Photographing Food – Food and Three Flashes

This first image is a Squid ink Risotto dish from Erbaluce restaurant Boston’s Bay Village area on February 8, 2011.

The rest of the dishes are from Canary Park in Jamaica Plain. These are fried twinkies, criminy pickled mushrooms and a plate of charcuterie. (Essdras M Suarez/ Boston Globe)

Behind the Scenes:

I was assigned to photograph at least three restaurants per week in the last three weeks. (This is mostly due to my schedule that is usually afternoon to early-evening shifts.)

A few years ago, when I first started getting food assignments I used to resent them since I thought my talents were being misused. Since then, I have learned to appreciate the extreme efforts chefs put into their culinary creations. Thus, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be a disservice not to do my best to make these dishes look their best. Now, I take pride in the fact that I can shoot food under any situation.

Tech Stuff:

  • I don’t need a lot of space to work and my gear consists of one camera body usually with a 100 macro 2.8 or a 60mm 2.8. The latter tends to offer a certain degree of optical aberration so I try not to use it unless the food that I’m photographing is many dishes at once.
  • Until very recently I used only two off-camera strobes and a remote atop my camera. The strobes were usually positioned across from each other at table or food level on their own little stands at the 7:00 o’clock and 2:00 o’clock positions.
  • Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a third strobe and I position this at the 11:00 o’clock. By adding an extra light the set up allows me to move around the dish and try different angles without really having to do anything but minor adjustments to the strobe positions.
  • The strobes behind the food are usually about 1/3rd higher than the one on the front and they are all synched on TTL mode.

Chefs and their Food

The Globe has now created a new feature in our G Food Section in which we showcase a chef(s) and their creations. I kind of like this better than just photographing the food since I will always be partial to photographing people than inanimate objects. Here are a couple of recent examples.

  • The first one is chef Pedro Alarcon from La Casa de Pedro in Watertown and one of his delectable creations which he named “Faldas de Yayi” dish made out of skirt meat also known as skirt steak, Thai chili, cherry tomatoes, smoked salt, red onion and flour tortilla.
  • The second set is that of the owner and chef, Peter Liu and chef Lijun Liu, of the Sichuan Gourmet Restaurant in Sharon, MA. The dish shown is double-cooked and spiced pork.

Behind the Scenes:

These are pretty straightforward assignments. You are given a restaurant, a chef(s), and a couple of dishes to photograph. It is my responsibility to make every single photo as visually appealing and interesting as possible.

Tech Stuff: The setup is pretty standard.

I use a mid-size square soft box with a Travel-lite Kit at about 45 degrees in front and to either side of the each of the subjects making sure that the light source is slightly above head level, thus creating classic Rembrandt lighting:

  • Equipment: 24-70mm 2.8 or 16-35mm, a 100mm 2.8 macro and for the food photos two to three strobe units on controlled by a camera-mounted remote.
  • Exposure: portraits 1/125th @11 ISO 250 for the two chefs and 1/10th @9.0 ISO 500.

With the two chefs I wanted crisp contrast between the light and the shadows and fast fading as to emphasize the cool frosted glass design in which they were standing behind.

With the other (the single chef) I wanted to capture some of the ambiance of the place, thus, the lower speed.