I’ve been photographing food professionally for the past seven years. I have a photography studio located in Jaffa (Israel) and I work with culinary magazines, cookbook publishers and large food companies.
When I’m asked about what I do for a living, I always get the same response. The first question people want to know is if what I photograph is real, when do I use shaving cream instead of whipped cream and when do I smother a steak with motor oil.
I decided to write this post to explain what goes on at a professional food photography studio, and maybe bring to an end to some myths about synthetic foods.
I usually eat what I photograph
Today, unlike in the past, there is a lot of pressure towards “real advertising”. Food photographs from the eighties and nineties were known for the use of shaving cream and motor oil in styling food but with time there has been advancement in the field and with it the aspiration to display food in its real form. Maybe it’s just a fad now, but in my view food has to be real in order for it to be appetizing.
When chefs come to my studio for a photography session I always tell them to make their dishes “all the way”, ie. to include seasoning with salt, because I believe that when they don’t cut corners on a recipe- the recipe will come out its best. It is important to me as a photographer to give the audience the feeling and connection to something which is familiar- and since the invention of photos with scents has yet to be discovered-my job is to make the viewer smell and taste the picture- and the more the viewer ran relate to the image as something familiar- the more it will work on all the senses-especially, smell, taste and touch.
Of course I also have “secrets” and techniques that I’ve learned throughout my years in this profession from chefs and stylists, which help the food being photographed look its best.
As a professional food photographer I feel that the more knowledgeable I am in regards to the culinary world, the better photographer I am. I know what will happen to mean after five hours of cooking (a brownish/grey block) and how it will look after just an hour of cooking.
I know how to make broccoli become really bright green and how to plate a salad so that it will look really appetizing (the little drops of dressing help).
All of this information I’ve gathered over the years by peeping over the shoulders of the bests chefs and cooks in Israel, I asked questions and nudged them about things I didn’t know. Today, even when I make dinner for my family, the way the food looks on the plate is important to me.
The realm of food styling has always been an important factor in the history of food photography. Look at old cookbooks and you’ll find a lot of clutter of kitchen items and ingredients. For instance, if a mushroom quiche was being photographed, old-school food stylists would nonchalantly scatter mushrooms on the counter next to the finished dish.
Today the style has changed but the importance of the food styling remains prominent. On a typical photo shoot, you will find a chef in the kitchen, the photographer, the food stylist and the client. Each one has their own areas of responsibility, but I like to be involved in all areas. I engage in the styling, advise the chef here and there with the food prep and of course am responsible for the finished product- the photograph.
The food styling starts in the kitchen- the plating, scattering crumbs or making the perfect pasta dish are not easy tasks- everything is done with consideration and deliberation in regards to composition, color and continuity. Even in what may appear to be a simple plate- there is contemplation in regards to the composition.
On set we start to work with the elements which surround the dish-backgrounds, dishes, silverware- and anything that the stylist has imagined. Once the set is ready, I start to work on the positioning of the camera and the lighting.
In the moments before the final shot (one of the secrets of food styling) we do the following finishing touches: brush cooked meats with oil- canola oil. We strategically place the crumbs using medical tweezers, we drizzle the sauce on the exact spot it needs to be in and then we shoot (fast)!!
The Minimalism of Photoshop
Another question I get asked often is how much touching-up doI do with Photoshop to my photographs. Again the human curiosity wants to know if what one sees is real or an illusion…
I can only vouch for my own modus operandi- less is more when it comes to Photoshop.
Studio photography is so exact in terms or composition, lighting and food prep, and the computer feedback is so fact that most of the touch-ups are done on set- and therefore the touch-ups done in Photoshop are usually light color balance (usually adding color saturation) and clean up of small “dust” in the dish itself.
When I photograph outside the studio, I end up having to do more touching up, but the food is not a model that needs her waistline cinched-so usually what I’ve photographed will most likely be the final product.
So how can I sum up what I do?
For example, yesterday I was doing a photo shoot at Catit restaurant (in Tel Aviv). Towards the end of the busy day, Meir Adoni (the chef) brought out from the kitchen some desserts to sweeten up the end of our day. I sat at the restaurant bar with a lemongrass semifreddo in hand, and thought to myself “what a tough job I have, it’s not easy being a food photographer!!”
If you want to check out some of my commercial work, you can visit my website: www.danyaphoto.com.