Perfect Baked Potato Photo Shoot: Behind the Scenes

Perfect baked potato with hard light diagram

For the perfect baked potato, I put the plane on autopilot and used the same hard light setup from the classic cornbread post.  I’ve been diggin’ those cornbread shots the last couple of weeks and wanted to play with the light a little more.

Hard Light

I’ve never been of fan of hard light, but on the classic cornbread shoot, I went that direction and liked the results.  It’s a bit of a throwback to the 1990’s when everybody was using the big Fresnels, but nothing shows off texture like a hard light scraping across the surface of a subject.  The only problem is the mess of specular highlights that crop up when it hits anything reflective.

How to Control it

To control the highlights created by the hard light, I used a couple of methods:

A Gobo – A gobo is any solid object that goes between your light and the subject.  Once the light is blocked, it no longer creates a specular highlight.  For the solo baked potato shot, the gobo was my hand placed in front of the light 6 inches away from the potato.

The Angles – Light is like a pool ball being knocked around on a table.  Everything works within a family of angles.  The highlights on the top of the potatoes in the group shot were a little blown out, so I simply changed the angle and moved the camera up a few inches.

Let’s Go Back a Step

So how did I create the hard light?  I moved the main light back 4 feet from my normal position.  The quality (soft or hard) is determined by the size of the light relative to the subject.  Light hitting a subject can be described in many ways, but at the heart of the matter is this simple concept:


If a light is pulled back, it becomes smaller relative to the subject and is harder.  If a light is moved up, it becomes larger relative to the subject and is softer.  Every lighting manufacturer likes to tout their latest miracle modifier, but the physics of light is steadfast.

Wrap up

On the final shot with the group of ingredients, I got tired of fighting the hard light and moved the key light up to overcome the blown out specular highlights.

This is my original test shot with the lighting setup shown above:

Perfect baked potato ingredients with hard light

You’ll notice that the highlights and shadows are very hard.  After seeing this, I pulled the handle on my ejection seat and went to the much softer lighting setup shown below:

Perfect baked potato with soft lighting instead of hard light

Perfect Baked Potato Fixins

Finally, with a nice big light, I had a technically acceptable shot and called it a day.  It was time to eat some perfect baked potatoes.


Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Tamron 17-50mm 2.8
Strobes: White Lightning x1600
Tripod: Manfrotto
ISO: 200
Focal Length: 50mm
Shutter: 125
Aperture: f/11


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  1. 2

    The beauty of David’s professional skill with lighting reminds me of a great musician playing jazz. David uses his eyes whereas a musician like Miles Davis used his ears. But multitude of hours of hard work and intelligent study went into developing those skills, aided by seeing or listening what other great photographers or jazz musicians did. David’s final product’s shows he’s reached the pinnacle of mastery of the ultimate use of his eyes.

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  3. 5

    Your exploration of hard light to capture the texture of baked potatoes, and the subsequent switch to soft light, provides great insight into the intricacies of food photography. It’s fascinating to see how you experimented with different techniques to achieve the perfect shot.

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