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Food Photography

stylist photographer color appear

oday more than ever before, there is a constant need for photographs of food for promotional purposes. Much of this need is due to a wide interest in nutrition and health and the public’s desire to explore the tastes of different cultures.

The food photographer’s studio is designed with the kitchen as a main ingredient, and it can be as fully equipped as a professional chef’s kitchen. Shooting food in the studio for an advertisement or a magazine editorial usually follows a certain pattern. Prop styling—the gathering of an assortment of dishes and table linens, silverware and glassware, and materials needed for backgrounds—is done a day or two before the actual shoot day. Although a number of photographers are accomplished chefs, most work with a home economist or food stylist, which leaves them free to concentrate on the photographic part of an assignment. Food shopping is done the day before or even the morning of the shoot to ensure that all food will be fresh and appealing. At times foods that are out of season may be flown in from other parts of the world.

Usually working from a layout, the photographer and art director or designer select the props, background, and setting for the photograph. Meanwhile the food stylist prepares a stand-in dish, which the photographer uses to refine the lighting and to determine proper exposure. Generally, electronic flash is used so that the heat from tungsten lights will not affect the food. Although more photographers are experimenting with using hot lights, electronic flash is still needed to freeze a pour at the high point of the action.

Appetite appeal is the primary reason to shoot food, and large-format cameras, 8 × 10-inch and 4 × 5-inch, allow for the texture and color to be rendered in great detail in reproductions and are still used frequently. Most food being photographed today is photographed using color transparency film. Because color provides an appetizing look, there is less black-and-white photography of food. Black-and-white work may occasionally be seen in newspapers, but these publications are also reproducing color. As with other types of commercial photography, digital cameras are becoming a part of food photography; however, only the highest-quality digital backs are being used in various studios to capture food images.

Teamwork and timing between the photographer and the food stylist is very important. Food must be photographed at its peak after preparation to take advantage of its color and its “moment of serving” appearance. A timing sequence must be worked out so that the most perishable of the dishes reach the set as soon as possible after cooking. Just before the exposures are made, the photographer or stylist performs the last-minute touches that enhance the food’s appearance, such as brushing certain items with a thin coating of vegetable oil to give them an attractive shine, spraying fresh vegetables and fruit with a mixture of glycerin and water to make them appear fresher and more appetizing, adding the little pools of gravy with a syringe, spooning on the sauce and dressings, or adding the important dessert toppings of powdered sugar or whipped cream or whatever is necessary to finish off the photograph and make it appear mouthwatering and desirable.

Photographing liquids presents other special problems. A can of soda must appear cold and perhaps frosty. A glass or mug of beer must have a full and appetizing collar of foam, and a bottle must pour smoothly without “burping” as it pours. To frost a can, a stylist may first spray it with a glycerin-water mixture, and then sprinkle it with salt, which will look like frost on the can. To achieve the same effect on a beer glass, it is first sprayed with a thin coat of clear lacquer so that the glycerin mixture will adhere to its surface. Room-temperature beer is used; the head is spooned on later and gently coaxed over the glass’s rim. To make a bottle or can pour without gulping for air, a photographer or stylist drills a hole in or near the bottom. The can or bottle is then rigged on a stand, out of frame, and a small hose or funnel is used to allow the liquid to pour freely through. All of these techniques and methods take a great deal of patient practice before expertise can be achieved.

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