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Shooting Food

Published : 19th November 2003


I got a call to do a shoot that has food in it, fast food to be specific.

The producer wants beauty shots of some fast food fare so, having only eaten the stuff in the past, I was wondering what special precautions, preparations, lighting, etc. might be required or suggested. I asked if there was going to be a make-up artist for the food (a french-fry wrangler?) and so far, there isn't one budgeted.

Thanks in advance.

Bob Watson
Cinematographer
Redmond, Washington, USA



There's a really good book on photographing and prepping food for stills photography, I've got it somewhere but can't find it at the moment, an Amazon search should get it for you.

Of course the best thing that you can do is to get a really good expert to prep the food for you.

Oh yes, large soft source, top/back light.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based
www.cinematography.net



I used to shoot a lot of low-budget food spots. What Geoff said is what I discovered on my own: a big soft source from the rear works for about 80% of everything...provided you're looking down on it.

For me it was all about texture: soft light brought out larger items, while things like rice and beans wanted something a bit harder. Some food likes to be shot from above and some from the side, and heaven help you if you end up with one of each in the shot. A beer can and a pizza in the same shot would be a bit annoying.

Get a food stylist. It helps immensely to have someone performing "food makeup," or to tell the chef to undercook the lasagne so it'll stand upright. But soft backlight and a fill card worked for most of the stuff I had to shoot. Like I said, though, most of what I shot was low budget restaurant spots on location, so if they brought out a food that didn't work with what I had I'd mess with it for a while and then tell them to bring me something else.

If they're using plates (for fast food, maybe not?) make sure they're dark. I always ended up trying to make food pop on white plates and the white plate always steals the show. I had to dodge my key light using bottles of olive oil and other condiments that looked like they belonged in the shot. (Olive oil gives a nice gold tone when it casts a shadow across a plate edge.)

Jib arms are nice for down-looking sweeping moves across plates or table settings.

Oh...and get as close as you can on wide lenses, if possible, and light bright for depth-of-field.

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"
http://www.artadams.net/



Geoff Boyle wrote :

>Of course the best thing that you can do is to get a really good expert to >prep the food for you

There's a regional spot airing here for a Louisiana-style restaurant, and the shots of food really do make one consider going on a brief fast!

So unappetizing...

Jeff Krienes



I must be in a disagreeable mood this week. Geoff and Art suggested large top soft sources for the lighting of food. But after many years of shooting tabletop I find this approach somewhat limiting. But it may simply be that I have a problem with telling people how to light something that I haven't seen. I recently shared my experiences shooting diamonds, disagreeing with Walter on the issue of reflective highlights, but Walter found that his approach worked very well. My point is that the rules are meant to be broken. Or simply there are no steadfast rules.

Lighting food can be very specific and I prefer an arsenal of tools with which to work. I like to have 1K pars with snoots, Dedo lights with condenser lenses, some frames of various diffusion, one or two 5K's or 2K Mighty's, flags, many offset arms and baby grip stands to get things close, dots and fingers, shiny and matte silver and gold show card, a small mirror kit and armature wire rigs.

A large top source is fine but really doesn't see into the front of a burger. But it, too, is one tool with which to work. Sometimes I may start off with the large top source to open things up and then add from there. But other time shots need to be lit much more dramatically and moody where the large top approach doesn't work for me at all. Sometimes the top reflective source needs to be more specific into certain areas and not others. My approach is to work specifically with the shot at hand.

That's my 2cents.

Jim Sofranko
NY/DP



Hey Jim :

I always enjoy reading your posts since they are always based on real world experience, not theoretical speculation that seems to drive many people on this list to spout off.

The differences in the level of the quality of food shooting or table top work done in NYC and that done the rest of the world is IMHO beyond calculation. Unless someone has been involved in it, they have no idea of the time, effort, skill , ingenuity, teamwork, experience talent, co-operation, patience, and so on that is required to make it look like it was easy.

Sure a large soft source from behind and above might get you 85% of the way there, but it is the next 15% that separates local and regional table top including Europe from NYC.

I could go on, but I'm boring myself.

They other thing -- the cross polinization that takes place in an environment like NYC that is filled with some of the greatest still food shooters in the world can not be underestimated. It's truly fantastic.

True anecdote : A couple of years go I was asked to shoot a food spot with a "local genius" food shooter. He demanded that everyone on the crew sign a non-disclosure agreement. When I thought of people like Elbert Budin or Henry Sandbank and this faker, I couldn't stop snickering.

All the best,

Brian Heller



>The differences in the level of the quality of food shooting or table top >work done in NYC and that done the rest of the world is IMHO beyond >calculation.

Oh Brian, have you stepped into it!

I don't believe that is the case any longer but there certainly is a quantifiable history and tradition of excellent food tabletop stills and commercials shot in NYC that simply didn't exist anywhere else in this country 20 years ago. That is a very defensible statement. But today there is excellent work coming from many regional locales throughout the country.

It's not a NY versus anywhere else debate but difference of the discipline of tabletop shooters versus live action shooters who occasionally shoot a tabletop tag onto a spot. Not better or worse just different.

Hope you don't get flamed too badly!

Jim Sofranko
NY/DP



>The differences in the level of the quality of food shooting or table top >work done in NYC and that done the rest of the world is IMHO beyond >calculation.

Don't forget Chicago. All of the time that there were great shooters in NY, some of the really great still food shooters worked out of Chicago where Kraft and other food companies were as well as some of the major ad agencies for food products.

I learned a lot from SOM of those guys.

Steven Poster ASC



> I must be in a disagreeable mood this week. Geoff and Art suggested >large

Nah Jim, we were just suggesting a quick and simple approach that will work "most" times.

The question was from someone who said they had no experience of this so I went KISS. A nice piece of poly (foamcore) under the lens will fill the shadows nicely.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based



Steven Poster writes :

>Don't forget Chicago. All of the time that there were great shooters in NY, >some of the really great still food shooters worked out of Chicago where >Kraft and other food companies were as well as some of the major ad >agencies for food products.

My apologies to Chicago and my condolences to Cub fans everywhere. Nor did I intend to be dismissive of the KISS method.

I was responding in haste to a particularly irritating off list post that I mistakenly thought was on list.

Brian "Grady made me do it." Heller
IA 600 DP



>Don't forget Chicago. All of the time that there were great shooters in NY, >some of the really great still food shooters worked out of Chicago....

Yeah…Chicago has been really giving the tabletop industry a run for it's money. Very talented tabletop shooters there.

I've heard stories of certain Directors/Production Companies that hire a staff DP and they simply shoot, shoot, and shoot testing all the elements of the product shot. Sometimes they do this before even landing the job when just pitching a campaign for a food client.

Jim Sofranko
NY/DP



Hi –

I'm not a tabletop DP although I did a couple long time ago, but in my snorkel days I worked with quite a few top food shooters...There was a "soft top/back" camp and what I'd call a "moulded hard source" camp -- as I typically pulled focus from a B&W video tap, I had a certain fondness for the latter -- (also, with the Kenworthy, frontal lighting tends to be out of the question unless VERY soft - we had a 15K Soft light ! or kickers kinda snuck in under the radar so to speak...)

Toni Ficalora, who was one of the best, did a kind of combination of those two philosophies... but this was a guy who thought shooting butter on a piece of bread was akin to painting a Madonna and Child....

A professional food stylist is a must, not an option. IMHO.

Sam Wells



Brian Heller wrote :

>I was responding in haste to a particularly irritating off list post that I >mistakenly thought was on list.

That can get us all in trouble at times.

Not that it's ever happened to me of course

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based


Get a food stylist.

It really isn't an option to it without. You'll end up taking the blame for mediocre food. Beyond the fancy tricks, just having someone to pick the perfect bun out of the flats of buns...and someone who knows that you need that many to get a good one. Is really important.

Bobby Stone
Atomic Films, Inc.
www.atomicfilms.com