 degrees, to see which angle the steam is most visible. The camera will only capture what your eyes can see.

Finally take a lot of extra shots, sometimes you get beautiful swirls or long dancing shapes ...even hearts.

I hope I have not missed anything. If I have I will add to it.

*What is sharp DOF?


This is me getting crazy with steam....

Photography Tutorial - How to capture steam in food photography : DIY




SteamingTea3-800PX-SimiJois-2016 Print Friendly and PDF


  1. That's a very very helpful post thanks simi - Jofy

  2. Happy New Year Simi! Love your tutorial, it is so useful to me. Thanks for sharing all the details.

  3. Thank you for this tutorial Simi. I never get it right with capturing steam.


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