Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Working with friends isn't really work.

One day in a studio shooting and one day in the office retouching. This is a great way to make a living. This day was a shoot for World Gourmet Marketing with my friend John Moran. We shot at the Split Image studios in Fairfield NJ, and used the lovely Marie Haycox as food stylist. I haven't work with Marie for a large number of years, but once we met up again, it was like no time had passed at all. She reminded me of the many days of oatmeal packaging we had done. You have to remember: Marie had to bring everything (food-wise) that you see here. Food stylists have to be prepared for anything and Marie certainly was. John was the perfect client. He was calm
and easy going, but made all of his opinions and desires known clearly so we just cruised through the day. These images will appear on packaging for this Pita cracker product in two flavors. The disks have been UPS'd to John, and the job is complete. On to the next!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Cheese

There is really nothing better than a long day spent with friends shooting food shots for a companies packaging. My client was Melissa, my food stylist was Alyssa and we got six different images done for six different packages. I uploaded files to the agency that had 2-5 different versions layered one under the other. They will be able to discuss which image they prefer. Options are always good. It's sweet. Having fun while making a living. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Photographer as Food Stylist

Here comes another "different" job. This time it was packaging for another one of those clients who is a friend. John brought me this job and wanted the icing to "pop". As soon as I saw the product, I knew that I needed to ask for some product to be sent un-iced. This allowed me to do a few of things better. #1: I was able to sort for the best base product without worrying about the icing, #2: I was able to light the base cake nicely without the icing getting in the way and finally #3: I was able to create my own, better looking icing in the cinnamon and s'more flavors (food styling).
Okay, do you see why you need to know Photoshop? For this shot I needed to light and shoot various base cakes and then light and shoot the different icings. I then (using paths) cut the icing off the one base cake and merged it onto the better lit cakes. I used an eraser with a soft brush to help the icing sit on the base and then added a layer as a separate shadow. The shadow layer related to the base layer via "multiply", and the icing just sat on top normally. So there you go: one day to create and style the icings and then two days to shoot, strip and merge the icing, shadow and base cakes. All that work on each X 20 and you have packaging photography! I was paid well and I worked for a friend. What could be better than that?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Clear stuff 2

When you are a food photographer, you need to know how to shoot many other things because the companies who hire you to shoot their food will also hire you to shoot supporting images that help sell their food.
Here is a case in point:
This is one of a series of images that I captured for Pinnacle Food Corporation. I have done food packaging photography for this company, but also shoot actual products for coupons and web sites. It's all part of keeping your clients happy.
These shots involved just me. The clients ship me the products and I usually can shoot them at my leisure (within reason). I like these jobs because they help keep me busy between the larger food jobs.
Ah - the lonely life. These jobs need no assistants, no food stylist and no prop stylists. Like I said, it was just me. I have a small studio in my home so I can even shoot on weekends.
This image differs from the last one because we couldn't blow out the lid like we did the topping on the gelatin. This time I had a small bank light high and to the left to light the details on the front of the bottle. I just look at the product and move the light around until I like the reflections on the front. Next, I lit a white card that was placed behind the bottle and tilted to one side. I lit the card with an optical spot so that I would just hit the card and not the bottle. Finally, it's just a matter of balancing the front light and the back light. That's it. Two zones of light, each controlled individually until perfection is reached.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Clear stuff 1

The "trick" to shooting transparent or translucent drinks is finding a lighting balance between the light hitting the front (for detail) and the light coming through the back to accentuate the clear nature of the subject.
The usual suspects on this one. There was an art director who understood that limited focus and blown out highlights can actually make food look more appetizing. There was a food stylist to make and garnish the gelatin, a photo assistant to keep everyone happy and a photographer who knows how to light clear stuff.
I'm not positive but Vicky Hayes or Kate Jackette
probably styled this one. I like it. It takes an artist to suspend fruit in gelatin for photography. You probably never noticed, but most times the fruit just settles to the bottom. So careful attention was paid to the suspended fruit, making the two layers stay separate, treating the bananas so they wouldn't turn brown, and the beautiful happy mint. Many food stylists have their own pots of mint so they always have adorable cutting available for garnish.
Because red gelatin is translucent and not transparent, we sprayed the back half of the glasses with dulling spray and used one optical spot strobe high up and back to light throught the gelatin, blow out the highlights on the top and light the fill cards. We finished the lighting by bringing in white cards on either side of the camera lens, and moving them in and out until the balance was just right. Digital once again, helps alot because we can instantly see the lighting and adjust it as needed for perfection. It's a lot faster than shooting, waiting for a poloroid, making changes and shooting another test. That's it. One light, two fill cards, limited focus, great food and you end up with a cool shot that can sell gelatin.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Grill 2

This is a shot of a piece of grilled salmon sitting in foil on a really hot grill. NOT!
Yes there is a piece of salmon on foil, but the truth ends right there. This was an image for the back panel of a steak sauce bottle.
This was a fun time for me. We rented Doug FInley's studio so he was there and helped me a lot. I had an assistant named Steve Berg who was responsible for the nice flames. We had a food stylist, Eline the hand model, a client and me.
Alyssa worked on this shot. We did both salmon and a big chicken leg, both with and without a model brushing on steak sauce. While the food is almost always cold when we are shooting, things like water on vegetables and oil on fish and meat make them look hot and yummy.
The top grill grate is about 3x4 feet in size, and is sitting on saw horses. Below that is a smaller grill which is covered with charcoal briquettes which have been lightly sprayed with white paint to look charred. Below that is a few layers of gel and a strobe head pointing up. But what about the flames?
Here is how we did them:
It was all about Steve Berg. As Steve and I were driving to the studio, we were discussing the shot. Steve, who is a photographer now but was my assistant back then said; "stop at Kmart. I need to pick up some rubber cement. This will blow your mind." He was right. After we had the whole shot, food and all, set up, Steve painted rubber cement on a few of the
briquettes and lit them up with a cigarette lighter! The flame was limited and very controlled, and we played around until the flames were just where we needed them for the shot. That was a new one for me and I stored it away so I could look smart at a later date. So that's it. A fresnel spot overhead for sunshine, and you have a hot looking grill including flames, in the studio!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Grill 1

This image was created in a studio for a mustard company. We kept our camera close so that we didn't have to build a whole yard (but we've done that).
On this day we had our favorite hand model Eline, we had a food stylist to make the chicken, a prop stylist to find the grill'in props, an assistant to help build the set, an art director to represent the client and me, the photographer.
The food stylist for this shot had to cook the chicken so that it looked great to the camera. This often includes using a small torch to perfectly brown the chicken. Once it looked right, the stylist took a skewer and heated it until red hot over a stove flame. She then presses the skewer onto the chicken in a regimented manner to create (fake) the grill marks. She would actually measure the distance between the real grill bars, and copy those onto the chicken. Add a little light oil and it looks hot and yummy.
Here is how we light a grill shot. The sunlight which lights the hand, grill and background is one of the fresnel spots dialed down to a softer, yet directional light. Under the charcoal on the bottom of the grill is a bare strobe tube. The cord for the light snakes up and out the right side of the grill which is outside the crop. Above the strobe tube is layered red and yellow gel sheets until the proper color glows up from the bottom of the grill. A few large fill cards coming in from the left, some appropriate props, some astroturf on the floor and you have an outdoor grill shot inside a studio.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ice Cream 3

This entry isn't pretty, but it shows the "secrets" behind the best ice cream photography. The image on the left shows the huge reflector on the regular strobe head and the big fill card. The middle shows the foil covered dry ice scoop under the layer of ice cream and the image on the right shows RJ Rowley as he grinds up the dry ice in preparation of the dry ice scoop.
This day the studio held a designer from the agency, RJ the food stylist and me.
RJ Rowley styles ice cream in the same way that Nir Adar does. Like this: Put dry ice into a meat grinder. Grind it up and let it fall into a bowl. Next line an ice cream scoop with foil. The next part is tricky because dry ice is dangerous and can cause burns so heavy work gloves are called for. Begin to fill the lined scoop with the dry ice until it is brimming over the top in a gentle mound. Now fold the foil over the dry ice, turn it over, put it on the floor and stomp on it. What you should be left with is a compacted half foil covered ball of dry ice. Put the half ball on the saucer and ready the ice cream. Lock down a 1/2 gallon ice cream container and cut it in half. Use a flat scoop and pull across the ice cream so that it gives you a layer of great looking ice cream and lay it across the foil ball. Finally arrange bits of ice cream in a beard around the ball, and you have your first ice cream scoop! Now do it 50-60 more times, and you'll have a day of ice cream styling. I really haven't gone into detail here, but this is a good overview of what a stylist goes through on an ice cream shoot.
You can see in the picture above my ice cream setup. I shoot on a tiny table so that I can get in close with the camera lights and fill cards. The light and fill card is just as it has been for the former two entries.

Ice Cream 2

This shot varies from the former in that it is packaging for frozen sherbet. We did three flavors during the shoot day. This is rainbow sherbet. It took a strong armed Nir Adar to do these shots. I include the small shot in the corner so you can see how we did the shot and then how it looks in the packaging.
Like I said, this job used Nir, an artist in food and a man with arms strong enough to scoop ice cream all day. We had a client (Andie) who worked as art director as well and me. No assistant this time. It was a fun day.
Nir Adar, in addition to being strong enough to scoop ice cream all day, is also patient enough to scoop sherbet all day. While high fat content ice cream scoops beautifully, sherbet is sort of gooey and sticky and it can be frustrating to be the sherbet food stylist. In the small inset shot, you can see the rig that Nir built for this job. He hot glued a small saucer onto a mug and that became the table for the sherbet. I think that Nir invented the dry ice scoop method of ice cream styling. I'll go into more detail on that in the next entry.
This shot was lit in exactly the same way as the former entry with the cone. A regular strobe head with a huge, translucent covered reflector, was positioned overhead and a little bit back. The front was filled, and that's it. I just move the light around until everyting looks great.

Ice Cream 1

I think I've come up with three entries for ice cream. This image looks like an ice cream shot, but it is really a packaging shot for the cones. That being the case, the ice cream is fake. When we shoot for ice cream packaging, it has to be real ice cream. When we shoot for cone packging or any shot where the ice cream is not the product we're selling, fake ice cream is okay. It requires a massive arm to style real ice cream. My favorite stylist Alyssa is not massive in any way. Therefore, she doesn't do real ice cream, but she did do this shot and has a great recipe for fake ice cream.
The day we did this shot, we had a client, designer with a layout, food stylist and photographer. We are all friends and it was a great day.

Alyssa does a great fake ice cream. It's a matter of confectioner's sugar and a few other ingredients and it looks great. It's her job to scoop it in such a way that she gets the nice ridges on the ball, and then pieces the "beard" around the ball. It looks natural and sells the cones.

Okay, it's not so much about the lighting this time. We light ice cream with a regular strobe head with the huge reflector which is covered with translucent material. That and a fill card is basically an ice cream light. No, for this package job, we needed 4 different cones, but we only had the original tan one. What do we do? Why, we're expert retouchers as well since we've been digital since 1994 so we just changed the color of the tan cone and made it red, brown and green as well.
This is modern day food photography.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cold drinks

This shot was another recipe, this time for a healthy shake. The set had to include "healthy" looking props and the drink had to look refreshing. I think it worked out well and this is how we did it.
We did more than this one shot this day, so we had a food stylist working on all of the recipes, prop stylist to bring in a selection of healthy props and glasses, an assistant to do a lot and a photographer.
On this shot, the foodstylist had to create the actual drink, affix the drops to the glass and ready the fruit to put on the edge of the glass. If this was the only shot for the day, I might have attempted to style it myself, but it was a busy day for her.
This image was lit with a regular strobe head with a very large reflector, covered with diffusion material. This creates a pleasant blend of hard yet soft light. It also lights the drops on the glass. The wall behind the glass was lit by an optical spot with a cookie shaped like a venetian blind inside. The optical spot allows us to control how focused the "blind look" will be. A little soft seems to be right.
Put it all together and you have a shot that sells the products that are needed to make the recipe.

Soft light Shallow focus

What separates this image from the others is the story it tells. We've been very close and we've backed away. This one (from a recipe card) is kind of in the middle. The light is airy and the focus adds to that (light & focus working together) by being very shallow. Digital helps the food photographer because when we shoot tethered to the computer, we can see a nearly instant response and know full size, what will be sharp and what will be soft. It all makes for a great image to sell a recipe and related products.
Nothing unusual here. Photographer (of course), prop stylist, food stylist and clients.
This recipe is tougher than it looks. The yogurt needs to be fortified with gelatin (all part of the recipe) and the whole thing is cooled so that the yogurt stays in the cantaloupe. It's up to the food stylists to bring any food that we might think we need during the day so they bring in not only cantaloupe, peaches and yogurt for the recipe, but probably mint, strawberries and other fruit. There's no time on a shoot day to run out and shop, so the stylist needs to bring everything they imagine might be asked for by the photographer and client. This ability is what separates the new food stylists from the experienced ones.
Soft, soft soft! This image needed to be light and bright so we used a scrim off to the right side. Our scrim was a large translucent shower curtain stretched on a 6X6' frame. The scrim was close to the table holding the food. A straight strobe head was next pointed away from the table and into a large "V" of 4X8' foamcore. So the light leaves the strobe head, bounces into the foamcore V, and bounces back through the scrim and onto the set. All this bouncing of the light back and forth tends to make it exceedingly soft but still directional. We finished the shot with fill cards all around the left side of the set, set the camera f/stop wide open, and shot away. That's the way we do it. Light and focus working together to sell a product.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Really far above

This image was for the cover of a recipe book for Regina vinegar. While it is a valid food shot, the focus of the image is the bottle of vinegar near the center of the table.
There was no layout for this job. There was only a list of recipes and the definition of "Tuscan". The rest was just playing in the camera with the art director until everything balanced and the bottle of vinegar was the hero.

This job required a great, hard working food stylist to make a full round of stand in food and then the finals. There was and art director who worked with the photographer to get everything set and a prop stylist who brought in a table full of plates, table cloths, flowers and cloth.
It is hard to describe just how difficult it is to create 6 different recipes, provide stand ins and then deliver to the set all 6 (plus cut fruit) all at once. It is a huge undertaking and Alyssa did it perfectly.
We use optical and fresnel strobe spots often when shooting food. The hardness of these lights allow us to break up the lights using cookies which are cards or metal inserts that have holes of various shapes poked in them. The effect then is like the noon sun being broken up by tree leaves. To increase the natural "Tuscan" look of this shot, the tablecloths were crunched to create soft folds, the spot lights made nice highlights and shadows and the cookies made little pools of light just like the sun and tree leaves. I guess that's as far from a plate of food as I would get. Near or far, the food photographer has to be ready to make art in the mane of commerce.

Moving back a little

I'm thinking about new posts. For the next one or two I'm going to use shots where the food is a little farther from the camera. I usually prefer to be as close-up to the food as possible. It shows better detail and the effect of the light on the texture of the food. However, there are times when the constraints of the layout prevent this and you just have to move back away from the food to allow in some related environment. This image was an easy recipe idea for a healthy school lunch, so the shot had to include other school lunch type props.
Okay, take comfort in the fact that every good food shot requires the service of a photographer. Who else is there to lovingly control the light and focus? There was an art director or designer who gave us the sketch to try to follow. It's up to them to bring the idea and choose final props. There was a food stylist to make the pita sandwich and provide the choices of fruit, a prop stylist to bring us a huge choice of school lunch type props and a photo assistant to take care of everything so the photographer could concentrate on the shot at hand.
I can't really remember but this shot was probably styled by Vicky or Kate. Because this was an editorial recipe image, the food stylist had some leeway when creating a yummy sandwich. The stylist doesn't cut the pita in half like one normally might. No, each half comes from it's own pita, is carefully cut and picked for texture and only looks like it's one sandwich. Next, the pitas are stuffed with bunched up paper towel to create the "filled" shape. Finally, the front 1-1 1/2" of the sandwich half is filled with the recipe, and the picked and prodded to look "naturally" yummy.
The main light for this shot was an optical spot coming in from the right. By scraping this hard light source across the face of the front sandwich half, the texture of the salmon (I know it looks like tuna) and lettuce is increased and makes the sandwich look 3D. Food almost always benefits from a contrasty, texture enhancing light. The hard light and focus on the front sandwich half is contrasted to the flatter, slightly darker lighting on the rest of the shot. This makes the front half the star and hopefully sells the recipe. The difference in lighting between the front and the back is one way to include an environment while still focusing on the recipe.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chocolate Mousse

Okay, here's a question: What do you think is the product or recipe that paid for this shot?
If you guessed the mousse in the classy glass, you're right! It's not exactly brain surgery. The mousse is the thing that is in focus
and has the yummy light. There is a fuzzy nice glass and a fuzzy spoon that add to the environment of the shot. There is also a tablecloth and napkin that is so fuzzy that it's hard to tell what it is but it doesn't matter. The important thing, the mousse, is nicely lit, and sharp. Are you seeing how we use focus and light to control your eyes as you look at our shots?
Not too different from the earlier examples. There was a client present on this job. The client worked for the company that made the mousse, so she had an opinion that needed to be listened to. There was an art director who had worked with the client to arrive at an acceptable layout. There was a food stylist who created the chocolate curls and styled the mousse so that it would look awesome like it does. Lastly there was, of course a photographer to light the mousse and control the focus.
The quality of a light changes as it is brought closer to, or farther away from a set. A light bank is normally a soft light source but if it sits far from the set, it can become a contrasty harder light source. That all being said, on this shot I used an 8" fresnel spot light. A fresnel spot is usually a very hard light, but for this shot I used the adjustment on the light to make it as soft as possible and then brought it very close to the mousse which made it's effect even softer. That fresnel spot is the main light which came in from above and the left and then just a simple white card close in on the right to fill the shadows. We have a lot of tools at our disposal, we photographers. The trick is to have a definite picture in our minds of how we want our shot to look, and then select the proper lighting tools to make our mental picture a digital reality.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Shallow focus

Back in the days of film, I used to say that studio photography is all about controlling light and focus. We use those two tools to drive a consumer's eyes to a certain point in an image. That point is usually the product that our client desires to sell. This is a recipe shot for a marshmallow client. They wanted a shot that would help you imagine biting into a yummy, crisp, rice crispy bar, read the recipe included in the ad and then buy the products that were being advertised. This time we used a soft, very well filled back light and super limited focus.
This shot had an art director who came with layouts for this ad, a food stylist to make, carefully cut, and then clean up the bars, a photo assistant to care for the clients and help the photographer and a photographer to control the light and focus.
If you have ever cut a crispy bar out of a pan, you know how difficult it is to pull out a nice looking bar. The secret here is to lift the whole thing out of the pan, and then trim the edges off until you're left with a nice bar or two. Needless to say, the stylist makes many pans of bars so that she/he can end up with the perfect ones for the final shot. All thats left is for the food stylist to work with the photographer on camera to arrange the bars so they look great.
I don't always do it, but many food photographers light most shots from the back. This shot shows why. The broad bank light scraping light across the top bar brings out details with the shadows toward the front. Each bar separates from the others and looks light and airy. The short depth of focus adds to the soft look of this image and helps to drive your eyes to the front corner and top of the main bar. It's a different lighting that helps make the client's recipe and products the hero!

Lighting for Detail

This one is different. We begin with the goal which I saw as bringing out super detail in the cookies which were the products. Still, we need an over-all warm, inviting mood.
For this shot we needed an art director who had the original design, prop stylist to bring choices of plates and tablecloths, a food stylist, photo assistant and a photographer.
I do a lot of work with Alyssa (when I can book her, she's very busy). For this shot, Alyssa spent time selecting and cleaning the cookies with a dental pick. She used the pick to bring out the detail in each cookie. She also brought the raspberries, made the lemon curls and the coffee. Even the coffee is different. We start with very watered down, light brown coffee, and add dark coffee until the color looks right in the camera. Everything is done for the camera.
Most of my work is lit with strobes. I plug in different lights: banks, reflectors or optical spots but this shot is different. I have a disassembled Lowel Omni tungsten light. All that is left is the 500 watt bulb, the socket, AC line and plug. I clamp the bulb into a C-stand arm and bring it down close to the set. The bare bulb, being a point light source, brings out the details in the cookies while spreading light all around the set. A huge 4x8' foamcore is brought over the set to reflect the bare bulb's light into the set, filling the shadows. A shiny gold card reflected warmth back into the shot. This light gives you hard shadows with great detail but fills the shadows at the same time. It's different, but it's awesome.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Welcome to Food Photography

In this blog I plan on choosing different food shots I have done and explaining how they were created. Some people feel that food photography is more difficult than other types of commercial photography. I disagree. Those who know me well know that I feel that photography is all about controlling light and focus. That I feel, is the food photographer's job as well. We control light and focus so that we can manipulate a consumer's eyes to a certain point in an image, usually the product who is paying for the job.
In addition to the photographer (me), this shot had a photo assistant who did everything photographic except light the shot and shoot the final image. There was a food stylist who made the Oreos®, poured the milk and made the bubbles.
Alyssa is my favorite food stylist. She and an assistant went through many cases of Oreo® base cakes, looking for perfect unbroken ones. After they found enough for the actual shot plus extras, they made a batch of the white filling which they then piped out of a pastry bag in a long, white "rope". They next took the icing rope, laid it around the outside edge of the bottom base cake and then popped the top Oreo® on. Let's see, Alyssa had to create the 10 Oreos® for the shot itself and at least 10 more just in case. Then she arranged the food, poured the milk and placed the bubbles. Food styling is a tough job and Alyssa does it very well!
Oreos® need a broad light bouncing off their tops at a severe angle so this shot had a large light bank off to the left to light the face of the upright Oreo®, the other Oreos® and the milk. There was also an optical spot-light off to the right to carefully light the back Oreo® pile without affecting the milk. That's it. That's how we did this shot. It was made into a poster, and hangs in some very nice offices (including my own).