Spicy mayo and how to photograph steam

Spicy mayo

I love corn on the cob. In the fairs and street markets in Mexico I would always eat elotes con mayonesa y queso, a classic street food down there. When you walk down the street and see a long line in front of lady (usually) standing next to a big steamer and a table with containers of mayonnaise, cheese and chili powder, then that’s the place to get your elotes.

Last summer I wanted to recreate that delicious street food from my memories, but when I was getting the ingredients ready I wondered how the mayo would turn out if I spiced it up a little. So I chopped one chipotle adobado pepper and mixed it with 1/2 cup of mayo. The result was delicious! For our camping trip last year I also added some Parmesan cheese and packed it in the cooler for easy transportation.

For a while I have been wanting to post this simple tip to make spicy mayonnaise. I finally decided to do it when I was reading an article online on how to photograph steam and realized that a picture of steamy corn would look great. I spent two and a half hours today playing with my food to capture the elusive and ghostly steam with the camera. And here I share with you what I learned:


  1. First you need to realize that it would be almost impossible to photograph steamy food. I spent about 10 minutes setting up the lights,  props, and taking the test pictures. By the time I was ready to start taking the “real” pictures the corn would’ve been cold. Besides, mayo on hot corn would melt and look nasty so I used a clothe soaked in boiling water between the two cobs as my source of steam. Other options would be to use a cappuccino machine, a small piece of dry ice or steam chips sold at photography stores.
  2. My first test shots were taken against a white background, which didn’t work at all because, unlike other white subjects (eggs, for example), steam doesn’t have defined edges and therefore it will visually blend with the white background. That’s why you need to have a dark background.
  3. To photograph steam you will need a backlight. Without this, it will be very difficult to capture the true effect of steam. It’s the light coming through the steam that lights it up. For the first shot above I used 2 flashes. The master flash was attached to the camera with the head tilted at 90° to bounce the light off the ceiling. My backlight was a slave flash to the back and left of the subject shooting through a white umbrella. I also had a mirror to the right and front of the subject to reduce shadows in the front of the picture. Sadly, my slave flash died in the middle of the session so I had to change my strategy. My master flash became an off-camera flash shooting through a white umbrella from the left of the subject and I used a lamp on the right and a mirror in front of the subject to reduce shadows. As you can see in the picture below, the steam is not as prominent because of the lack of a backlight.

Spicy mayo

Somethings to keep in mind: The bigger the clothe the more steam you will get, but the more difficult it would be to hide it behind your food. Also, you will probably spend a lot of time setting the food and taking pictures, so you might want to keep a pot with boiling water on the stove in order to get fresh steam quickly. Be patient and try different settings and angles. Like I’ve always said, the best way to get the perfect shot is to get your camera out and play with it and your food as often as you can.

I still have a long way to capture steam like a pro, but I think this was a good start and there will be a lot more opportunities to practice, what do you think?

¡Buen provecho!


  • this is so cool, Ben! Amazing photography and tips!

  • I love your steamy photos! Thanks for the tips!

  • Interesting tip with the cloth! And, your mayo and corn look delicious.

  • Great photo tips, but I love me the chipotle in adobo. Can’t wait to try that Mayo with the chipotle.
    But I’ve never heard of Mayo on corn. But I’m up for it! We have some corn on the counter waiting to be steamed with some shrimp.

  • Interesting flavour, using mayo to top the corn. As for the steam, you can always use cotton wool soaked in water and then microwaved!

  • That is so clever of you to use the cloth!! I have no umbrella, no lights, no props, .. just an old camera so i figure i can’t do much:-( Fantastic!

  • cool entry…love that sauce bowl behind the steam…
    I caught the steam by putting the dish before the window, and lower the white curtain a bit, just lower enough to avoid extra light and sun….
    There’s small set of white umbrella and stand sell here….maybe…maybe I should just get it…

    Thank you Ben, for sharing this great tip….would love to learn more about tricks and tips on photographing…

    Angie’s Recipes

  • Thank you so much for this post – it’s really informative & I hope I’ll be able to use some of these tips. It worked gorgeously!

  • One is never too old to learn, that’s for sure!!! Amazing, Ben! Thx for sharing!!

  • Great idea Ben … love the cloth between the cobs creating that effect! The mayo sounds fantastic–I remember eating corn on the cob in a restaurant here that had spread it with a creamy mixture of cheese and I’m not sure what else. It was delicious!

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