Food Photography is one of the most specialized areas in our field. In product photography, the goal is always to accentuate the features and fabrication of the product to best showcase it to the viewer. However -unlike other products- food’s molecular structure, and integrity, is very volatile. Food’s appearance degrades rather quickly and must be captured fresh, immediately after preparation, sometimes still steaming right out of the oven! As photographers, we strive to capture food at its most delectable stage. Mouth watering food photography is an art onto itself. It is highly dependent on 2 critical factors: STYLING and LIGHTING. Don Jones has been photographing food for advertising purposes for over 25 years. Early in his career at Current Inc -as Senior Photographer- Don was responsible for food photography used in cookbooks, recipe cards and marketing material. He worked extensively with professional food stylists, and set designers, learning the finer points of creating appetizing imagery! Professional Food Stylists are a true asset to a product photographer; they have the skills needed to make the mundane look exquisite! Stylists know how to prepare each element to perfection, in order to visually translate it into a photograph.
But don’t be fooled, styling for photography is totally different than cooking for consumption; most meat prepared for a photo-shoot is actually nearly raw! Only the exterior is browned, seared, charred to a specific color or to a desired texture. This is done to maintain a fresh, juicy, moist exterior, showing the fare at its best when captured on camera. Stylists oftentimes use unconventional preparation methods. They may employ a blowtorch to achieve a targeted controlled heat and avoid overcooking the meat. Some use a hot metal rod to sear char marks into a steak to give it a charbroiled-over-the-fire effect.
A fun anecdote from Don’s memory bank: he was photographing for an upcoming cookbook at Current Inc. The cover image featured a cherry pie. An Advertising Department’s staff-member had been eying the pie and eagerly anticipating the end of the photo shoot. Don was aware that the pie was not edible. The filling was none other than mashed potatoes (yes, you read that right!), glycerin, and a few other additives used to make the pie look delicious, yet not fit for consumption! The unaware staff member was pressing Don for the pie, so Don relented and replied: “have at it”. Soon after, a loud grumbling came from the kitchen followed by a loud: ”Whaaaaaaaat!?!?!? This is not cherry pie, it’s mashed potatoes?!!!” Although a fun practical joke, and amusing to Don, this scenario is very typical of most food prepared for photography; it is mouthwatering to the eyes yet unsuitable to the stomach.
Another less known technique for creating superb food photography consists of preparing two identical dishes, a “test” plate and a “final” plate. The test plate is used as a placeholder until lighting and composition are fine-tuned and perfected. When all the lighting is finalized, the test plate is removed and replaced by the final dish. This enables to capture freshness, steam and overall best appeal in camera. Food more than 5 minutes old is generally not acceptable as a final plate; it often congeals, looses its shine, diminishes in appeal and literally looks “dead” to the viewer. Sometimes this can present a challenge for a client lacking a food stylist budged or the forethought of how time (and logistics) will impact photography. Sometimes the challenge is photographing for a client with limited time or space. Sometimes logistics require us to set-up lighting, and prop the set, prior to actually seeing the actual plate of food. This is a disadvantage, because it hinders the ability to adjust for composition and time needed for lighting. Because food is best photographed immediately after preparation, the pressure to capture it fast is paramount! Any given food will look best when the Chef/Stylist prepares a test plate, gives the photographer proper time to light and prop the scene, and finally only brings out the final fresh plate when everything is ready. The results from proper workflow are truly amazing!
Some considerations for modern food photography include: food, props (including tableware, surface and background), look and feel of desired photograph (such as lighting, angle and depth of field). Modern food photography uses limited depth of field to accentuate only one part of the main dish, allowing the remainder of the image to fall out of focus. Modern backgrounds tend to be brighter and cleaner, oftentimes high key.
When booking a food-centric photo shoot at Studio 9 Commercial Photography consider these jump off points: how many photographs would you be considering? What is the specific cuisine you want to capture? What specific preparation do you wish to use for that fare? Who will be preparing the dish? Would you like us to recommend a food stylist? Where would the entrée be prepared? Is the session to be held at your own restaurant? If so, will you be utilizing a Chef or a Food Stylist to prepare the meal on site? Will you be able to provide a test plate and a final serving? Is there a location in the restaurant that you’d like to use as a surface? What about the background? Is the interior of the restaurant something to be featured in the photograph? Or do you prefer the image to be shot from above, only showing the surface of a table or butcher block? What do you want the image to convey about your business? These are just a few questions that can be useful when booking your food photography session at Studio 9 Commercial Photography.