Food Styling and Lighting with Ceviche

Food Styling and Lighting with Ceviche

Have you had trouble lighting reflective surfaces? If you were given a food like ceviche to style, would you know where to begin? In this post, I am going to show you how I styled and shot a scallop and peach ceviche recipe. Here is a little background on the shot. The recipe developer meant for this dish to be served at an outdoor entertaining event, and wanted to highlight the light refreshing nature of the dish. With this in mind, I chose lighting and props that would help communicate this. Here is how I created the shot.

I started with selecting the props, background, and a lighting pattern that would communicate what the recipe developer had in mind. The light purple gingham cloth is something that you could use an an outdoor tablecloth, and the colors of the bell pepper and peaches in the ceviche worked well with the light purple of the table cloth. The glass and silver spoon were the right size for an appetizer portion and the clear glass allows for the colors and textures of the ceviche to be the prominent focus. Using an opaque dish would take away from the ceviche being the focus of the shot.

From a lighting standpoint, the image on the left shows what the dish looked like with a diffused light source behind the shot. The image on the right is what it looks like with two pieces of foam board added as fill. Before I styled the ceviche, I wanted to have the lighting figured out. Once I found the lighting pattern I liked, I removed the fill cards and left the spoon in the glass. It is difficult to add a spoon once the ceviche is already in the glass.


On set I had a large bowl of ceviche. Using a slotted spoon, I picked out the best looking peaches and scallop pieces. A ceviche is raw fish or shell fish that has been cooked by the acid in citrus juice.The slotted spoon allowed for the excess lime juice to drain away.


I used the spoon to add the ingredients to the glass. Then, using a long set of tweezer tongs, I was able to place the pieces of scallop, peach, and bell pepper exactly where I wanted. When styling, always look at the dish from the angle that you will be shooting at. This allows you to see any holes that need to be filled in and if there is too much of one ingredient on one side. I wanted a even mixture of the ingredients across the glass. Using cotton swabs, you can remove any splashes that occur when adding the ingredients to the glass.

Once the ingredients were positioned in the glass, I was able to add back the fill cards. The silver spoon in the glass is a highly reflective subject. Here is the look that you will have if you only backlight.


This doesn't look very appetizing. The dark spoon and heavy shadows in front of the ceviche don't give the light and refreshing feel that the recipe developer had in mind. The solution is to use a foam board fill card and reflect light back in to fill in the shadows. Here is the set with the addition of one fill card.


Notice how the spoon is no longer black! The silver color comes from the spoon "seeing" the white foam board. This is better, but it is still a little too dark. Here is what it looks like with a second foam board fill card added.


Much better! This is the light and refreshing look that I was trying to achieve. When adding foam board fill cards, you will have to play around with the position to figure out how it will best suit your subjects. Just keep in mind that reflective surfaces will "see" whatever you show them. To create a long white high light, they will need to have a white fill card or a large diffused light source in front of them. Below is an easy way to keep fill cards standing upright.

Using an A clamp and a metal roofing bracket, you can create a way for your fill cards to easily stand.

For more food photography tips and techniques, check out issues 1-8 of photographing FOOD.



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good stuff. Definately adds a level of professional lighting while using... a white cardboard.

fstoppers, you guys have always put out informative material, but recently I've noticed a lot of typos, poor grammar, and overall poor writing. I love your page, which is why it pains me to see the quality of the articles go down hill. I love the topics, always have, but please pay a little more attention to the writing. Thanks.

Ha ha ha stuupidiiii comment!!! :)

What are the errors in this post?

Burt Johnson's picture

I like the post, but thought I would note a "better" way I found to keep foamcore board upright. I use a Kenzan Japanese flower holder. I got several from Amazon, and just stick my foamcore board into it. Works great:

Cool suggestion Burt. I use the brackets and clamps like Taylor does but if I was looking for an alternative, your method would be high on the list to try.

Or you could try not putting the ceviche in a glass cup. Generally it's served in a shallow bowl. I mean it looks a lot better with fill light, but the ceviche doesn't really look that great in the first place because it's in a cup.

Not that it matters in our lives, but the correct word is Cebiche. The way it is written here, is a common mistake that has spread a lot lately.

Another interesting read Taylor. What did you use as your primary light source on this one?

Fill card...holy smokes!