I recently enjoyed following Chris Douglass around for a few days as he prepared a Pig Roast for the Ashmont Grill in Dorchester.

Stylists on the set

January 13, 2011

Getting to YUM, part 2

December 1, 2010

So now that we’ve figured out some of the things that give us that appetite appeal, take a look at these two very different pictures from separate stories in the current issue of Saveur, just a few pages apart.

The top image is admittedly tame, possibly a bit “old school” in its approach because of its subject, use of a human element, vantage point and color palette.  The bottom image is  an example of a new trend: overhead angle, unusual colors, smears on the surface.  Um, what is it?

I think the first image is pretty, but conventional.  In the second image I think the photographer is trying to create art by using food as the medium.  There’s a certain shock value in the image – the blue highlights, and the very clear showing of what appears to be fat, or gristle.  Fashion photography uses shock in a similar way.

Hmmm … what do you think?

Getting that YUM factor

November 15, 2010

Try this exercise:  close your eyes and imagine something really really delicious, something that makes you crave.  Write down the specific attributes of that mental image.  Then cross out everything on your list that relies on senses other than sight.  Whatever you finally come up with, those are the things a food photographer has to work with in making an effective image.

What’s on your list?  I came up with color, texture, glisten, moisture, and so on.  Those are the obvious ones, but there are others.  Point of view (where is your eye?), scale (how close are you?), composition (does your eye know where to look?).  What about implied motion – like a drop about to fall, or anything just on the verge of happening. Light itself can sometimes imply motion.  Let’s go on … what else is on the list?  Mood, which is a broad term, can definitely affect whether something is mouth-watering.  Mood comes from a combination of lighting, camera point of view, color, and surroundings, surfaces, and props.  And of course, there is styling.  The presentation of the food, often done by a food stylist,  is a huge factor in appetite appeal.  Think of a muffin whole, compared to a muffin broken open with butter melting and some crumbs on the plate.  This line of thought leads to lots of new things for our list … seeing inside something, seeing the bits and ingredients, and presenting a plate with the invitation to dig in.

Here’s yet another aspect of getting appetite appeal — authenticity.  Does what you’re looking at look fake?  Does it look too perfect?  Is it a Disney world simulation of some “ideal”?  These are all unappetizing. Looking real means seeing the imperfections, the personality, and celebrating the fact that a dish looks different every time it comes out of the oven.

No picture this time.  More coming!

Well, since this is going to be a series, I decided I better get organized.  Here’s a list of topics – it will probably change as we go.  I hope this will be useful not only to interested amateurs and  professionals, but also those who use food photography in their work.  Some people will find this too basic, others too advanced, I know.

  • What makes a shot mouth-watering? The “Yum” factor
  • Styles of photography – Visual language – composition etc
  • Equipment – in the kitchen
  • Equipment – photo and lighting gear
  • Practical working methods
  • Use of props surfaces and backgrounds
  • Thinking and working digitally
  • Lighting
  • Specific camera info – hardware etc.
  • Software – cropping and sizing for the web

Here’s a commercial shot I did for Dunkin’ Donuts.  Does it have the “Yum” factor for you?  Let’s discuss.

OK, I lied.  Back in September I said I’d start a string of posts on food photography, and here it’s already November, and — nothing!  Sorry.  Anyway, here we go. We’ll do myths, tips, and FAQ’s on food photography, and I’ll include various images that may be interesting even if they’re unrelated.

When I meet someone new and they ask what I do, I often have a feeling of dread because I pretty much know what’s going to happen.  Oh, you shoot food? Do you use mashed potatoes for ice cream?  Tell me about those hot lights!  And what about all that varnish you put on the turkey? etc., etc.

If you’re reading this you probably already know these are popular misconceptions.  And they’re so persistent!  So in this first post of my series, let’s start by emphasizing the word natural.  These sweet and white potato fries are real, and we ate them soon after they were shot.  They were photographed with natural light, coming in from a window.  This kind of light has an “open” quality and doesn’t call attention to itself (as in: gee, how did he light that?).  The food is the main attraction, the only attraction.

More coming, so please stay tuned.

Coming next week

September 16, 2010

Hey there – next week I’m going to take a break from my current “photo of the day” format and talk about food photography.  The myths, the FAQ’s, what you need to know before a shoot, how to get the most out of your shoot, popular misconceptions, etc.  Let me know your concerns and questions and I will try to address them.  See you Monday!

Fork

September 7, 2010

Bruno Debas of the PhotoInstitute, a photo education site, recently did a 30-minute podcast interview with me.  I found myself talking about my philosophy and approach to food photography, as well as my beginnings.  I hope some of you find it interesting.  Here’s an extract:

The success of a picture is when it makes you hungry.  To make you say, Wow, I really want to eat that!  But beyond that if you could take one step back, you could admire the photograph from an aesthetic point of view, and you could say, that’s as beautiful as a painting — that would be a secondary success.  When you think about a food photograph, and how do you make it cause a visceral reaction in the other person, what you’re really saying is, I have a two-dimensional piece of paper  (the photograph)  and how am I going to make those things happen in the viewer?  Smell and taste are not possible, and motion is not possible.  So what it really comes down to, the things the food photographer needs to bring out in the subject in order to make this food tantalizing, and something you would crave, those things are an intimacy, which means getting in close, like you’re right there.  Those things are seeing moistness, a little bit of glisten.  Seeing texture, which is why we almost always use some form of back-lighting. And occasionally you get the sense of motion that’s not really happening, but it’s almost happening, like a drip of something that’s about to drip off.  And then color.  So if you do an exercise with yourself, and ask what can I do on this little piece of paper that will make people look at it and get hungry, it really comes down to just those few things, what we just talked about.  If you think about all those things, I think you will get a good picture.

To listen to the whole interview, go to the Podcast.  Can you tell I had a cold that day? 🙂

Chocolate Nutcake


I’ve been thinking about what the end of Gourmet means for us food photographers.  We’ll surely continue to have our commercial work.  But who will be around to celebrate the quiet beauty of, for example, this quince which appeared on a recent cover?

gourmet-cover-september-2009-small1

Today’s Boston Globe featured a piece about Gourmet on their editorial page.  The Globe has been very kind to me over the years, but the editorial reminded me of the saying that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  Take a look at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/editorials/articles/2009/10/07/gourmet_magazine_1941_2009_a_recipe_for_obsolescence/

We know that whatever sells is bound to survive.  As photographers and stylists, let’s also remember that quince and do our share to keep art alive.