Food Styling Props
You know, in real life, you want to kind of envision the difference between maybe what we're talking about between what you might think it is and what it really is. And the reasoning behind the difference between something like this, which, this isn't out of the question. It's really not. This isn't out of the question, I actually own this bowl and I've used it and there is an application for it, but the idea is that if you're trying to create a set, if you're only shooting the soup, or the bowl of noodles or whatever you might shoot in here, this works by itself. But if you're trying to put other elements into something this big, now all of a sudden you have another big item, and another big item, and all these big items, and now I have to get further and further and further away just to incorporate them into the shot. So the idea with down-sizing to something smaller that has the same shape now all of a sudden I have the opportunity to pull a lot more, and this is what we were talkin...
g about earlier, is to pull a lot more into the frame. So if I do have a small shaker or a small, you know if I have something like this I want to pick up the edge of it, right? I think that when we talked about having the need to fit the whole of the thing in the frame that's where it's not necessary and that's where it's down-sizing everything you use. So if you're thinking about using a dinner plate, use a dessert plate. If you're thinking about using a dessert plate, use a tea saucer. Always keep getting smaller and smaller. If the food just doesn't appropriate, isn't appropriate for that size vessel, then you gotta go with what's traditional. But I wouldn't go bigger. Because bigger is definitely much, much harder. So we wouldn't be serving it in this. (audience chuckles) You know, it's just not gonna work. The other thing you want to try to talk about is the idea of neutral, right? When you talk about, we were just talking about storage, the idea that you want to use things that are able to be used over and over again and the way to do that is to keep it neutral. We also keep it neutral so it doesn't challenge the food. The prop, unless you want the prop to be the star, which we've talked about, there are times where that's appropriate, but the majority of the time your food is your star, and you want to make sure that your props don't compete with the food. So, if you're doing something like this, which I've seen a million times on Instagram, or something where people are using like patterns and wild colors and other things, unless the food you're putting on this plate is completely neutral, that's crazy. That's just gonna be really distracting for your viewer, and it's gonna detract from the food. So it's sort of that kind of idea of a balance between maybe being a little different and maybe using something that's kind of playful, and doing something that completely distracts the viewer and then all of a sudden you don't know what to look at and it's taking away from the food. You don't want your propping to distract from your food. So, as a solution to that, one of the things you do is kinda bring color into it with other elements. So let's say the food is kind of plain and your bowl is kind of neutral, but then all of a sudden you have the opportunity to kind of bring some color into it and how you kind of fold and bend these things. And of course, iron your linen. You want to look like a professional, you need to iron your linen. You know, if you're gonna kind of fold it and use it in a way that's kind of geometric and kind of brings color and kind of texture to what you're doing, and that's where those nice folds come in. Instead of just doing this, putting it next to the bowl, and putting your fork there. Use some creativity in the idea that your props are there to kind of make your overall image better, right? So if I kinda do something a little creative with that, with this kind of little fold, I put the spoon or the suggestion of a spoon somewhere near there. And now I've got sort of a plain color in here or something that's not that bad. And then all of a sudden I drop a little bit of everything on the table and break stuff, why should this be any different than every day? And obviously we're propping here, so we're not playing with real food. But let's imagine the fact that I have a white soup in here, and I've brought some color into it and then I drop that right in the middle of it. Now all of a sudden, the whole thing comes together. The other thing you want to remember is that you dress your plates the way you dress yourself. Right? If you go and look in the mirror and you're like, okay my top doesn't match my pants and my shoes look really bad and I'm not gonna wear that hat, 'cause forget that. You have to think about that in terms of style. This is as much about your personal style as it is they way you dress, your clothes. One of the people who works with me is a makeup artist, who's learning food. And her instincts on color are so honed, and so good because it translates, it's about color and balance, right? And that's what propping really is. So if you've got lots of color here, and you've got lots of color here, and kind of neutral in the bowl, now you've balanced out your whole approach. So if you're wearing a really loud top, then you want to put some neutral pants on. So that's the whole idea of balancing all of the things you're working on, is timeless, elegant, classic. All of those things work. When you start to be really temporal with your choices, where this bowl could be now, this bowl could be 20 years from now. Not gonna make a difference, it's a white bowl. But if you're using something that's really modern unless you're going for modern, and that's the whole idea of the shoot or it's what you're trying to portray, that might not be appropriate for other things, because then if you look at that picture 10 years from now especially if you're thinking in terms of resale, now it's dated. 'Cause styles aren't always just dated in styles of photography, meaning like if you look at food photography from 30 years ago your head would explode. I mean, it's awful. It looks like everything is fake. Nothing looks real. And that's because most of it was. But you can't use any of those pictures anymore, they're gone, you can't use them for anything. But if you can create timeless images and classic images, things that will last and give some legs to your imagery that really helps. I want to talk about surfaces. 'Cause these are some of the things that take up most of the space, right? On my studio I put the saw horses up and I build a table and then on top of that table the surfaces. So everything I have in the studio is relatively the same size. So like what we have over here These are all relatively the same size, and this is reflective really of kind of like what I have in my studio. Darker wood, lighter wood, maybe lighter even still, flat neutral black, flat neutral white. This is sort of the basics to start with if you have, you know, if you're going with really bright colors and other things like that, it's gonna limit what you can do with your surfaces. So if you start with a basic palette of light wood, dark wood, black and white, all the same size, all interchangeable, easy to store and move around that really helps with how to build with, start with your table setting. Then when you get, you know, once you've kind of built your basics and then you get beautiful things like this. Where it has this kind of natural aging and patina and some cracks and some different things on it and then you can even go even further with your surfaces and start to sand them out or add some whitewash, or streak them out or do other things with cutting boards. You can start to create a lot of different things to use just by experimenting with what you already have. But the other thing that great about surfaces like this, is they have two sides. So most of my surfaces in my studio I paint on both sides. So I actually have an assistant whose only job, really, is to make surfaces for me. I hand him a picture that I like from a magazine or a newspaper or something that I found that I like, I hand him this piece of paper and I go, "Make me that surface." And then he does a pretty good job of making that surface. So if I want a particular wave pattern, or I want to see a streaking or I want to see the grain of the wood bleeding through, or crackling, or something like that, he knows how to do that. That's his skillset. And I think that's also one of those things where I think that's one of those things where if you're involved in a community of people who are creative, you can trade surfaces, services not surfaces, (audience chuckles) You could trade services with each other, you know? So it's one of those things where you can use all of those, the people around you to kind of create different things in my studio. Like I said, one person is a makeup artist learning food styling. One person's a painter who makes me surfaces. So I have a lot of different people who do a lot of different things. One's a food blogger who's a tremendous cook, and a pretty good stylist. So, we've got a lot of people who kind of come in and out of my operation. You know. So Then This is one of those, these are one of the, these are kind of those that problem shape. I'm glad that we've got this shape. Because this is one of the most problematic shapes in food photography for some reason. I don't know if you've had this experience, but this particular thing creates all kinds of problems in the camera. So I think once you kind of start to learn about the different things that could create problems for you in camera, then you start to eliminate those things from your collection. You start trading those things to other people. (audience laughs) All right, so I'm covering ground here, but I want you to also remember things that are particularly ethnic, where you have something like this which is obviously kind of Asian in nature. It doesn't necessarily mean, I think this goes both ways. You don't always have to serve Asian food on this, but don't always serve Asian food on this. Meaning you don't want to be really super literal with things unless it's necessary or needs to be part of the story. Stir-fried does not need, or sushi does not need to be served on a sushi plate. It might look nice on a sushi plate, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. And things like this, you know, again, use it once, it's gonna be pretty hard to use it again, Because once you've seen this in an image and if it's very dramatic, it's gonna be hard to kind of get away from that. So you will see repetitive things in my work, you'll see props that reappear. But they're usually not props that kind of jump at you. They're something you have to look at, like the bowl with that little etch on the side. Years ago when I first got it, I shot it quite a few times. And I ended up taking pretty good pictures with it. So it's a good representation of that particular prop. I don't use it that much anymore because I know already I have a bunch of stuff in my portfolio and there's a couple of pictures of the same bowl so you have to be really careful about that. Let's go to a question, so I can think about something for a moment.
All right Absolutely
Perfect Okay, so a lot of people are asking how long do you spend shooting one dish? Is there one answer to that question, or?
I have an answer to that question. The one question, the initial reaction is it depends, of course. But that's not a real answer. I can tell you what I do on a let's say a cookbook. So on a cookbook I look at the entirety of the project. And I say okay we have 30 recipes. And I'm not comfortable in this setting doing more than five a day, let's say. I don't want to do more than five a day. Okay, and a shooting day is gonna be from 11 a.m. to four, right? So you've got five hours. You've got five dishes. I'm gonna allot an hour per dish. Now, that's a really that's a long stretch. You don't want to commit yourself to more than that. Because when you say "Oh yeah, I can do 20 in a day, it's no problem, we can do as many as you like" then you're stuck. Because you've gotta remember you're not just taking food out of the kitchen, throwing it on the table and shooting it. You're creating a new environment for every shot. So I would say if you allot yourself an hour per dish, that's a safe bet. 'Cause it gives you the idea that the food is coming out, you've already got your set set up, and you have some time with that food before it starts to look dead. So I would say 45 minutes to an hour, especially if you're planning out a job for somebody. Say okay we've got five dishes, we got one day. Okay, that works. We have 10 dishes, well that's two days. Or we have 50 dishes, Well, we're gonna be shooting all month. But it's true, because there are sometimes when a client will come to me and say, and this is always somebody famous, I think, always. "I want to shoot a hundred dishes." "Okay, you ready to hire me for eight weeks?" And then it's like, "Eight weeks? Well I can make 20 a day." "Yeah, well you can make 20 a day but I can't shoot 20 a day." See and I think that's the idea, it's trying to educate your client base to understand what food photography is. You see, we've been talking so far, since nine o'clock this morning, has anybody taken a picture yet? No, because the idea is that the process of food photography is about so much else before we actually take a picture. And making clients understand that it becomes your job, it becomes your job to understand what you do, how much time you need to allot to do those things, and what it's gonna take both financially and you know, timewise, to make it happen. And then you gotta think about the back end. But we'll talk about that later.
Sort of like painting a room, right? It's all about the prep.
It take you five minutes to
Yeah, putting tape around the room takes longer than painting the room, right? It's the same thing.
Actually I love that you said that, because when you think about food, if we think about when we eat, it's just kind of fueling our bodies, but there's so much more that goes on culturally, and emotionally for us that have to do with food, and the same with photography.
It's true, it's true because if you want to share that part of it, right, you want to share the idea that food is part of our lives, and it's part of our culture, and it's different everywhere. You want to be able to plan and prop and get the food perfect to make that picture. Because if it's not, it doesn't ring true for people. There's a particular story I had to shoot about Cajun food, right? And it's, I know, you know from the picture I told earlier that I'm familiar with the culture And the people, and if you got it wrong, the whole thing goes out the window. Because the core audience who you're trying to talk to, because they're going to talk it up if it's good, is the people it's about. And we did this pic, and we got all the props and everything and I wanted it to kind of look, because my experience when I went to these parties and I met these people and I was in their home, was it had this shabby chic kinda feel, eclectic and mix-and-match and it was old and new. It was really cool, and it was very specific. And we designed the propping and the styling and the table tops and everything to reflect that. And then there was this one last element. Oh, we're gonna put some beer in the picture. No, no, no, no. You're not gonna just putting beer in the picture, you're putting Abita in the picture, because that's the beer that's affiliated with that particular part of the world. And if you get that wrong, and put something else in it, tell me, Steve, how bad would that be?
That would be bad.
Yeah Steve is from Louisiana. So the idea is that the idea is that you have to get those things right. And the time it takes to get them right is the thing you have to tell the client about, because if you don't, then they're not gonna be happy either. Everybody wants to get done now. But it can't always happen now, it has to be something a little bit more planned.