It was a hot summer day in LA and I had been on my feet all day surrounded by food, props, and more than a few flies. Shooting something cold that didn’t require any cooking was appealing, to put it mildly. The grapes were beautiful, plump, purplish; fresh, delicious and I had only 30 minutes of natural light left. I had to think quickly: frozen grapes!
I froze the grapes for 15 minutes, polished a beautiful Bohemia crystal bowl and started styling the props and setting the camera angle. As I took the grapes out of the freezer, I thought of them in the vineyards, growing and surviving cold nights and hot summer days. The condensation formed beautiful water droplets around the edges. The crystal bowl was shiny, translucent and elegant without taking attention away from the fruit. I had my shot and it was a perfect grape shot. Telling a story around the subject matter rather than focusing on the problem was the answer to my problem.
For one of our most recent projects, the Denise Austin – 10 Week 360˚ Plan, we photographed all the recipes for Denise’s meal plans. This was no small feat. We prepped, styled and shot over 160 breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks!
Telling stories through a camera lense has always been a huge part of who I am, so while I knew the assignment would be challenging, both in subject and in scale, I was thrilled and excited.
I set time time aside to research before starting on the project, that was not only fun but also stimulated my creative brain. Research helps me solve a problem before it becomes one. Instagram has millions of really great (and bad) photographers sharing their craft so I spent time looking at some great visuals there. I’m an old school reader so I got a few books about food photography too. Plate to Pixel had a lot of information about simple lighting techniques, something I was interested on since all the photos would have to be shot using natural lighting.
We photographed dinners first because they are the most time consuming recipes to prepare. Lunches came after that, and we saved snacks for the end of the day because we thought they they were fairly simple. Interestingly, snacks turned out to be the most challenging items to shoot. Making grapes, boiled eggs, almonds and bananas look sexy and delicious is an art!
I spent a couple days testing different food styling, setting camera angles and practicing lighting techniques. I simulated a similar location set up and snapped a few test shots using generic ingredients and props.
We had a list of 160+ recipes to shoot. First, we split that list into several days and scheduled the photoshoot days accordingly. After that we selected the dishes, the silverware, the camera lense, the right setting, all the props and the best herbs and edible flowers we could find in the market to buy.
I really wanted to use diffused window lighting to get a soft light and “at home” look and feel, so we had until 3 or 4 in the afternoon to prepare the recipes, style the set, frame the image and take the shots. There was no rain in the forecast so we had the option to do some outside set ups if needed.
Some of my tools included tweezers, spray bottles, Q-tips, eye droppers, clips, chopsticks, brushes, scissors and a lot of paper towels. Playing with food gets messy really fast. Having a clean and clutter free space to work is really important. Another thing about food is that fresh items remain fresh for a certain amount of hours, so timing and organization is essential to produce the best looking shots.
Mastering the lighting and the white balance was fundamental to get the look and feel that truly conveyed the story behind each one of those shots.
The grapes were one of the last things I had left on my list and it took me awhile to figure that one out. I started to imagine what people do with grapes and how they consume it. You can eat, drink, cook, squeeze, freeze grapes; they are very versatile. That visual inspired me to freeze the grapes and act fast, after all I had very little time of natural light left that day. A little inspired luck is always part of the process.
To celebrate, I had grapes of course: a beautiful 2010 Cabernet.