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Food Photography & Styling Step by Step

July 1st, 2007 Comments off

During my food photography session at La Baguette, Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, I decided that I might want to blog part of the process (the initial 3 of the 9 hours, at least).

This is also a proud first debut of my spanking new Profoto D4 battery pack that I just got. The alpha wolf of power packs, this baby could channel the power of a whole city for your most challenging photography needs.

9:00am : Arrived at the bakery, found Food Stylist Randy Mon, scurrying away to his wagon with a large loading cart. Went to help him unload so that he could park. Carted his stuff to the bakery. Randy got the better end of the deal as I had to cart all my photo gear by myself. Next time, I’ll be sure to swap out some of his pretty wares while carting his pretty props.

9:20am : La Baguette is located smack in the center courtyard, directly across Tiffany & Co.. So, they had to ensure that the mall management is aware of the shoot. We setup right outside the store. This shoot is somewhat different since I am not doing it in the studio. So, Randy surrounded our working area with tables.

It was fun working outside too as curious passerby gets interested and stop and lengthen the already long line that is forming outside the bakery throughout the entire day!! Business is really good. I told Scott the owner, photoshooting outside is always a great publicity.

10:00am : Since we had to shoot in the open, the sun sprinkling its beams unto the set make lighting the set quite challenging. I had to shade the entire set with a scrim. However, throughout the shoot, I get to harness the ambient light to fill the shadows instead of using some stupid white cards. I had to be extremely precise with my metering as the day changes and light, along with it.

The tables and backgrounds are somewhat put together and the shoot begins. I used between 2 to 5 lights on most of the images. My proudest shot of the day incorporated the sunlight into the image. I’ll explain later.

**Be aware that these sequence shots are straight out of the camera with zero touch up. These shots are meant to be documentary in nature.**

Shot 1: Dark Green Background

10:30am : Here’s the first run through as Randy threw the french bread, baguette, loaves of bread (the brioche loaf smells fantastic) together. He thought we might want to use an earthy dark green cloth as the background. So, I took my first shot. We didn’t like the background and decided to use a darker theme.

Shot 2: Dark Tanned Background

A tanned background is brought in. I casted a touch of light unto it to make it look like a dark tanned background.

I noticed that some accent light is needed on the right side of the brioche loaf. I’m also looking to cheer up the overall ambient of the image by bringing the overall lighting up.

Randy decided to move some of the props around for a better look, maybe add a loaf behind that is out of focus.

I will also need to swap out my short lens for a longer reach around 135mm to create a nice depth that has less background in it.

Shot 3: Getting cozy and closer

The out of focused loaf looks too big (ok, partly the fault of a longer lens. And it’s not out of focus enough and lie right behind the brioche. Not very attractive.

Also, I informed the stylist that the cloth in the left basket was sticking out wierd.

Shot 4: out of focuse loaf

“How does this look?”, the stylist asked me while holding the out of focus loaf further behind the table while I stared through the viewfinder. We struggled to find a position for it to rest on and finalize on a spot that we cleverly constructed on the fly. ;)

The image is coming together very nicely so far. There just needs to be something in the foreground to create a beautiful depth. Something bready…

Shot 5: Added sesame breads

Not bad but the white sesame created a wierd out of focus texture that we didn’t like the look of when we were looking at the computer monitor. It’s also too bright, detracting attention from the hero, which is the french bread in front.

Randy agreed and swapped it out with three raisin breads. Much better.

Shot 6: Raisin breads instead

Stylist then noticed that the direction of the knife is pointing parallel to the french bread. Something bad that I missed. Well, actually, I wasn’t even aware that causes bad composition. But now that he brought it up…he was quite right.

Shot 7: Dangerous!

The knife was rotated but the tip was showing. I protested right away. It look “scary”, not in the horror movie sense but you don’t want any form of scary in a food image. So, we moved the tip away, right away. Can you say that really fast, three times?

Shot 8: Near final pick

11:15am : I think we are nearly there. This is one of the last shot we took for this set before we tore it down for the next image.

Post processing had to be considered too since I had to clone out the handle of the basket, working out the best crop, tuning the colors, etc. But as you can see, a lot of these tedioius work can be made simplier when the lighting is setup well, a professional food stylist present, some art direction, patience and fun while doing it.

This may appear like a simple process but the entire process I explained above took 2-3 hours.

As you can imagine, this is a pretty tedious process and some clients may not be aware of how much time this takes. I suppose you can shoot 30 dishes in a day (been there, done that) but it is pretty much just “documenting food”, not photographing it. The amount of time you take to perfect a shot is a true representation of “Quality vs Quantity”.

In my next blog, I’ll show an image from this same shoot, incorporating and utilizing light from the setting sun into the shot. So, don’t blink, cuz we have some bling bling coming right up!

- MS