Food Photography 101: Tossing a salad

March 04, 2013|By Kirk McKoy
  • Photo shoot for tossing a salad.
Photo shoot for tossing a salad. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

This is part of a series of posts on food photography, sharing some of the tips and tricks we use here at The Times. We received a number of great questions from readers, which we will answer in upcoming posts.

In the photo gallery above, photographer Kirk McKoy illustrates how he was able to achieve a great shot of the act of tossing a salad. Continue reading below to learn how he constructed the shot, along with some general tips. -- Noelle Carter

The perfect toss

A perfect tossed salad with fresh, colorful greens and vegetables can be a beautiful display of crisp, vibrant colors. But photographing a perfectly made salad can be a complete beast. I was given the task of photographing a salad and wanted to create something that looked so tasty that the viewer would want to eat the paper it was printed on.

While I wanted to display all of the vibrant colors and shapes of the greens, I also sought to illustrate the freshness and sheer lightness of the delicate dish. In short, I wanted the perfect toss.

I started by drawing a quick sketch of what I thought the salad should look like. The placement of the tongs was key to giving the feel that this salad had just been tossed by a master chef.

Initially, I had Test Kitchen staffers toss the salad as I shot the action; however, I could not control the placement of the greens, which posed a problem (not to mention that I couldn't get a clean shot of the salad without part of the chef in the background).

I quickly decided this would work better as a still-life photo, so I could control the placement of the greens and tongs. Here's a quick step-by-step of what I did to create the illusion of a tossed salad:

  1. I taped a clear sheet of 4-by-6-foot Plexiglas to two light stands.
  2. I set up a roll of white paper as the background.
  3. I placed a table in the foreground to hold the bowl of salad.
  4. I taped salad tongs in place, using articulated arms (the arms I used are from Manfrotto Bogen).
  5. Because of the moist, porous texture of the greens, I could not glue or tape them to the Plexiglas. It took some brainstorming, but I figured out I could use clear museum wax to stick straight pins to the Plexiglas. I pierced the greens onto the straight pins to get them to stay in place. 
  6. Adding some lights, I was ready to shoot.

Even with all the preparation, I still wasn't happy with the first few shots. The salad, with everything frozen in place, looked too artificial. I decided to slow the shutter speed of the camera, and had a Test Kitchen staff member sprinkle some greens in the space between the back of the clear Plexiglas and the white background to add a sense of motion to the tossed greens in the finished shot. It worked perfectly!
Questions or suggestions? Food photography challenge? Comment below or email Noelle Carter at


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