Business of Commercial Food Photography


Lesson Info

Live Shoot: Plate #2

For set two, we're gonna conquer the problem of, there's two things with this in terms of food photography that I'm gonna address. As a dish, I wanna get a fork and knife and I wanna jump into that right now. But with the same problem with this, because we had very little options as to what we could do to change this presentation because it's a very large presentation. But this is a much more flexible thing to do. So if this came out of the kitchen, and let's say, I don't normally shoot on blue, which many people know, because I could go through a litany of reasons why food and blue don't work. But I also don't shoot on plates this big. Because when we're shooting food, particularly when we get into the macro range, I will lose the whole plate by getting that close to it. So this is not a commentary on the food styling. This is a commentary on the propping. (laughs) She should have known better. But the point is this. What we're gonna do here, because we have some real beauty in th...

is plate, we have a beautiful leg and thigh combination, and we have the pickled cabbage. Is it pickled? It's stewed. Okay. But meat has a tendency to just be monochromatic, and then by adding something really vibrant to it, which is why that dish was probably created that way, to add a vibrancy to the appetite appeal. Because until somebody tastes that, it still has to appeal to the diner. And it's the same problem we have with food photography, right? Is that we need to present it in a way that it's enticing, even though they're never gonna get a chance to eat it. But here, what we're gonna do is, why don't you come on up, Chef? And your name? Michael. Michael, Chef Michael? Hello. Okay. So here's what we're gonna do. Leia's gonna come over and work with you, you can stay on that side of the table, you know, because we don't want any trouble. And we're gonna replate just the leg and thigh combination with a few of the other elements from your plate, and then garnish on a smaller plate, 'cause then I wanna really get in tight, okay? So that's what we're gonna do. I'll pick a surface in a sec. Why don't you go and work with Chef on a plate, and I feel like something using like this, because... Or we're gonna... I like that. Well, actually, let me see. This... This is sort of what it's like, where I'm over here scouring the table thinking about what I want. But I feel like this might work. So let's work with that. And then once you got it plated up, we'll pick the rest of the things. And while you're doing that I'm gonna look at things that I like. So, and you might want to bring your styling tools for Chef. Okay. So... I'm just gonna stand over here and kind of gaze at these things, 'cause this is definitely a fork and a knife dish. You need a knife to cut the meat. And I'm gonna pick some things that I like that fit into my aesthetic that I feel works with the food. So... Kind of dig over here for a little bit. In Lei's props. That's nice, I wish I could use that. That's really nice. Okay, so... Now the color that we're playing with now is no longer the blue from the plate. Now we're working from the inside out. So as a food photographer that's why I don't necessarily like to use very colorful plates, because I like the color from the food to speak to the audience. So, another reason why. And then blue in general, and I'll go over it just briefly and I've said this in other workshops, psychologically, and this might help from a restaurant perspective. Psychologically blue is an appetite suppressant. It absolutely is true. There's been all sorts of studies done psychologically about the way people respond to color. And one of the things about color blue is that the color blue acts as an appetite suppressant instinctually because there are very few blue foods in the world. And blueberries don't count, they're purple. So, see now that immediately is starting to jump out at me. That looks great because of the way it's standing out and the fact that we can highlight the shape of that leg thigh combination. So whenever we're shooting poultry, the leg thigh combination is the thing that's gonna speak to us most in food photography. So being able to express that to the client and to my stylist to let them know what I expect and what I need, and the fact is, if I have the assent of the client and they're willing to trust me that I'm gonna make the food look best I can, and may deviate from the way they normally serve it, but the other thing I try to sell to my clients in terms of methodology is that, and this goes on the highest levels. I've negotiated like this with national chains, who serve their food on white plates. I said, you know what, this is gonna look really good on black plates. "But we don't have black plates in our restaurant." And I said, no one cares. No one cares what it's served on, they care that it looks great in the commercial. They care it looks great in the ad campaign. No one's gonna come into your restaurant and go, you know, on your website that was on a blue plate. No one's gonna say that. What they're gonna say is, that leg thigh combination, that dish, I wanna eat that. I don't care what it comes on. You could serve it to me on a shingle, I'm gonna eat it. So that's what you have to kind of express because sometimes we get locked down into our thought processes, this is our restaurant, this is the way we serve the food, this is the way the diner expects it. That's actually not the way it works from a artistic creative perspective or from an appetite appeal kind of to delivery system. Now we're talking about ad speak, right? Appetite appeal. This is the way creative tables sound. Your ears start hurting after awhile. Yes. Branding, and is that something that comes up in those pre-production meetings where someone says, but our brand is blue, we have to have blue, or whatever? Sometimes. In the shot. Actually that is something that may come up, that's true. But we have found that brands have been willing to back off that a little bit more because the idea of that literal sledgehammer approach to everything is not necessarily, doesn't translate to sales. So once they've done the market research on it and they say, they'll send out a thing and say, do you prefer the food on the white plate or the black plate or whatever? And honestly it doesn't translate. So there's a lot of brands that have been backing off that idea, and it's been better creatively. Like you are able to actually produce better creative because of it. So... Yeah. That looks really good. Yeah, let's go with this. And that looks terrific. Now are you happy with that? You happy with plating it that way? Okay, terrific. So what did we eliminate? We just basically only eliminated a little bit of food. But we tightened it up. From a photography perspective now, if I were to look at this from this perspective as a horizontal, I mean as a vertical, which would be more in line with like a cookbook presentation or an advertising presentation, that actually holds up really well. And then from a horizontal perspective, because we have this architecture, I can get in here and it works both ways. So that's a great plating, it's a really good job, and it's something that now we can get out on the set and start to work with. You can come out if you want to come on out, come under the table, whatever works. Okay, so I like that. And why don't we go with something like... We did that and the other one. We have no purple. Okay, so when choosing propping on the fly like this, wat I'm really looking for is something that's gonna complement what's already in the plate. Let's go with something like this with the plate like that. And see where we go with that. Now the prop stylist may make suggestions to me, we may have already picked out things that are gonna go with each dish. Depending on the level of communication beforehand and how much information we have, we might be able to do that. But quite honestly, it always changes. As soon as you get it on the table, as soon as you feel like something isn't what you want, you start changing stuff. And that's why that table looks like that, and it's not like one bowl and one plate and one fork. Because it is an on-the-fly decision a lot of times. You have a range of things you wanna work with, because the client might look at it and pick all the stuff in pre-production, and then see it on camera and go, mm, I don't like that. Do you have something else? And you have to say yes, I have something else. So when you work with a prop budget you're trying to fill the needs of all the stuff, 90% of the stuff you get on a prop table in a job is not going to get used. 90% of it. 10% of it's gonna get used. So I wanna go a little rustic here. So I've decided with Lei and Chef to plate the food a little differently, and also present on this kind of burlap to kind of give a little bit of green, that pulls out the greens in the garnish. And we're highlighting the color that we have here by putting it on a fully white plate. And from a creative perspective, I'm much more comfortable with that. So I don't know where that's framed, so... Yeah, okay, we're way off. But I also, you know, I kind of like the idea of... Giving it some space. Okay, hold on. Let's start with the base. Yeah. Alright, cool, that looks great. We're working from the overhead again here. I mean I would normally be taking that camera down in between and shooting things and getting different kinds of coverage. But let's say for argument's sake, we're working only overhead because we're looking at building a menu, for some... Clients. Okay, so, let's see. Alright, well, hold on. Alright, let's try it. Let's get a shot and just see where we're at, get a readjustment. Okay. I feel like we're getting there. We're getting there, we probably need to, let me look at the other, let's look at the other monitor. Yeah, I'm liking it. When I get to the point where I feel like, alright, I'm comfortable, I like where I'm going, I would go back over to Osiris as my client and say, or talk to my producer who would talk to you, and say, what are you feeling about this? How do you like the replate? I like it. I like the negative space too, just in case I wanna put a logo or some text on there. Great, okay. And you like the way the food looks, you feel it's representative. I do. I think having it on just a white plate makes the dish pop more. Great, and that's what we were hoping for, and I'm glad that she recognized what I did with the negative space, because that was intentional. And the fact that she picked up on it without any cues means that we're in sync. We're having a good communication, she clearly understands what I'm doing and I understand what she wants. So that's working out very well. So, thank you. So, at this point we may end up saying, okay, I really like what I have, the client is happy, so what that means is I still have budgeted how much time for this. I budgeted let's say an hour for this shot. And I still have time left on the clock. I may take the camera down, I may find some new angles, and then give you some options that you weren't expecting. And that's about adding value for the client, because then she's already happy. She's like, I like that, I like the fact that I could put text there, I like the fact that you made some changes, and now we're building trust. Because this is the first interaction between us, yet we are already communicating very well, intuitively, and we are building trust as creatively she understands that, alright, I made the right decision. I hired the guy who understands what I want. And I'm paying enough attention where this shoot isn't about me. The shoot is about you. And if everyone on the set doesn't understand the shoot is about you, through me, then we've all failed. 'Cause everybody has to have the understanding that we can make the client happy, even at times we're not happy, we have to figure how to make it work. So we overcame something that is enormously difficult on a food shoot with a chef in a restaurant, is getting them to take the food out of their plating. And the fact is, we prime that relationship by going over and having a conversation beforehand to say, look, I'm gonna try it the way we got it, but I really want to try something different. And if you trust me, we'll make it work for you. So, by opening that door beforehand, instead of going like this, alright, fine, put it out there, take a picture, I hate that. Can we do something else? You know, that's not what I was thinking, or whatever. And hey, can you please replate that? Or something to that effect. The idea is just get ahead of every situation that you see as a problem. And the fact is, this isn't manufactured. I didn't manufacture this issue. This was a surprise to me when I came here today that this food was actually gonna be plated in plates from the restaurant. That wasn't what I envisioned. But the reality is, great, 'cause it showed us how we can overcome those problems through the kind of communication that we need on a professional set. Should we push toward the idea of creative prevailing over branding? It depends. I mean, I would say you have to try to push the client as far as you can push them creatively. And it also depends on the venue because if it's advertising you're gonna, as the photographer in that scenario, you have very little room to push the creative after you've already set the tone. Meaning, after all the meetings are done, after all of the creative has been improved, it's gonna be really hard to move that creative off that. If you're gonna do that it has to be in the planning stages, and I would say you have to have some serious stature in the business to be able to move a brand off their creative without the agency being like, oh yeah, we wanna move the creative. So that's a tough one. I mean with a restaurant client or smaller client, you may have more access to the decision maker, as we do here. We have much more access to the decision maker, but normally you don't. Normally that's three levels up the food chain before you get to somebody who can make those kinds of decisions. So, probably depending on the venue. Great, and can you talk to us, do you usually start overhead, and then pull the camera down, or what's your thought process or what's your work flow there? You know, it depends. Like, if the creative is already set and we know the camera's gonna be locked off, I just put the camera where we're gonna go, like where we're gonna start. So like I have a job coming up next month and I already know the creative is vertical, diner's perspective, it's gonna be right here. And it's all happening right there. There's gonna be do deviation. I'll lock the camera off in that position and we go to work, and that's it. Then when we're talking about something like the editorial work that I do, I may very well do what he said, and if I know I wanna get an overhead I'll start high and wide, and then get closer and closer and closer, and then take the camera off, and then get closer and then move around and start to get all my angles. There's a photographer friend of mine who's a bit of a mathematician, and he came up with a system where he has this chart that he uses that's just like an arc, and he mounts the camera here, and then here, and then here, and then here, and then here, and he does the whole thing. Michael, if you're watching, thank you, Michael, you just contributes something to Creative Live today. But you know, the idea of working through the creative on set in a scenario like this is very real. What we're experiencing here is the real deal. This is no different than what we might experience in this kind of a setting.

Being confident in your photography is only the start of growing your success as a food photographer. Knowing how to pitch yourself to clients, communicate with vendors, and set yourself apart from a populated market are just some of the business techniques that are essential in seeing you profit from your work. Andrew Scrivani joins CreativeLive to help you take your photography and business to a place where you can start making it a successful career. He’ll cover: 

  • How to get work in the Food Photography Industry 
  • How to promote and network yourself to grow your client list 
  • Techniques on communicating with your vendors and clients on set and off 
Make your photography work for you and make money while shooting what you love.  



  • I highly recommend this course! Andrew is an engaging and thoroughly knowledgable teacher. This class is less about how to photograph food - although there are some terrific tips - and more about the "nuts and bolts" or rather, "bread and butter" of running a successful business. A lot of the information is relevant to business in general, but the specific tips about food photography are especially exciting to implement! I found the hands-on portion during the morning of day 2 especially helpful in assimilating the general or more abstract ideas covered in day 1, which laid a fantastic foundation. 5 stars!
  • Andrew is not only a funny, incredibly entertaining person, he's a seriously great teacher. Being in the live studio audience for this class was such a treat. I was able to learn a lot of the nitty gritty lived-in details of what it takes to be a successful food photographer. Things that are hard to come by in books and online! I would highly recommend this class for anyone who wants to take their passion to the next step: making a living.
  • While I'm not quite ready to focus my business on food photography, this class gave me a much clearer idea of what options and challenges there are in the food photography industry. Andrew covered everything from what jobs might be like when starting out on a tight budget to what options open up as the photographer becomes more experienced and successful. I already did my own internet research about the food photography business before the class, but this was more comprehensive and easy to understand in a short amount of time. Now I feel more confident about setting my business goals, who to look for to collaborate with on projects and eventually the kinds of clients I'd like to work with. He also gave many tips that are immediately applicable in my current photography business that isn't yet focused on food.