Behind The Scenes: On Location Food Photoshoot
There is a lot more that goes into commercial food photography than you might think, especially when you are working with an art director for the business. Sometimes you are just out to get some beauty shots of the food, and other times you are shooting for a very specific layout that the art director is trying to achieve for branding or marketing designs that they have already created. Sometimes they will design and use a placeholder (FPO) if the photography was done later or they are looking to replace photos from an already created design. Either way, preparation is key to having a successful photoshoot on the business end and the photographer side.
If you're a restaurant having a photographer come in to photograph your food, being prepared with food, extra ingredients, napkins and options for plates and linens is always a good start to help the photographer get the best photos that they can for your food photography.
Depending on where your light comes from (a window in the photo below at Isaac's Restaurant) may set the mood and background of the image you are creating. If you are lighting the photo with flashes or strobes, you can look for a background for the mood and style you are trying to create.
If you are using a window to light your food, keep a few things in mind. First, the light will vary if clouds are going in and out. You may also have to deal with full sun light if the Earth rotates more than you were expecting in the time it takes you to photograph the food. These things will give you inconsistent results and may create variances that your client may not eventually like. It will also add more time in your post production workflow. However, it will allow you to do these types of photos without purchasing lighting and you can have a smaller set up in the restaurant while doing these photos. You will more than likely need to use a tripod for these photos as you may need to keep the ISO down to create the least noise possible. One final point when thinking about the light for this type of set up. If you have anything reflective, a plate, glass, or shiny food, you will need to look and see if you are getting light spots from the interior lights in the restaurant. They will appear as little yellow dots or streaks. This will also show up as a yellowing in the shadows of your food and may not look as clean or appetizing. Simply ask if you can turn off the lights in the area you are photographing to remove or minimize this.
Tools of the trade for food photography can vary. Some things I always have in my food styling bag are pretty simple and some very inexpensive. First and foremost, a tripod. As much as I like to shoot freehand, having a tripod will be the most valuable thing you purchase for food photography in a variety of settings. Lighting, reflectors and clamps are all very valuable pieces of photography equipment to bring along as well. Then we get to the "other" things that I personally love to have on hand. Napkins, a straw, chopsticks, sugar packs and a plastic fork. Now, the napkins seem pretty normal, napkins for cleaning anything up like juices or crumbs on plates or table. The straw can be used for things such as picking up liquids to move or stirring things. I like to use sugar packets to lift up the backs of plates, small objects or food on the plate. Plastic forks are useful to move things around, I like to break off the outside prongs so that there are only the 2 middle ones left. This makes for a small tool that can get into little areas and move things without disturbing other things. Last but not least, I always carry chopsticks. I had a friend tell me years ago that chopsticks work best to bring the head back up on beer, and he was SO RIGHT!! It doesn't take much as the bamboo chemically reacts with the beer to give the perfect bubbles and bring the head back on beer perfectly. But, be careful as it does not take much for this to work. I suggest practicing this technique before using on site with a client.
Other helpful tools would be a food brush along with vegetable or olive oil to make food shine. A spray bottle with water if you are looking to give that condensation look on drinking glasses. I also like to use little white cards to bounce light back into the front of food if I'm lighting from the side or back of the food. This will fill in shadows on the front side of the food. If you don't have a white card, grab a napkin and prop it against something like another glass or bowl.
Also, keep in mind that you will be touching the food and moving it around to make it look best on the plate. So, hopefully you aren't put off by touching and manipulating food. Try to bring things to the front of the plate to reduce the amount of plate and make the food look big and bold.
After all of that, make sure the composition works, that the client is happy and you will be good to go with food photos that pop. Cheers!
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