We’ve partnered with our friends at global photography site Feature Shoot to spotlight some of the most compelling images in our Offset collection. This week, six food photographers share their tips for whetting the appetite.
If Instagram has taught us anything, it’s this: first, that people love pictures of food, and second, that it’s very hard to make even the most delicious meal look appetizing in a photograph. We asked six masters of food photography to weigh in on which image in their Offset collection was the most difficult to shoot and how they overcame the challenge. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most demanding food to photograph seems to be meat — which can easily tend toward the unappealing — and foods that are either steaming or frozen, requiring photographers to think on their feet within a limited period of time. It also seems like the most difficult shoots — those that demand ample doses of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking — are often the ones that turn out best.
Nicole Branan: I found this s’mores ingredients shot difficult to photograph. I wanted to give the ingredients a cozy autumn campfire feel, but it’s very difficult to include elements like fire and trees in a photo of food. I got around that challenge by charring the marshmallows under my broiler and by lighting the set with one light source from a low angle, to create dark shadows around the food that reminded me of afternoon fall light filtering through leaves.
Gina Weathersby: This image was part of a larger campaign of individual flavors of sorbets, gelatos, and tartufos for Madisono’s Gelato, and this particular image happened serendipitously. My client didn’t want a commercial/packaging look in the images, and after hiring me based on the “feel” of my images and styling, asked that I attempt the styling myself. I was up for the challenge, and after a little online research on shooting/styling ice cream, I felt prepared. I wanted the shots to vary from more perfectly scooped to less perfectly scooped stages, so I created a variety of scoops with each flavor in order to have choices. I kept those scoops on a parchment-lined sheet pan, placed in my freezer. What was most interesting, and ultimately the highlight of the shoot, was that, at one point, I looked at the collection that was growing on my board and realized I loved what was happening organically. At the end of the shoot, I brought this collection of scooped flavors out onto my set (lit by natural window light) and created a few shots in various stages of frozen and melting. As I favor an editorial feel, the less-than-perfect images were my favorites, this particular one being my most favorite. Being able to recognize that something visually wonderful is “developing” is a skill that should be as valued as the technical aspects of photography.
Jody Horton: This photo of a rack of Dr. Pepper ribs from The Old Highball in Austin, TX, was one of the most challenging images to shoot in my collection. It was created for Playboy magazine as part of a series on bowling alleys around the country that have great food. Instruction from the art director was to make the image very graphic. To create the strong shadow and contrast we were going for, I shot this in the parking lot in 100+ degree Austin summer weather. There was also a lot of wind. And flies. Still, the trickiest part was getting a decent splat from the basting brush. At that time, I didn’t have a portable wipe-clean white surface, so my assistant and I were using a seamless paper. I think we used half a roll. In the end, the magazine went with another image in the series, but this was my favorite.
Mark Weinberg: This image started out seeming simple. I was working with Eugene Jho, a phenomenal food stylist in New York. We thought we’d make the ice-cream sandwiches, stack them, and then let them melt. Well, we were using three brands of ice cream, and they all melted at different rates. Some dripped nicely, some not so much. As some melted at different rates, the ice-cream sandwiches on top began moving too much. At the same time, we were shooting with natural light that was shifting and changing during the 40 minutes or so that we spent shooting this image. We had to remake the ice-cream sandwiches multiple times, and by combining a number of different images, we were able to create this image. Photoshop is wonderful, but I don’t like it being the solution to every issue. In most cases, I believe it is simpler and the images look better when captured in one shot. We always do our best to get the image in one shot. In this case Photoshop won and was the best solution to the problem.
Dina Avila: The challenge with any food photo is to make it appealing and appetizing. You want to tap into the visual appetite of the viewer. Not all foods photograph well, and my job is to photograph in a way that grabs your attention and hopefully gets the salivary glands flowing. I have an interest in capturing a sense of environment and place in many of my food images, and this image is no exception. We had beautiful overcast light and a beautiful table, but just a plain old charcuterie board. Pink meats, white bread, orange carrots. I shot this image overhead incorporating the red mosaic-tiled table and black wrought-iron chair to frame the charcuterie board and to make it pop. You’ll notice there’s a bit of a repetition, not only with the colors of tiles and the food (creating an interesting visual dynamic), but with the curves of the board, table, and chair, bringing the eye around the frame and back to the subject.
Zach DeSart: My shot was trying to capture a bartender lighting citrus oil on fire after wiping the rim of a cocktail glass. It was technically challenging on a couple of levels: we had to have the right ambient and strobe ratios to expose everything properly, but also lots of trial and error just figuring out how to get the right flame with the right match and the right hand gesture.
Offset artists are visual storytellers with a deep passion for their craft. Images in the Offset collection are gathered from world-class and award-winning assignment photographers, illustrators, and agencies, with a focus on unique content with narrative, authentic, and sophisticated qualities.
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