BTS: Creating Pictures of Fried Chicken for the KFC Website

Yum! Brands-KFC Website Photography

In this article, I will share a behind-the-scenes look at how I created photos of fried chicken for one of the world’s most iconic brands: KFC.

My studio had already been shooting nearly all of KFC’s print work for more than a year when their in-house creative group first contacted us. Turns out they found us through a Google search, and didn’t even realize we had done work for KFC until they saw some of the images on our website.

KFC was looking for someone to create iconic images of their products, for use on the new KFC website. For us, this was an opportunity to approach the KFC brand from a totally different direction, to try something new with the photography.

After reviewing the details and agreeing on a budget, we got to work. The art director, Scott Howard, had already created a mood board, and obviously, since these images would be used on the web, they had to fit a very specific format. Scott’s vision for the photography was to have the food on a dark wood surface, with a nondescript background.

Yum! Brands-KFC Website Photography

As it turned out, the next weekend I was at City Flea (an urban flea market here in Cincinnati) and saw some beautiful hand rubbed walnut cutting boards. It was just what I was looking for, but they were too small.

After discussing our needs with the artist, he agreed to make us a custom piece using our specs. We went back to the studio and created a few mock setups, to determine the optimal depth and width. The final board was 28″ deep, by 48″ wide.

We didn’t decide on a background until the day of the shoot. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to add the background in post, so I wasn’t concerned with figuring it out before hand. We have a collection of images, (both in focus and out of focus), that we use for backgrounds in situations like this. The image we chose for this project is actually a garage door with glass panels, but you can’t tell because of the focus and the way it is used.

Yum! Brands-KFC Website Photography

The final composited image was delivered as a layered file, so that the client could easily move the background based on the final design.

The next step was hiring a food stylist. For this assignment we chose to collaborate with William Smith, who is based in Chicago. William does a lot of editorial work and that fit perfectly with the more natural look we wanted these images to have.

You might think that making fried chicken is easy, but it’s not – especially chicken that looks like what the Colonel would make. It requires a very specific process and the use of proprietary equipment. We actually hire cooks from KFC to come in and help prepare the chicken and run the fryers. Using the same fryers that KFC uses meant that we had to install additional fire suppression systems in our studio.


Once we were on set, I began working with the light. I often like to bounce light off of large surfaces, so to the right of the set I placed a 4×8′ sheet of foam-core, with a light pointed directly at it. To the left, and rear of the set, I placed another light with an 8″ reflector and a scrim to cut the intensity. (This light provided the edge light along the left side of the subject).

In front are two 2×3′ pieces of foam-core for fill light. Behind the set I hung a piece of black velvet, not to create an edge for outlining, (although it does do that), but I used it to help minimize reflections on the wood, making the color of the surface richer.


The images were captured on a Canon 1Ds Mark III, using a 50mm Zeiss lens set at f/8. The reason I shot with the lens nearly wide open, was because I believe that food photography is sometimes more about emotion than food, and by limiting the depth of field, I bring your attention to one specific area, and then let your mind fill in what your eyes cannot see.

Post production consisted of mostly minor fixes and adding the background.



In total, the project took about 5 days to complete, and we continue to create new work for the website as new products are introduced. Management was so pleased with the project that there is talk of using the images in other media too, not just the website.

About the author: Teri Campbell is a photographer and photography author based in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the owner and creative lead of Teri Studios. In 2012, Campbell published the book, Food Photography & Lighting: A Commercial Photographer’s Guide to Creating Irresistible Images. When not in the studio, Teri is a frequent speaker at photography and food industry related events around the country.

  • Håvard Fandrem

    Why, oh why, didn’t you edit out the small bits on the table?

    Other than that, beautiful pictures. Makes me way too hungry.

  • Cody Ash

    the small bits are distracting. I don’t mind the ones on the cutting board, good for the image. Also, shooting F2 with strobes is beyond me. I always have to shoot 5.6 or higher. Perhaps if the light is just not directly on the subject.

  • Mike

    The small bits are tasty.

  • elZee

    The crumbs are a great touch of art direction. @cody, don’t believe this is strobe lit, this is an incandescent setup. Simple and effective. The wood surfaces are complimentary to the ‘food’.

  • ATrapAtNoon

    No…the small bits show that it’s the “extra crispy”! It was a great editing decision IMO.

  • Alex Minkin

    the full view pictures look like the board is floating on the surface, maybe it’s just me?

  • Teri Campbell

    Cody, you’re right about f/2 – that was a typo on my part, it should have read f/8. -Teri

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    Unfortunately, I only have had KFC that really looked like that, in Japan (;_:)

  • cathpah

    You can always use an ND filter on your lens when you use strobes to help achieve a shallower depth of field.

  • cathpah

    I’m pretty sure that this is strobe lit…you’re just seeing the (incandescent) modeling lights.

  • Teri Campbell

    I did use stobes to light it, but one is indirect and the other is cut with a scrim. Also, note my earlier correction – that f/2 should have been f/8. -Teri

  • Dave

    Then why the comment about dof and isolating the food for emotion? Or are you a different Teri Campbell?

  • Dave

    Very nice food photography. This is nothing what your actual food will look like but what else is new about food photography?

  • KFC is NOT Food

    “food” photography. hahahahahahahahahahaha *breathe* hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

  • Pick

    KFC is awesome.

    With moderation, of course, just like everything else.

  • Christian Bartsch

    thanks for sharing

  • gtsomething

    It’s because this weird trend called advertising.

  • Cody Ash

    very cool. Makes sense. The food placement itself will add a little DOF anyways, good choice.

  • Alfredo Gayou

    Still dont understand why you say “shooting wide open”

    but anyway great pics

  • JC

    Thanks for posting this on a Tuesday. It made me hungry and I went to get a Toonie Tuesday Special

  • Michael Zhang

    We’ve updated the article with the correct aperture. Thanks guys.

  • Andrew Sherman

    Because f/8 in the real world of photography is pretty wide open.


    What was the decision to put chicken on a bread,cheese, cutting wooden
    board? I’ve never ever seen people display chicken on a wooden board in my life?

  • brandon

    no it’s not. perhaps he’s an older photog and he is just more used to MF or LF where f8 really is nearly wide open. it’s just not so with 135 format, then again if he’s that exp he would know that, so…

    well, whatever., i approve of these photos, and KFC. Now i want to run out and get a bucket.

  • Henry Fan

    How the hell is f/8 nearly wide open??

  • Adam Gasson

    They’re supposed to be there, they highlight how crispy the coating is. Also the food stylist would’ve placed them in the shot and, I guess, spent a period of time deciding where the best spot for the crumbs were. If you’re shooting in a studio with a stylist everything is where it’s supposed to be, they haven’t just dropped the food on the board and hoped for the best.

  • Adam Gasson

    Because it’s a studio setup and typically you’ll be working around f/11 and higher. A lot of studio photographers I know see anything larger than f/11 as being wide open (and probably wonder why they make f/2.8 lenses!).

  • Adam Gasson

    Nice post, thanks for sharing. It’s a shame that so many people seem to be hung up on technical details (OMG that’s not f/2…) instead of looking at the picture for it’s content.

  • Håvard Fandrem

    I am sure they chose to leave them there, and I like the ones on the plate. It’s the ones one the table that’s distracting.

  • Henry Fan

    Quite the generalization. Many shoot at more open than f/2 in a studio for effect.

  • Paul D

    Great post. What lights and how powerful did you use to bounce of the reflectors?