This summer were letting some of our friends in the field take over the blog to provide some expert advice on all things concerning the grocery space. This week, Brent Taylor explains his own term, Reductive Capture, as a means of organizing a successful food photography shoot. Here’s what he had to say:

I work as a commercial still life photographer, with a focus on proprietary images of food, liquids, and products. 80% of my work is in the packaging and advertising world of food and beverage photography. After my work is produced, it typically makes its way to a food or beverage package on your local supermarket shelves, or a point of sale display near the checkout counter.

“Reductive Capture” is a phrase I came up with about five years ago. It is my attempt to define a concept that has proved to be very useful to me. It is also a way for me to establish a workflow on set that everyone in my crew understands. This is probably not a new concept; many professional photographers do this without thinking about it.

During a photo-shoot we have several key players in place to make sure thing are going smoothly. Most of the time we have some folks from the creative agency on set to guide and direct us creatively to achieve their vision. We also typically have a few folks from the client side on set to make sure their product is being represented correctly, and in its best light. (Pardon the Pun)food photography for packaging

When an image is completed on set, everyone in the studio, photographer, stylist, creative agency, and client all come to a mutual agreement that we “have the shot”. This shot is called the “HERO”


(Above: Hero Shot)

In most cases, I should say 90% of the time, this is the shot that we go with. It goes into production, on to print, and all is well.

However what about that 10% of the time when the key decision maker from client side isn’t on set and wants to make changes after the shoot is over? Or the image goes into consumer testing and doesn’t do so well? Or we find out after the shoot that the image has to print on flexo and MUST be in full focus?


These situations are when reductive capture come in to play. Reductive capture is a simple way to cover the bases photographically. It’s my way of making sure that while I’m on set and the final shot/hero is in front of me I capture everything I need in order to make changes to an image in post production after the photo-shoot is over and everyone is gone. This basically applies to two concepts: Focus, and Reduction.

FOCUS: As mentioned above, some of the printing methods in packaging design can vary greatly depending on the client’s budget, what kind of material a package is made of, and the need for the package to be mass produced.


(Above: F2 Focus, slightly back focused from Hero)

Typically with food photography we are shooting a little softer allowing for the background to go soft (out of focus) giving the food a bit more appetite appeal. It also usually gives the image a stronger sense of environment and mood.


(Above: F3 Focus, slightly back focused from F2)

The first part of the process once the final shot/hero is established is to do what we call focus racks. This means racking the focus on the camera lens to the very front of the frame.


(Above: F4 Focus, slightly back focused from F3)

We will then capture this frame calling it F1, then work our way back in terms of focus capturing as many images as needed until we are at the very back of the frame.


(Above: F5 Focus, slightly back focused from F4)

If the need does arise to have the image in full focus for printing reasons we will combine the images F1/Hero-F5 in post production to achieve full focus of the image from front to back.


Reduction: The next step in our capture sequence is really where the name “Reductive Capture came from.


(Above: Hero Shot)

Reduction is basically the act of physically removing items from the image and taking a shot. It could be a plate, spoon, or a glass; basically everything that is on the set at the time the hero was captured.


(Above: Hero shot with front plate out to capture entire napkin)

We will do this by removing the items in the front of the frame first and then work our way back until we have nothing but a surface for the last frame.


(Above: Reduced shot without plate of napkin)12

(Above: Reduced shot missing plate, napkin, and back glasses)


(Above: Fully reduced shot leaving nothing but the surface)

After the photo-shoot, if someone decides they wish the plate were an inch to the left, or they decide a fork or some other prop is distracting, we have a shot without it, and can quickly make it disappear or move it to where they would like it to be!


(Above: Fork moved slightly forward)

I should point out, this process is not possible if the camera moves in any way. Try to fire your shots from the computer if you’re tethered, or use a sync cord if not. Touching the camera is a no no!15

Just remember, it’s always best to cover your bases photographically rather than trying to clone something together after the fact in post production. If you have all of the pieces to the puzzle, any request is possible!