How To Photograph Steam

by Natalia Bazilenco

How To Photograph Steam in Food Photography

I normally hangout at a local coffee shop editing photos because it’s easier for me to concentrate (plus free electricity and air condition… not always easy to find those in the Philippines). On my last visit I saw a person holding a cup of steaming hot coffee and thought of this article. This will be a 2 part article on getting good steam shots for coffee shots or food photography.

We will be using ‘real hot water’ rather than photoshopping the smoke

What you will need:

  1. A camera
  2. Wireless triggers
  3. Speedlights
  4. CTO Gel
  5. Props (coffee beans, burlap, wood planks)
  6. Coffee
  7. Boiling water

How To Photograph SteamHow to photograph steam:

1. Start of with the props and background for your shot. I started mine by placing the back side of my wood planks as my base.

How To Photograph SteamTo add more textures I added burlap on the right side of the cup.

How To Photograph SteamI always have a can of coffee beans in stock (which I used in my very first article on DIYP) so I added them around the cup and the burlap.

How To Photograph Steam2. Now to set up the lighting. Start with your main light. I used an sb-600 with lumiquest softbox on the left side of the subject.

I wanted to get a shallow depth of field, so set my camera at f2-f4. I was using both the Nikon D3 with 85mm 1.8 and a Fuji Xe-2 with 18-55 f2.8-4 for the shoot.

How To Photograph Steam

Setup Shot

3. Next add your background light. I placed a bare YN-460 speedlight pointing at the background, and to add more ambiance feeling I placed a 1/4 CTO gel on the speedlight.

Setup Shot

4. To fill in the shadows on the right side, I quick DIYed a board with silver paper as an impromptu reflector.

Setup Shot

Without (left image) and with reflector (right image)

5. As far as steam goes, this is the MOST important light of them all, the back-light. This is the flash that will light the steam. I used a bare strobe and DIYed  a snoot from a piece of paper, then placed it on the back right of the subject pointing at the top of the cup.

quick DIY snoot

Highlight to light the steam coming from the back

Final Setup

6. For the steam use BOILING HOT water or coffee. I placed some powdered coffee in the glass and used boiling hot water to get the steam. I did this a couple of times and reheated the kettle to get it boiling again.


I did some quick levels adjustment in Lightroom.

Final image

Post by Laya Gerlock

How To Photograph Steam

Photography tutorial video (Video By Robert Grant) will demonstrate how to capture the look of steaming coffee.

See also: How to photograph waterfalls

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