Contributor Conversations: Joshua Resnick shares the secrets to recreating 5 of his most popular food photos

Chad Verzosa

At 19 years old, Joshua Resnick got into stock photography as a way to earn income while traveling with his then archeologist girlfriend. Despite lacking experience behind the lens, he decided to pursue the craft with only his artistic sense—and the internet—to guide him.

“I did a ton of research and bought a DSLR and fumbled my way into photography,” he shares.

three mexican pork carnitas tacos flat lay composition
Photo by Joshua Resnick

Now a veteran in the field, the Las Vegas-based photographer focuses most of his energy on food photography. Take a peek behind the scenes to find out how he captured some of his most popular shots.

Grilled Meat

hamburgers and hotdogs cooking on flaming grill
Photo by Joshua Resnick

“This is possibly the most difficult food shoot I have ever done. Getting good shots of food being grilled is very challenging. I had to do nearly an entire day of preparation for this.

“Prep is key for good grill shots! I basically cooked everything inside. First, hot dogs were boiled, then the burgers were pan-fried. To get the grill marks and char, I heated up a metal skewer with a propane torch and added the grill marks individually to all the meats.

“I also went over the meat with the torch to add char to the edges. Since I wanted real flames in the shot, I had to use charcoal. I needed to figure out the lighting beforehand to prevent the meat from being burnt and overcooked. Trying to balance the exposure of the flames with the ambient light is very difficult.

“For this shot, I did it outside under a tree in the shade, so the sun did not overpower everything. I also had a flash about 15 feet away with a warm gel on it. I did this with a Fuji GX680 medium format camera with a Hasselblad back, so luckily I had a high flash sync speed, and I was able to overcome the ambient light and not overexpose the flames.

“Getting good flames is another thing that is hard. You won't get flames like this on your own with grilling. I had a small squeezable bottle with vegetable oil that I would squirt on the coals right before I took the shot, so I had to time the shots with the flare-ups to get something that looked good.”

Pho

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Photo by Joshua Resnick

“This was a fairly straightforward shot. Before I shot this, I already had an idea of what I wanted it to look like, so I set up an empty bowl and all the plates and spoons and got the lighting and composition the way I wanted it.

“I had my camera attached to a boom above the table. For the lighting, I had a huge diffuser with a flash blasting into it, directly behind, and a 2nd small flash with no diffusion to add a bit of harder light to the left to add contrast.

“For the actual food, I just went to a local Pho restaurant and got it to go. I assembled everything onto my bowls and plates. Since I already had the lighting figured out, I did not have to do much adjustment. For types of shots like these, how you arrange your items is the most challenging part of the process.”

Beer

freshly poured amber beer in mug served with bratwursts
Photo by Joshua Resnick

“I always love shooting drinks! My favorite way to photograph beer is backlighting it with warm, hard light and a big white reflector in the front. For this shot, I had a flash located about 10 feet away at 2 o'clock.

“I had to work a bit to minimize light spill, so I used a grid on the flash and put large black cardboard flats behind the table to block all the stray light.

“My goal is to only allow a small strip of light to hit just where the food and beer were at. If you don't control the light, it will look super flat. However, too much control will make it look too contrasty, so the trick to getting this to look good is experimenting with how much light spill there is.

“Once I got the lighting right, I filled up the glass to 90% and stirred it with wooden chopsticks. The tannins in the wood from the chopsticks react with the beer and creates foam. You never know exactly how it will look so I would stir, let it foam up, and take a picture, I did this maybe 15 times. I had to replace the beer a few times because after about five cycles of stirring, the beer loses its ability to foam up. “

Waffles

blueberry waffles with strawberries
Photo by Joshua Resnick

“Waffles are tricky. Getting them stacked in a photogenic way is 80% of the battle. For this shot, I made the waffles from scratch in a waffle maker. To prevent the waffles from absorbing the syrup, I sprayed them with silicone lubricant. This creates a barrier that is hard for the syrup to seep into as fast. I also chilled it in the freezer to make it thicker.

“As for the lighting, I used a large diffuser to the left with a flash a few feet behind to create a large, flat even light. To the right, I had a large white reflector to add fill. However, it was too flat, so to add a little contrast, I added another flash directly behind with no diffusion to get some nice hard light into the scene and sharpen things up.”

Burger

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Photo by Joshua Resnick

“Burgers are another tricky subject to shoot, and this burger was no exception. I sourced the burger itself from a local restaurant, but the lettuce and tomato I added myself.

“I do it this way because it is nearly impossible to find good looking burger buns in a normal store, so restaurants are really the only place you will find stuff like this. Also if you go this route, make sure to mention when ordering that you want every ingredient packed separately to keep everything looking fresh.

“As for actual shooting, assembly of the burger takes some finesse. To keep things in place, I use small toothpicks or metal pins. It makes things much easier! I also keep a small brush with canola oil to brush onto the burger patty to keep it looking fresh. No one wants a dried out burger!

“As far as lighting for this shot, burgers are tall, which creates a lot of challenges in lighting and limits what you can do. I had to use a large diffuser with a flash at roughly 3 o'clock and a large white reflector on the opposite side.

“The important thing here is the diffuser I was using was very long, about 6 feet. This makes a big difference because it allows you to get hints of backlighting while still mostly lighting from the side and even getting some fill in the front.”

The A-ha Moment

Despite his natural talent, obtaining technical perfection didn’t exactly come easy for Joshua.

“Early on, I was really bad. I don't even bother submitting those photos anywhere now,” he shares, “Eventually though, I just had this A-ha! moment where everything just clicked, and I ‘got it’.”

picking up a piece of sushi with chopsticks
Photo by Joshua Resnick

Eventually, his dedication to the medium allowed him to improve his skills and achieve high-quality commercial level images: “The important thing is, if you do something long enough and often enough, and are trying to improve what you are doing, you'll eventually push yourself into this A-ha! moment as well.”