Cooking up a Photograph in Your Kitchen

Cooking up a Photograph in Your Kitchen

In this post Ronan Palliser shares some behind the scene details on the taking of this eye catching shot.



  • 1 small kitchen
  • 5 martini glasses
  • 500ml of water
  • 3 drops of food colouring in different colours
  • A dollop of off-camera flash (triggered by PC cord, radio receiver or infra-red such as Nikon CLS)

You will also need:

  • An ironing board and a chair
  • 2 sheets of white printer paper
  • 2 pieces of black card (optional)
  • Glass from a 16″x12″ photo frame
  • An A1 size sheet of white mounting board


Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1/250th of a second

Bake at f/8, ISO 200


First you need to construct a mini studio. Place the two sheets of printer paper on the ironing board, and cover with glass taken from the photo frame, to create a reflective base. For the backdrop, prop the A1 sheet of mounting board up on a chair, and place behind the ironing board.

Position your martini glasses on the ironing board, in two rows – three at the back, two at the front, and adjust the position of your camera (on the tripod) relative to the whole set up so that you can compose the photograph with all the martini glasses in the frame, and the white backdrop filling the frame

Add the water to the glasses, so that each is filled to the same level, and drop some food colouring into the back row of glasses.


The secret to lighting glass is to not light the glass. You need to light the background, and the light that bounces back from that will backlight the glasses nicely. If you try to front light the glass you will get ugly reflections. To get some edge definition on the glass it is best if the background is only just big enough to fill the frame, and no bigger, so you can play with the distances between your camera, the ironing board and the background to fulfill this condition as best as you can. Also you can help define the edges even more by placing some black card or paper at either side of the glasses as seen in the setup shot.

To light the background, place your off-camera flash underneath the ironing board, pointing at the centre of the background with a wide zoom. Set to manual, and choose 1/4 power to start with.

Putting it all together:

Put your camera at its max sync speed, with an aperture of about f/8 to give good depth of field through your shot. I used a 50mm lens to take the shot, but use whatever you have available. Avoid wide angles as you’ll need a bigger background to fill the frame and will get distortion of the glasses.


Take a photo with the flash off to see that you are getting minimal ambient contribution to the shot. You can stop down your aperture or decrease your ISO if you have too much ambient light, or wait until it’s darker. Ideally you want the photo lit primarily by flash.

Turn on your flash, and take a few test shots, adjusting the flash power until you get a look you like. You don’t need a light meter – just make sure that the background is getting enough light to be white and evenly lit, but not too much to lose definition at the edges of the glasses due to flare. For me, 1/4 power on a Nikon SB-800 was sufficient.

With the lighting set up, you just need to check your composition and look for a shot which includes some of the stems of the glasses reflected in the base of your studio, keeping the top of the glasses level with each other.

And you’re done.


Before you disassemble your studio think about other shots you can take – for instance what about tilting everything (the base, the background and the camera) by about 15 degrees to get a shot of glasses with the water going at a seemingly impossible angle?


-2About the Author: Ronan Palliser is an Irish photography addict, living in Dublin. He maintains a daily photoblog at and publishes a new photograph every day, with in-depth technical details about how the shot was taken.

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Some Older Comments

  • CIOPhoto January 2, 2010 08:51 am

    Ronan, this was a great how to article. I saw it when it first appeared and just got around to setting it up yesterday to take the last photo for my 2009 Project 365. I tried the tilted option and was very happy with the results. Thanks again for the great instructions.[eimg link='' title='Tipsy' url='']

  • Vikram September 30, 2009 01:49 am

    Hi.. Thanks for the tips.. I tried it out at my house and this is what I ended up with.

    - Vikram

  • meckimac September 14, 2009 09:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing that great tip. I tested it out the other night and I was using a white shelf-board as background instead of the A1 sheets which I didn't have but it worked out quite well.

    Here some samples:

  • Yogendra September 14, 2009 01:20 pm


    Tried this setup for my latest shot for DPChallenge.. the results were nice.. just wanted to thank you for the setups and explaining them. Here is i tried with this setup.

  • Lennard September 14, 2009 06:49 am

    Really great tutorial. Less is more. These are the tipps which bring us a step further. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  • FrancoisM September 6, 2009 06:04 am

    Hi there,
    I tried the proposed recipe but, as I always do in the kitchen, I changed some ingredients :)

  • Filipe Oliveira September 5, 2009 09:33 am

    Very Good artice!
    the tip to use black card or paper at either side of the glasses to define the edges is just great

  • Zack Jones September 5, 2009 03:02 am

    Cooking time: 1/250th of a second
    Bake at f/8, ISO 200

    HA HA HA very funny. Great article! I'll have to see if I can find some martini glasses at the flea market this weekend :)

  • amir paz September 5, 2009 01:53 am

    Thanks Alot

    Great Post, and excelent explenations

    i followed them as exactly as i could have

    having only three glasses and no white paper background...

    and i produced some very nice pictures thanks to your great article :)

    i'll be happy to hear what you think...


  • Kostas September 4, 2009 10:37 pm

    Thanks for this article. I always wondered how 'they' make these nice pictures of glasses, but now I have a clear idea to try. Cheers!

    Read more:

  • Kostas September 4, 2009 10:35 pm

    Thanks for this article. I always wondered how 'they' make these nice pictures of glasses, but now I have a clear idea to try. Cheers!

  • Ronan Palliser September 4, 2009 05:42 pm

    Thanks for all the comments and the positive feedback folks. I believe there should be no mystery behind images and in sharing any techniques I've learned so I'm glad people are finding this useful. I'd really encourage those of you who have a flash that can be taken off the camera to give this a try - as you can see you don't need much in the way of materials. Just to respond specifically to a few comments:

    @Danferno, @JessicaS, @Iris- you can pick up a second hand flash for very cheap on ebay or in your local camera store - I bought a Vivitar 283 which is perfect for this sort of shot during the week for €30 for instance.

    @cavale - the kitchen shown is about 5 feet by 5 feet... it was the kitchen of my apartment... I'm lucky enough to be living in a house with a slightly bigger kitchen now, but the point I was hoping to get across was that to do this shot you don't need a lot of space.

    @h_ching - if it has a PC socket, then a PC cord from your camera is easiest/cheapest. If it has an optical slave and your camera has a built in flash that'll trigger it, but you'll need to reduce the power of your built in flash as much as possible. If you have one of the later Nikon flashes and Nikon SLRs you can trigger it remotely from the camera. If you have none of the above, get a hotshoe to PC or hotshoe to hotshoe cable depending on if your camera or flash has that PC socket. Or you can get cheap radio triggers online for about $20. Lots of options... just need to figure out what connections you have on your flash and camera and work out what is best for you.

    @Dobert - well spotted... this is actually just a setup shot to test the concept so I wasn't too worried about the glass heights. For the final shot I actually used wine glasses and so placed them more carefully

    @Steve Jones - yeah that is a good idea, but at the time I just had duct tape handy... I guess again the point is that you can do these things on the fly with stuff you might have lying around the house. Would be great to see the results using silicon or hot glue if you have time to give it a try. Avoiding having to crop out the bases as I did would really add mystery to the shot!

    @Richard X Tripp - yeah I can imagine ink would be messy! Oh and yes...that law of gravity is a bummer to overcome :o)

    @junaid (and others for the praise) thank you - I like being able to pass on the info and hopefully will get the chance to do more of these in the future!

  • Richard X. Thripp September 4, 2009 10:46 am

    @FrancoisM: Oh, that's true. I wasn't thinking three-dimensionally. The liquid would be level then and it would be obvious you tilted the camera.

    Once again, duct tape is the only way.

  • KATHIE KIRTS September 4, 2009 06:45 am

    Wonderful creativity! Another use for Duck Tape.

  • Philip Hennessy September 4, 2009 06:19 am

    Cheers Ronan. It just goes to show that the BEST shots very simply taken and setup with a bit of imagination. Well done and thank you.

  • Junaid September 4, 2009 04:28 am

    WoW! This is AWESOME - i love the way that you broke it down - so simple, yet so interesting! I can't wait to try it out :D

    Plz add more such tutorials in the future!!

  • Carmelita September 4, 2009 03:22 am

    This is very nice,
    Ima have to try this one.
    Thank You

  • Tim A. September 4, 2009 03:10 am

    Love doing stuff like this. No need for an expensive studio setup or top of the line materials. You can do so much with just a few poster boards, some construction paper, tape, a tripod, and a single off camera flash! My dining room table is my "studio" :)

  • FrancoisM September 4, 2009 02:53 am

    OK, now I'm hungry :)
    Great explanations, thank you.

    @ Richard X. Thripp: You're right ... but how will you manage to have the "angled" liquid in the glasses ?


  • Dawn @ My Home Sweet Home September 4, 2009 01:30 am

    LOVED this!

  • Rodrigo September 4, 2009 01:22 am

    Quite an excellent result for such a cheap setup! Congrats, I might try that myself.

  • Rhino Horn September 4, 2009 12:16 am

    Fascinating. Never could have thought about the set-up. Something for us to try. Thank you for sharing

  • Sarah September 3, 2009 11:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing; that was really awesome, and a great tutorial!!!

  • Richard X. Thripp September 3, 2009 11:06 pm

    Wow that is awesome. I need to get some food coloring. One time I used leftover ink from spent ink cartridges, but it was really messy. I had ink on my hands for two days.

    I don't get tilting the table and duct-taping the wine glasses, then cropping to remove the duct tape. Why couldn't you just leave the table flat and turn the camera to the side? Much simpler.

  • Iris September 3, 2009 11:05 pm

    Marvelous tutorial :) - Thank you for sharing. Now I know for sure that an external flash will be my next investment :)

  • waysiong September 3, 2009 11:00 pm

    thanks! i really got alot of ideas from this tutorial :)

  • Sylvain September 3, 2009 06:29 pm

    A great tutorial ! Thank you !

  • Steve Jones September 3, 2009 04:56 pm

    Hey on that angled one, why don't you try some clear silicon or clear hot glue. Silicon takes a bit to set up but either would really clean up the shot. Plus all you have to do to get it off is use a razor blade to separate it.

  • Vennela September 3, 2009 03:03 pm

    Both shots are wonderful !
    Second one is too good..
    Cant wait to try it !

  • Jessica S. September 3, 2009 02:09 pm

    I really enjoyed this tutorial, thanks! The final image is beautiful, really well done.

    Now, if I only had an off' camera flash . . . .

  • Chris Sutton September 3, 2009 08:43 am

    Thankn you for taking all the 'mystery' out of it and sharing your technique. Just as in many walks of life the K I S S * principle is the best.

    * Keep it simple stupid

  • Arif | September 3, 2009 06:35 am

    awesome! I always wanted to know how ppl did those shots!


  • Peter September 3, 2009 06:27 am

    Excellent information! Thank you for the simple details, and the 'secrets' to good lighting... this article has helped me to improve my skills...

    thanks dps...

  • Dobert September 3, 2009 05:00 am

    Nice but why on tilted photo glasses seems to be different height :(

  • h_ching September 3, 2009 03:51 am

    got an external flash 2 days ago...and still can't figure out how to make it fire...

    very nice tutorial...thanks.

  • cavale September 3, 2009 03:39 am

    i would just like to say, that is not at all a small kitchen in any way, shape, or form.

  • 0rovert September 3, 2009 03:33 am

    Brilliant! Very well done! Best tutorial I've read in quite some time. Thanks for sharing.

  • Teewinot September 3, 2009 03:31 am

    Very cool!

  • Tom September 3, 2009 03:29 am

    Great! Love it! I'm sure there are lots more people like me that read DPS who really need straight-forward, well-written, practical, easy 101 tutorials like this!

    Learnt so much from it, thanx!

  • Danferno September 3, 2009 03:04 am

    Makes me wish I had an external flash ^^

  • Aaron September 3, 2009 02:56 am

    This is a fantastic tutorial! Great way to get the creative juices flowing. You can churn out many stock photo worthy pictures with very little time/effort.

  • Steve Hollasch September 3, 2009 02:45 am

    Wow, great tutorial. I'm a rank amateur when it comes to studio setups, so I learned quite a bit from this. Thanks!

  • Bryan September 3, 2009 02:15 am

    That was really nice!

  • Silverzz September 3, 2009 01:54 am

    Great article, this will really help me out.

  • MeiTeng September 3, 2009 01:41 am

    wow...I love the result of this cooking! wonderful shots.