I love shooting still-life. I like it because of all of the options available if I take my time and really craft the image. In most of the photography I do, I will take a shot, study it, figure out what is working and what isn’t and make corrections. After around 30 or 40 shots I decide that I probably have the image I need and move on. Usually when I am shooting food, I quit when the food starts looking bad or wilted or cold. If I haven’t gotten the shot before the food goes ugly I will re-heat or replace. If I am lucky a few seconds of the heat gun will do wonders and bring back a dish from the edge. Today I am working on a new food shot, and while I shot the requisite 40 images or so, todays shoot illustrates beautifully, why, once I have the shot there is plenty left to do.
The setup is simple, I thought I would let the subject do most of the talking. I decide on an overhead composition because the mood strikes me for some reason. I have an old slate chalkboard with lots of character that I have smeared with a bit of chalk dust for the background, and the food will be in a marble or alabaster bowl. That is pretty much it. When I start doing test photos I am pleasantly happy with the results I get from my roughed-out lighting design.
The key light is a silver beauty dish without a cover. A beauty dish is a silver reflector that is about 20 inches across and has a small plate that covers the direct light. It gives off an interesting light that is soft and crisp at the same time. I like the contrast a beauty dish gives for food photography, but depending on how shiny the food is I might modify things a bit by covering the dish or even shooting with a softbox. The light from the key(or main light) is a bit contrasty so rather than go to a softbox I supplement with a bit of bounced fill(a second light bounced off of the ceiling to “fill” in the shadows). I ended up shooting a bunch of versions while adjusting the amount of fill. This way I could tune in the exact amount of contrast to make the food look its best.
A lot of food photography for hire is done with natural light from a window, it can be really forgiving and gives great results but these days I have been trying to light with strobes whenever I shoot. I want to be certain that I can get a good shot no matter what. It gets dark really early some of the year and I don’t want to be dependent on just the right conditions, so practicing with artificial seems like a good idea. Plus there is a certain joy with experimentation that I enjoy, I love coming up with new looks.
As usual, most of the lighting decisions were made before the food was on set. Using the stone bowl on the slate background and some crumpled paper to stand in for the food, I am able to get some idea of how the light will look on the real thing. This way I can fine tune the lighting without worrying about the food looking dead. The food generally looks its best when it is hot so I want to have most of the nitty gritty out of the way so I can shoot quickly when everything looks appetizing. When I am happy with the composition I will set some markers (toothpicks in this case) for where the plate should go once it is ready to shoot. That way it is easy to get everything back in place once the food is plated up.
Once the food is on set and everything back in its place I start shooting and adjusting. I will look at the food and move around the elements so everything doesn’t look like a big mess. Then, I will start small adjustments of the light and positioning the props. Over the course of the shoot I tried a few different props including silverware but nothing added much to the picture. The real star of the shot was the texture in the food, in the bowl and on the surface. I made a couple of versions with a cutting board and some monks cloth that matched the bowl and decided that I think I got the shot.
The next step in the process is loading the images into Lightroom to edit the photos. In Lightroom I do color correction, I fix the exposure and do cropping. All of these images start out at 51 megapixels which is more than enough for a billboard, so I can crop like crazy without degrading the image at all. And cropping can have a huge impact on the final image. It is a big part of the creative process for a photographer. So I start chopping things up and seeing what looks good. I have come up with several options that I like, some using the props, some without. I think I know which image I like but this part is very subjective. I think my favorite right now isthe crop where the bowl is cut off at the top. It lets the viewer get real close and really shows off the texture. But I would bet there is probably a similarly good argument for each of these versions. Fact is, my opinion today might differ from my opinion tomorrow. But, I am really curious, if you have a favorite let me know.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this inside look into food photography. If you have a restaurant or food business or have been dreaming of writing a cookbook, I would love to hear about it. You can reach me through my contact page, I am of course Daniel Jackson. Perhaps I can help you with your business, I do food photography for hire. I have lots of great ideas of how to stretch your advertising budget for the best results. Contact me for a free quote. To see more of my food photography portfolio visit here.