Brown photographed the furniture retailer’s
trademark Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes
and lingonberry juice. Brown went to an Ikea
store to gather ingredients, and food stylist
Kate Schmidt arranged the food to resemble
an elegant restaurant meal. To suggest the
color palette, photo editor Annie Chia had
sent Brown some reference images taken
from old Betty Crocker cookbooks, “which
I’ve always been a fan of,” the photographer
says. Chia also pulled a few of Brown’s past
food shots. He notes, “One thing that they
liked about the pictures she sent was having
objects coming in from off-frame. In our final
image the knife, dessert and bottle pouring
are all coming from out of frame, picture right.”
To light the portrait of Nussbaum, he started
by lighting Nussbaum’s face with a strobe
that was boomed over his camera. He used
Rosco Cinefoil on the strobe to focus the
light and prevent spill. He also added a CTO
gel to the strobe.
The gel added a warm glow to the subject’s
face, and also balanced the color temperature
of the Lowel DP 1K tungsten light Brown
used to light Nussbaum’s legs and the carpet.
He used a second strobe to light the pink
chair, the objects on the side table and the
wall behind Nussbaum. Both strobes ran on
the same Speedotron 1200 w/s pack. Finally,
Brown added a Lowel Tota 750-watt light on a
stand about 2-feet high and set back from the
camera to provide some fill.
While the gelled strobe and the tungsten
lights cast a warm hue, the strobe illuminating
the background cast a blueish tone on the white
wall between the two north-facing windows,
adding dimension to the composition.
Brown used the same light sources on his
food shot for Fast Company. A Lowell DP
placed above and behind the food cast the
darkest shadows in the image. To the left of
the arrangement, he placed a Lowel Tota. He
notes, “The blue accents in the shadow [are]
from a strobe to the right of the camera.”
Again, he put Cinefoil on the strobe to focus
the light, “so it didn’t overtake the other lights
on the set.”
Brown shot both assignments on a Canon
5D Mark II, which was tethered to a monitor
he would check occasionally as he refined
For Nussbaum’s portrait, he used a Canon
35mm f1.4 L series USM lens at f/16. He shot
handheld at 1/160th second, ISO 400.
To photograph the Ikea meal, he placed his
camera on a tripod. He used a Canon EF 75-
300mm F4-5.6 zoom, shooting at f/16, 1/80th
second at ISO 200.
Brown does his own processing in Photoshop.
“Most often, post is dealing with color, tone
and contrast,” he says. He calls his post-processing “waxing the apple.” After he sends
a selection of images from a shoot to his
editors, “I like to work up a favorite if I have
time, or if I think it is necessary for the selects
to be better understood. The before-and-after
aren’t normally drastically different but, there
certainly is a before-and-after difference.”
After The New Yorker published its profile,
Nussbaum bought an outtake from the shoot—
showing her with shoes on—for her own use.
“She said, ‘This isn’t the typical author picture
and for that reason I like it,’” Brown recalls.
“That was a nice compliment.”
ABOVE: The color palette in a story for Fast Company about food at Ikea was inspired by images in old Betty
Crocker cookbooks, which photo editor Annie Chia sent to Brown as a reference. Brown used a mix of strobe
and tungsten lights for the tabletop setup. “The blue accents in the shadow [are] from a strobe to the right of
the camera,” Brown notes.
See more stories about lighting techniques