Thank god I ate dinner before I went to this editorial shoot at the Versace Mansion. Today, I put on a different hat, changed gears a bit and was a Miami Food Photographer for Modern Luxury Brides Magazine. I was commissioned to take a few images of some very high class creations that are going to be featured in the next issue of Modern Luxury Brides.
I’ll tell ya.. I love to cook, and admittedly I have actually broken out some of my lighting gear in my own kitchen to shoot some of the dishes I have made. I fully understand the pride that goes into some of these exquisite, ediable works of art and was more then up for the challenge.
To spite what anyone may think.. taking a nice image of food is not as simple as you may think, even if you have all the right gear. It becomes a bit of an adventure shooting something like this, in the sense that you need to “work your way to an image” vs. walking in, setting up and snapping the pictures. Which, by the way.. if you think that’s all there is too it I am here to say that your very wrong and the internet is filled with horrible food images that people pass off as “good”.
When I arrived at the Versace Mansion, I was introduced to the head Chef, the PR Director, and my contact at Modern Luxury Brides. The goal was to get some nice shots of the food for the magazine. Okay, well we all walked into the main dinning room and the kitchen started bringing in the plates of food. They set them on a regular table, with a white table cloth etc.. I set up my lighting, and took some test shots. I looked at the camera, and I looked around the room.. and then I said “you know, I don’t think this is working”. The issue was the white table cloth. It was too distracting (to me), and I thought we should explore removing it, and shooting the food on the wood table top. This would have provided more contrast to the plate, and food and be less distracting then the bright, white table linen. SO, we removed one of the cloths, and guess what. The table top had a reflective laminate on it. This means, that it would have reflected my lighting, and caused even more distractions!
I had to put the camera down, and really think outside of the box…
First, I LOVED the room. I loved the walls, the texture, and the ambient lighting I was seeing in the room itself. I quickly decided to use the room (wall) as part of an element in the shots. Thinking in terms of focal length I knew I could blur out the background with the right lens, and be able to keep the focus on the food… all the while retaining the “feeling” of the Versace Mansion. So, now all of this became problem solving as it related to the technical side of photography.
Next, I got rid of the table and used one of the chairs as it was a darker tone, and about the right size to contain one plate of food, with a glass of wine. I took this chair, and cleared out a section of the room by moving other near by tables, and set it a good distance from the wall (to keep the background out of focus). I got down on one knee and did another test shot without the lighting, to quickly get an idea of the framing. I noticed, that now.. the new issue was the baseboard. The baseboard that ran along the bottom of the wall was very thick, and it was coming into the frame! (arg, it’s always something!).. I tried to lower my position to compensate, but then the problem was you could not see what was on the plate. I asked if I could take the chair, and set it on top of a table to get it higher. Now, I could keep the background pattern going with no other distractions, AND I had more flexibility on the camera position to get all the details everyone was looking for.
So, this is what I mean “working your way to an image / result”. It truly is a workflow, and depends greatly on the environment, the lighting, and many other things that can come up in the field. When someone ask’s me to do a shoot like this, they may be thinking.. it should take just a few minuets.. and in fact, it would have if I had of just did the shots on the table with the plain white cloth. But, guess what that would have looked like? Yeah, not so nice. Did you know that the color white “stops the eye”. This is why in retail stores they pay VERY close attention to any clothing that is displayed in white, and where it goes on the racks so that people subconsciously “see” the other colors. There is a whole science to that. In photography, white does the same thing. It is called a “highlight”, and whenever there is a bright white spot in an image the eye will see that part first. So, in this case I really did not want to have to “compete” for attention with a white table cloth 🙂
They say the only thing that matters with a “food shoot” is that the images make you want to eat it… well.. I went to this on a full tummy.. and after spending some time looking at the back of my camera, I was hungry all over again!
Check out this behind the scenes video of me in action. I have offered additional commentary on the video, and you can get a better idea on how everything works 🙂
So, the lighting here is a soft box camera left in very close to control fall off and to reduce shadows. The other light is a 10 degree grid camera left, from behind and this is dialed up just over the main light to give a nice highlight to the top of the food. This is also what helps provide some texture, and dimension. The camera was set for the wall (not the ambient). The wall was registering at 1/13 of a second, f/3.5 ISO 200. Granted, I could have made the same exact exposure at a much faster shutter speed (say 1/250) however, I would have been looking at a much higher ISO value, and I just did not want to do that. I knew, that as long as I kept the subject (food) in shadow.. that I could “cheat” and get sharp images by using my strobes to “freeze” any slight movement. I was right, it worked great. Again, I can’t talk about that backlight enough. This provides anything that is damp, or wet, etc.. to really shine and “pop”. The grid is important to help control the “spill” of that light. I used modeling lights to “aim” this exactly where I wanted, and then took just one or two “test frames” before I had the end result. I love this last one.. standing on the chair, looking down worked wonders for this plate.