Food photography is a specialization of commercial photography, aimed at producing attractive photographs of food for use in advertisements, packaging, menus or cookbooks. Professional food photography is a collaborative effort, usually involving an art director, photographer, digital tech, food stylist, prop stylist and their assistants. Unlike motion shooting, still life or table top, the subject is fixated for the viewer and sole attention to the details and composition. Production value reflects the work.
The art directors are producer / graphic designers / marketing / copywriting / accountants / therapist / cater / hostage negotiator. It’s a demanding position, not a job for a pope. Depending on the scale or budget of the project, they can be all or one of those capacities. Primarily, art directors act as the coordinator between the client and creative talents, keeping the project within the scope of the budget and concept. Same as the film director and director of photography (DP) work in tandem on movies. Photographer works closely with the art director, concentrate on the lighting, composition and overall gestalt of the shot. Choice of lighting, angles and lens creates the atmosphere of the scene. Estimates technical parameters, type of lights and power source, how much grip is needed, backups, crew, and camera set-up. The introduction of large mega pixel digital cameras means having a digital tech is standard practice. Tethered to the camera is a powerful computer workstation with a large monitor for the digital tech to process the files, keep the data in order (Data Asset Management or DAM). RAW files from the camera need to be processed for final contrast, color and ensure cropping. Retouching on the fly can be done on station by the tech if time allows. Above all the tech will make sure the system is running smoothly and backed up.
The prop and food stylist translate the concept, color, and shapes on the set to the dish. Being the studio magpie, Prop stylist collect, organize and prepare the objects used on set to create the look and atmosphere of the concept. This involves time collecting and sourcing from retailers, prop rental houses or artist vendors/dishware designers. Some of the best prop stylist have an uncanny resourcefulness, like borrowing items from museums or artists studios. Then like the theater of a thousand faces, can return all of the “non-borrowed” props. Food stylist are trained chefs/cooks with years of kitchen experience, like the character from “Close in Encounters…”, they create sculptures with the food. I’ve learned a great deal about kitchen craft from them. The stylist have an instinct for the camera angle, portion and . Big rule in the studio, don’t fall in love with props. That antique silverware from the Palace Versailles, sorry it’s bigger than the serving of cake, will have to crop it out.
Life cycle of a food shoot starts with the concept and design. Then assigned to an art director. Prep day, everyone in the studio is given a briefing on the layout / design, colors, props, and size of the food(s) to be shot. Studio crew start to gathering up the equipment, props and food ingredients to be shot. The prop stylist and photographer take time to review the design of the layout, taking into consideration room for type, logos…etc. Is it a high key or natural lighting, size of the set, and props. Food stylist will take anywhere from a day to a week lining up the recipes, shop ingredients, make in advance or even run tests. Not all materials act well on the set and may need to be faked. Unlike motion food shots, still images require perfection (as near possible), because it’s the only frame for the viewer. The ingredients need to be correct and picked for the most photogenic. Even in the digital age, this is the most cost effective process, retouching is very expensive and used only when necessary.
Like a scene from one of Miyazaki’s films, the set is buzzing with quiet activity. Everyone working quickly, the food oxidizing, wilting, melting or drying out. Phrase used often, ‘It’s starting to die”, as the eggs develop a rubbery surface. Using strobe lights keeps the set cool, unlike the past where tungsten lamps were the only option. Stand in food is used, it can be anything, long as its on the identical plate / surface and size. Once the hero food is ready, the food stylist plates and stands by to apply touch ups. Most commonly used material for making food fresh again is olive oil or the Sophia Loren method (she swears by its restorative powers). In the background the art director and prop stylist are busy getting the next shot ready. The digital tech processes the selected files and gives the art director and photographer a rendered image. Color good, focus good, lighting beautiful and food tasty.
This kind of work is for someone that likes paying attention to the details, standing and bending over a set for long hours. It’s a craft and industry unique to the visual arts.
Thirty minutes north of Los Angeles in the Valley is the city of Winnetka CA. Craig and Gary run a micro farm on less than an acre of land, growing their food and cultivating heirloom varieties of Italian vegetables. The property has been developed for well over five years. Currently, they are putting together a commercial kitchen to prepare some classic family recipes…stay tuned!
These machines appear to racing over 160mph, even when on their stands. Generally, each bike with it’s 990cc engines, developing 160bhp @8500RPM, and chassis weighing less than 450lb; it’s a death dealer to the unfaithful. On the international racing circuits, the Ducati and Aprilia manufactures dominated, with the Ducati 996 (yellow machine) wining three Super Bike World Championships, 1999-2001. Aprilia RSV4 debuting and winning 2010, 2012, 2013.
The examples photographed belong to private collectors, shot inside a warehouse. Like shooting a car, the curved, reflective surfaces require large and broad light source. Used was a 2400 watt Broncolor pack with 3 heads w/large soft boxes and handful of small SB28 (with radio slaves). Soft boxes were arranged in top back fashion (slightly behind subject’s position), in 3 postings; top, left and right. A large white card is laid out in front of the bike on the floor, as close as possible without cutting off the wheels or details. Later a “clean plate” is shot of the bike without the card to layer in the floor in post.
Use of the smaller SB28 flashes helps to add hight lights and fill in the minor gaps in the machine’s work. Motorcycles have more components exposed, details in the engine and wheel. Use of the small flash knocks out the darkness and adds interest. Thanks to layering in Photoshop, tricky to reach or light areas can be shot separately and dropped in. Learn the term “clean plate”.
Having strobes to shoot shiny objects, brings out the color, shape and emotion; applicable to any outdoor shooting situation.
Enjoy the bikes and leave any comments below!