Working with a Team at a Food Photography Shoot

Although you’ll often shoot your images of food by yourself, on the occasions when you’re a part of a team at a photo shoot, it can be a wonderful experience. Whether you’re working with an art director or discussing dishes with the chef, you have to have confidence and control of the shoot.

Getting in tune with an art director

One person you may work with on a team is an art director. The art director is responsible for the creative vision of the shoot; as the photographer, you’re responsible for implementing that vision.

When working with an art director, communication is important, so ask questions and get the vision solidified well before the shoot. Discuss what the art director is looking for in the shoot: Is it a dreamy romantic shot, an accurate portrayal, or a modern graphic look? Also find out what sort of props and lighting you’ll need.

At the shoot, your job is to first create the basic setup, including backdrop, linens, plates, glasses, and silverware, with no food present in the shots. Let the art director arrange the scene as needed. After the set is solidified, light the setup and take some test shots. Confirm with the art director that your test shots are on target for the artistic vision.

When the food arrives, the art director will work with you to perfect the scene. In these situations, you should take a lot of different shots, using different lenses, tilts, angles, and distances from the food. Having a lot of options for the client and art director to choose from is always a good idea.

Working with chefs at a photo shoot

You may also work closely with the chefs who’ve prepared the food you’re shooting. Although you’re essentially in charge of the set, you and the chef will have to work together to put the best-looking dishes forward. Chefs are quite motivated to put forth their best work so you can make it shine for them.

The photographer is responsible for the initial setup, including backgrounds if needed and lighting. After the chef brings out the food, you may need to tweak the food slightly, perhaps moving some greens or accents with tweezers. Truly, the key to working with chefs is to plan ahead for the dishes they’re preparing and to manage the shoot as soon as the food is ready.

Planning for the dishes

Although you may not always have the luxury, knowing in advance what types of dishes chefs are preparing is helpful. Talk to the chef or the restaurant manager, and see what’s on his mind.

The props you bring depend on the type of food you’re shooting. For example, a rustic food like the quiche in the following figure needs complementary rustic dishes, backdrops, and so forth.

Rustic foods, like this quiche, need rustic dishes and backdrops. [Credit: Focal length: 55mm, Shut
Credit: Focal length: 55mm, Shutter speed: 1/10 sec., Aperture: f/8.0, ISO value: 250
Rustic foods, like this quiche, need rustic dishes and backdrops.

The tabletop scene in the next figure uses more refined props, such as pure white plates, white linens, and stemware. Put a little thought into what props you may want to use ahead of time. Think of props that may match the foods and some that contrast to mix it up a little.

When working with a more refined food, your dishes and backdrops should match the look. [Credit: Fo
Credit: Focal length: 55mm, Shutter speed: 1/15 sec., Aperture: f/6.3, ISO value: 200
When working with a more refined food, your dishes and backdrops should match the look.

Always, always bring a basic white backdrop (either paper or material) on a shoot. When you try out your new aubergine tablecloth and find that it’s just not working for the setup, you know you have a clean white alternative at the ready.

Managing the shoot

When working with a chef, especially if multiple dishes are in the shoot, you need to clearly manage the timing for when you need the dishes brought out. If you don’t know, just play it by ear. Shoot the first dish and judge the rest of the timing from that.

Allow about 30 to 60 minutes to shoot a single dish. This is typically enough time to set up several different looks or settings and use many different tilts and angles. Some photographers, particularly for large magazines, shoot one dish for the better part of a day.

You also need to know that after the dish is presented to you for the shoot, you’re responsible for taking the chef’s work and presenting it in the best possible way for the camera. If that means taking out your tweezers and moving around some microgreens, so be it. You’re ultimately responsible for the look of the final images.

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