Food Styling Q&A
Tina Cruspo had asked, what is the balance for food styling versus food photography in your work? Is it more time consuming to do both? And honestly, Andrew, when you pick up the camera, I'm like, oh, he's a photographer. When I see you over there styling the food, you look like a chef, and then you pick up the camera and all of a sudden you're a photographer, so I'm just--
Well, I think--
..can we talk about this?
..if you talk about the idea of how much time goes into all the different elements of what I do in my production, I think the food itself, probably is, the thing that takes the most time, and the most care, because I think that when you're a proficient photographer, and you know your style, and you know how to recreate it, you understand your equipment, that's the easy part, and when I'm working with other people who are doing a lot of these things for me, 'cause like, I haven't probably, I probably physically haven't styled a plate of spaghetti in a couple years, beca...
use I have other people that work with me that are really good at it, but the idea of how much time goes into it, it's very, the food part of it is very time consuming, 'cause it's the shopping, and it's the (mumbles) and the prep, and then it's about creating and building, creating, also, sometimes having to cook the component separately. It's not always the case, but when you have things like this that you need to play around with the components of them to see how much of it you want, it's very time consuming.
And I know we touched on it a little bit. I just wanted people to know how much of a food stylist you actually are, and how much time and energy you've put in to that.
Well, I think that, to call me a food stylist would imply that I actually hire myself out as a food stylist, but I don't. I don't work for other people as a food stylist. The reason I'm a food stylist is because I've styled hundreds and hundreds of plates of food for photography. So I know how to do the job, it's just not a job that I actually undertake, unless I'm doing the shooting myself. So, there are skills that I need to keep up with, because I also want to be able to direct the people who are styling the food, and if you don't have that knowledge, and you don't have that experience, it's kind of hard to do.
Cool. Inversely to styling, Nick form Sacramento, California was wondering, are you ever in a situation where you have no control over the plating, and how do you approach that situation? This person photographs for a magazine column that reviews local restaurants. I can give the chef a suggestion on how to plate, but ultimately, I do not have control of what it looks like. Any suggestions there, and how you're own experience with that?
Yes, and I've had that experience many times, and one just recently, and the idea is, some of these kind of basic things that we've talked about in here, about downsizing the plates, and about less is more, and, if you have any kind of repertoire with that particular chef, or if he's willing to work with you, you can make those suggestions to be able to kind of influence how it's gonna come out, and if you understand the craft, you can kind of help him when, you know, say look, I want it to look this way when it comes out, but a lot of times when you're in a restaurant, you have to use their plates, and they're plating food for the way they're gonna plate it for a restaurant, and it isn't conducive to kind of your contribution, but you do the best you can to form a repertoire, you know, with the entity you're working with, and if not, then you shoot what's there, and do the best you can.
Can you speak to how food bloggers could work some of the styling in to that process?
Sure, yeah, I think, keep in mind that most of the stuff that comes out of my studio as well gets eaten, and I mean it's not like the food comes off the set and goes in the garbage, we eat it. So, the idea is that, if there are things like under cooking and things like that, those kind of tricks, I wouldn't recommend that, because if you're gonna really eat it, and you don't have time to put it back in the thing, it's different. You're also not creating for publication. Especially if your tone of your blog is, I cook at home, and this is what I do, the expectation is that, you take the best picture you can of what's there. With that in mind, any of these things that do not compromise your dinner, you know, that do not, you know, either put you at health risk because you're under cooking food, or you don't want to be handling it in a certain way, because you want your family to eat it, than I would stay away from those things, but like, normally, what I would do with this is I would be wearing rubber gloves or, you know, something where it's a little bit more hygienic. I would suggest that, and then the idea of sometimes, you know, you're gonna reheat it after you're done playing around with it, so maybe, give it a little extra (laughs), 'cause you've already been playing with it, but also, make sure all your props are clean, which I'm sure that spoon I put in my mouth wasn't. (audience laughing) Make sure all your props are clean, make sure everything is conducive to eating, when you're working, you know, with food you intend to use afterwards, for sure. But, like I said, don't compromise your dinner to do these things, but use these things if it doesn't. Yeah?
Can you give a rule of thumb for how much extra food you make to give yourself enough spare to play with?
It depends on the food. I think that if there's things that I think are gonna come out and be a little more difficult, I'll make three times as much as needed, if not, I usually make twice as much as what's needed, and than, again, most of the recipes that I get are for multiple people. You know, so if I get a recipe that serves four, I get a recipe that serves six, I'm already way ahead of the game, 'cause most of the time I'm only taking one plate, but if--
You still make the whole recipe?
Yes, that's what I was getting to, thank you for completing my thought (laughs). Yeah?
Yeah, so I teach as well.
And so, my question is, my students, I've kind of tried to put food styling into my class, could you speak to like, one or two tips for students to take better food pictures as opposed to being straight down on stainless steel tables or one or two tips that you would suggest to them to have better food pictures?
You mean as far as their approach to how they take the pictures?
Not specifically to food styling?
Yeah, well I think that there's a photographer friend of mine, his name is Michael, and we taught a workshop together a few years ago at StarChefs, which speaks right to, kind of what you're talking about, and the thing that he has, is he's kind of really a left-brain guy, he's really mathematical about the way he does things, but I admire the fact that, the way he approaches photographing a plate of food is really systematic. I'm a free wheeler, and I'm running around with the camera, and I'm looking at different angles, Michael takes a very, very different approach. He starts at here, and he counts it off, and he'll take one here, and take one here, take one here, and then take one here, and he goes around the table this way, then he goes around the table this way, and he has this really, kind of, this mathematical kinda structure to the way he approaches photography, and I think what he's comfortable in that, but in using that method with younger photographers, it teaches them that the idea of one perspective is something that will surprise you when you look at your photographs afterwards, because if you're only comfortable with the diner's perspective, you know, this angle, three feet off the table, looking at a plate of food like you're ready to eat it, you're gonna be pleasantly surprised when you go through that whole range, and then you look at all the different angles that you get, and then what happens from there, is I say, oh, I really like this top shot, and I really want to start to craft images for this top shot, or you say, I really like that low angle, because now I got to play around with that low angle. So that's one of the things that I would recommend, and we can talk to Michael about that, and thank him for that one.
Andrew, Halo Pixie asks, do you always have a plan set up before you begin a shoot, or do you find yourself improvising and changing things a lot as you go along, completely going away from your initial ideas?
Often, yes, because I think sometimes you have to be willing to say this isn't working, and I think if you have a plan, and than all of a sudden there's a curve ball thrown at you in either in the process or when you're shooting, or the lighting that's available to you, you have to change your approach. So sometimes I will build out a whole set thinking I'm gonna take an overhead shot, and I set it all up, and I get it all ready, and I look at it, and I'm like, I hate it. I hate it, and I want to do something else. So I take the camera down, I start over, and replating your food, particularly in a commercial setting, you know, editorial photography, or somewhere where somebody's hiring you to do it, don't get married to one setup, do multiple setups, and I fall victim to this as well. I get the shot, and I'm like, yeah I got it, but then I got to fight against myself to go and replate it, and do it again, because a lot of times that second plating is better than the first. So go with your initial thing, see if it works. Even if it does work, you should always change it up just to kinda give yourself the option.
Cool, awesome. Thank you Andrew. So Snappy Gourmet asks, can you give us some tips when you have to work with real whip cream to keep it from melting? People also talked about ice cream and other cold things.
Yeah, have a lot of it on-hand.
Yeah, that's it. I mean really, it's about having a lot of it on-hand, 'cause you're gonna go over and over, and over, and you're gonna do it again. The other thing is try sticking that whip cream in the freezer for a couple minutes, that'll give it a little bit more firm before it starts to actually crystallize, it'll be a little firmer, and it'll last a little longer, 'cause the core temperature will be a little higher. Whip cream's a toughy though, it really is. I mean you're only gonna get one or two shots in, and then you gotta swap it out, and do it again.
I had just a really silly question. I was just wondering if, when you're shooting outside of your space, do you have to have like a food handlers permit?
No, no unless you decide to start using fire in public. (audience laughing) I actually ran in to that problem. (audience laughing) There was, it was the writer, Peter Kaminski, asked me about, he was working with these guys from Argentina who do this thing where they wheel this cart of hot coals around, and like cook meat on the street, and he wanted, they were doing a book about this guy in landmark places, like at the Eiffel Tower, and at the Roman Coliseum, and they were going all over the world doing this, and then they came to New York, and they came to me, and they were like, do you want to shoot it? I'm like, yeah, sure, you got city permits? And they were like, what is that? I'm like, you haven't been in New York very long have you? (audience laughing) And the idea, we would have had to hire production company to run all the city permits, just to get permission to shoot at the Statue of Liberty, at the Empire State Building, and all the, on the Brooklyn Bridge, and it was a logistical nightmare, so. That was a really long answer to your question but. (audience laughing)
Well I realize people are not actually eating your pictures, so I guess it doesn't matter, but--
Well you know what I do run in to though is that I reached out to the board, not the Board of Health, but like, some like homeless shelters and other entities where I thought, like I have all this extra food, somebody should be eating it, that's where I ran into that problem, because I couldn't give the food away without a permit from the Health Department, because they don't know who's handling the food, they don't know if it's up to code, which was disappointing, because you know, there is a certain amount of waste in food photography, and I try to avoid that by feeding everybody in the building where my studio is. They're very happy about it. (audience laughing) There's a big pitbull that lives nextdoor, and to keep him happy, I give him the cheese rinds. (audience laughing) He comes in everyday. I leave the door ajar, (audience laughing) right. I leave the door ajar at the studio to you know, circulate the air, 'cause we're always cooking and whatever, and we'll have clients in the room, and they'll be sitting there and they'll be talking and they'll be on the computer, and all of a sudden this giant pitbull comes roaring into the room and he comes and he sits right in front of my prep table and he waits, until I give him cheese, and then he leaves. (audience laughing)
I love it.
So, so how we doing on questions? We got anything else?
Absolutely, Montee215 says hi, how do you go about not casting shadows on the food you're shooting?
Ah, reflector cards, and we're gonna go over that in detail during the shooting section tomorrow, 'cause we're gonna show how, using bounce cards, both white and dark, will help either add light or shadow to our compositions, and those are essential pieces, and they go from little tiny ones to really big ones, so we'll go over that tomorrow.
Okay, perfect, and we have a question from our own Steven upstairs, and he asks, how do you think the food photography industry has changed since you started and where do you think it's going?
Oooh, okay. Well, obviously with the way the Internet is, and the fact that blogging is such an important component to it, when I first started working in photography and food, if they wanted to publish your stuff on the web, any entity, they had to pay you twice. They had to pay you for your assignment, and then they pay you an additional fee to post it on the web. Ah huh, yeah. That's a big change, you know, obviously, that seems absolutely ridiculous now, but we're only talking about like nine years ago. So, what I think is the future of food photography is the idea that, what we're doing right now, the idea that there's a lot of people who want to participate in food photography, and not just on Instagram and Twitter, they want to be engaged in the profession of food photography, 'cause they think it's a really good way to make a living. It is, it's a great way to make a living, but the reality is, it's a hard way to make a living, and you have to really hone your skill, but I think that the future is that there's going to be way more food photographers out there to choose from, and what that does, is it drives competition, and it's gonna drive the idea that there are gonna be more publications who are able to publish fine food photography, whether it be blogs, magazines, newspapers, cookbooks, there's gonna be way more opportunity to make good publications with good food pictures in them, and there's gonna be way more people available to do it, so it's just a growth industry at this point. Oh, and video.
Oh, a video, someone had asked about video earlier.
Yeah, I think that there's a big movement right now for photographers who do what we do, and cameras like that thing, the 5D, that have video capability to be able to toggle between the two fields. Be able to shoot video, in a cinematic way, because that's what those cameras do, different than the video cameras like what we're looking at, you know, here, but being able to kind of translate and do more video as well, I think that's also a big part of it.
And what do you use food video for, or where would you put your clips of food?
Well the reality is that something like, I would say 80% of the food pictures out there are being published on the web, right. There's very few things that are just being put in print. So, the other thing that, you know, you think about as professional in this industry is, who's directing the food commercials, it's people with my skill set. So if I make that transition next, to be able to look at the moving image as well as the still image, I obviously have the right eye for it, but it's a different skill set, so you have to develop those.