Shooting a Steaming Cup of Coffee

By Teresa SteMarie


This image was made to respond to a P52 conceptual photography assignment with the task of say one thing about one thing.

The concept I chose was to show that the coffee was HOT.  To emphasize the hot concept I wanted a tight shot of the coffee with a bit of drama in the lighting.

The image was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II with a 28mm lens at f22 on a tripod. I chose the lens to be able to get in close and show the whole cup. I wanted to have a large depth of field so chose a very narrow aperture.


I shot this in my studio / home office / guest bedroom so I had to work in a tight space! I have a small, adjustable height card table that I got at Wal-Mart that I love to use for tabletop. It is great because it is large enough to work on with white and black cards, but not too large.  I can make it low enough to sit on a stool in front and work on tedious and technical tasks and if I am working with a window I am able to raise it easily depending on the situation.

The surface is a black foam core board with more black foam core serving as a ledge behind the table to flag the light. I propped a 5×7 envelope in front of the cup with a small C-clamp to serve as a fill card. To camera right is a dark wood panel and the area to camera left was open.

For lighting I used one Elinchrom strobe in a 34” x 45” Photoflex Silverdome softbox behind the cup. This light was flagged with the ledge of black foam core propped against the back of the table.  In addition I used a snooted speedlight on the lowest setting to light the coffee in the interior of the cup.  The speedlight is visible on a stand in the foreground of the setup photo.

To make the shot I first used an empty cup and played with many angles and points of view before I found the exact composition that I wanted. Then I marked the spot where the cup was and went a brewed a nice hot espresso to make the final shot. Once there with my hot cup in place, since my camera was locked in the tripod I only had to find the correct position for the snooted speedlight to light the interior.



The image to the left is straight out of camera, with adjustment to lens profile. I took the image from Lightroom into Photoshop for a few edits. Hot coffee does need steam!

First, I retouched the handle to dampen a highlight that I did not like, then I added a texture overlay using another image, and finally I added the steam. The steam was created by using a soft white brush at low opacity to make wavy strokes in 2 layers and applying several blur filters to the brushstrokes and transforming their shape. I then selected the brushstrokes and in another layer used Filter > Render > Clouds with an overlay blend mode to give a more steamy appearance. So, it took 3 layers to create the steam, with a few filters applied within, adjusting opacity and masking to remove a lot of the effect so that it did not look too heavy. The final image shows my Photoshop workflow.


I hope that you enjoyed this demonstration.

Teresa Ste-Marie

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