Creating An Appetizing Food Shot That's Actually Inedible.
DISCOVERY: As I mentioned on my home page, I've recently discovered the joy of food and especially the creative challenge of capturing "food on film", so to speak, not only aesthetically, but also all of the interesting tricks it takes to make it look appetizing as well. However, even though I joke about eating all of the props when we're finished, in reality, most of the time that's not possible...which we'll get to later. Besides that, most people have no idea about the behind-the-scenes-planning it takes, not to mention the process of building a shot along the way to make certain it says what you and/or the client wants it to say, not to mention how it will appeal to the viewer's palette. So, I've decided to share some of this fascinating information and, initially, I'll be discussing the pizza image from my Food Page.
INSPIRATION: The interesting thing is that, sometimes my inspiration for a portfolio shot comes from something I experience visually, either when I'm out and about or even just watching television or seeing something in a magazine. Then, after spending a bit of creative time thinking about it, a lot of these ideas simply appear in my mind's eye. I'll then draw that out on paper, including a list of the individual food items and other props that'll be used and their basic placement....which in this case included fresh yellow peppers, zucchini and a couple of shallots and some raw spices....to tell the story I'm looking to tell, which in this case was mimicking a pizza made from scratch at home. Then I decide on the camera angle, as well as how I'm going to light the set to tell the story I'm trying to tell. (All well executed photos should tell a story, even commercial shots.)
THE RIGHT PROPS: Of course, the ground and background are also very important and for the pizza image this ended up being a combination of an old, wooden, kitchen cupboard door that I had to "recondition" to make look nice and pretty, as well as an antique piece of flowered curtain which I've had stored away for probably 20 years but never had a reason to use up until now. To make it authentic looking though, this material had to be creatively "placed" around the set so it looked natural...like it had been simply dropped there. I also chose a simple, clear glass plate and little dessert cups, an old, aluminum, measuring spoon and an old paring knife with a well-worn wood handle to tie everything into a "comfy-at-home" feeling.
TIMING: Then, I had timing to deal with. Everything needed to have that "just cooked" look so it was important that everything was ready to "plate" at the same time. This meant, first I had to fire up the grill to get the coals ready for grilling the vegetables. While this was happening, I continued to "dress" the set with the paprika and onion skins, etc. and also fine tuned the light, which I purposely chose as a combination of soft, shadowless, natural window light. Fortunately, I had this exact set up coming in through a large window of my kitchen from strong north light bouncing off a light colored fence on the right. I then combined this with daylight balanced strobe positioned on stand to the left of the set and pointed at a large, white, foam-core board attached to a light stand as "fill", with a 1/3 lighting ratio. After running
some tests with my Minolta III, hand-held light meter, I found it necessary to tape a small piece of cardboard to the strobe-head itself to keep stray strands of hard light from bleeding back onto the set. In fact, I even found it necessary to cut up a piece of thin cardboard to use as a "place setting" for the pizza itself, as well as a "cardboard slice" of the stuff to sit in for the real thing so I could do all of this without the pizza sitting there getting old and cold.
BUILDING THE SHOT: However, there was still the pizza to cook, which meant not only getting my oven pre-heated, but the pizza itself cooked just right at about the same time the veggies were finished grilling. Then, when everything was done cooking and still hot, on top of plating everything at the same time, I found it necessary to fill a syringe with glycerin water and selectively put drops of that onto different areas of the Pizza to keep it looking fresh and tasty. (I add glycerin to the water to keep the water itself from drying out too quickly, but of course...that's also what makes it inedible.) Something else that was very important was getting the beer to look just right, so almost the same time that I trip the shutter, I had my assistant poor the beer quickly and correctly so that it not only had a nice head, but so the glass itself had a nice frosty look to it as well. Of course, this was only good for maybe three exposures, so if I wanted to experiment with changing anything else after that, a new glass with new beer had to re-poured each time.
Just think, all of this just to make a picture of a yummy looking pizza that looks like it was simply just sitting there waiting for someone to come by and eat it.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF COMPOSITION: Something else I'd like to bring to your attention to as well is the subtle use of compositional psychology for prop placement. Notice how so many of the different elements in the this photo point to...or close to...the center of the pizza in subtle ways. This includes not only the obvious knife placement, but the grilled shallots down to the right, as well as part of the onion skin near it, the tiny piece of grilled mushroom in the little clear bowl at the bottom, the onion skin and red peppers up to the left and even the single piece of pizza itself. Furthermore, notice how most of the props have been mostly cropped out of the picture as well, so that you only see hints of them. That's because, even though they may be interesting in themselves, they're only there to help tell the story and are therefore incidental. The fact is, these "prop placements" have been done intentionally to keep your eye from wandering out of the frame and your attention on the pizza itself, since it's the actual subject and most important part of this story.
CREATING A SENSE OF PLACE: Finally, I also always leave a little room for the viewer's interpretation as well, which is also part of the psychology of successful picture making, especially in advertising. Creating a sense of "place" that the viewer can identify with, but that isn't too literal to where they can still imagine their own setting and story, such as, "Gee, that reminds me of when I was little in my mom's or grandma's kitchen helping her make pizza from scratch"....or whatever.
PARTICIPATION: Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed learning about this visual process that most everyone else has no idea about, and the next time you see an interesting food shot it'll encourage you to explore it further with a new appreciation of what you've learned here today. Oh, and don't forget to share any comments or questions you may have either. Thanks for being you!