Food photography is one of those things I really hadn't looked into much before I came to Hallmark. I had done a shoot for a restaurant back home, but that was done more by the seat of my pants than anything.
Shooting food in the studio with a 4x5 is a completely different animal, and so is having to do the food styling by yourself. For this assignment, I wanted to go a little high class, and caviar seemed the way to go. Unfortunately, I neither like caviar, nor know anything about it. This one was going to require a little research. More after the jump.
I've never had caviar in my life, if you don't count the little orange stuff that gets served on top of most sushi. Seafood just isn't my thing, but I knew I wanted to shoot it for this assignment as soon as they detailed how they wanted to see thought and planning put into making the food look as good as possible. Caviar itself doesn't take much to look good, so you just concentrate on what you're serving it on.
That was a weeklong project, searching all over for different recipes, serving instructions, and examples. It came down to deciding between a very traditional serving, blini with sour cream and garnish, something crazy like a martini with caviar, or something in between.
I went more towards traditional to put the focus on the caviar instead of on the props or another food that the caviar would only be a small part of. Pan seared sea scallops on baby spinach with a dollop of sour cream and a mountain of caviar on top. The commercial studio went from zero to five stars when that dish was put out.
The lighting was simple, if the construction of the actual food wasn't. A single giant softbox overhead gave me nice, even lighting across the white plate, with the green vegetables, seared scallop with sour cream, and black caviar standing out in a curved pattern three deep. Most of the successful images I had seen used the repeating pattern, fading off in the background.
Positioning the food was the biggest challenge. Every time we moved a piece, the plate had to be cleaned with q-tips or paper towel. The spinach needed to be fluffed, the caviar shaped, the scallops rotated, and the plate tilted. I had a feeling going into this project that we were learning as much about photography as learning when to hire a specialist, unless you happen to be a chef. I'm not saying that I'm talentless in the culinary arts, but I'm much better at eating than cooking.
Our teacher explained commercial studio as a game of inches, but when your subject is only inches itself, it comes down to centimeters. Poking and prodding with toothpicks slowed the shoot down to a crawl as we made adjustments, but shooting tethered to my laptop made the process much more enjoyable and successful than in the past. Leaf may not know how to explain what an "Error FB' is, but their software is straightforward and reliable.
Check back sometime soon for a video detailing another upcoming food shoot, from concept to post production.