Food Styling Tutorial: Spaghetti and Pudding
One of the things that I think is fairly difficult to do about food photography, and styling, and it's something that, I've got a couple of things I want to do, but I want to do this one first. I want to talk about plating spaghetti. So, we talked a little bit about the idea of constructing the plate. So, I've got my elements here, and I'm going to get a plate. And again, I'm going to choose the small one over the big one, because I want to be able to get close to it. And if I choose this really big one, it's going to limit what else I can show in the frame, while still being able to get a macro shot. So the closer I want to get, the smaller my plates need to be. If I'm going to stand back away from this, or I'm going to put it up on a stand or a tripod, this is fine; but less is more when it comes to plating as well. Because the less that you put on the plate, and the less complicated it is, the easier it is to take a good picture of it. So, when I'm plating spaghetti, the first thing...
I try to do is, I think about whether or not I want to put the sauce on it first. So in this case I'm not going to. Okay, I'm going to plate the pasta and then I'm going to put everything else on top of it. And the first thing I do is make sure that this isn't stuck together. And the way to achieve that is the minute it comes off the stove, you drain it, sometimes you can rinse it, that helps too because it takes a lot of the sticky gluten off of it, and then you toss it in olive oil, really well. So that every strand kind of stays separate. And if you can pick it up like this and let it kind of flow, then you know that you've got what you want. Then the next thing you want to do is how am I getting it on this plate? I'm not using utensils; I'm using my hands. These are the best styling tools you own, are the things attached to your wrists. Because you have control where you might not normally have with a utensil. So I start slow, and I start to pull out and get some length, and I start to plate in twists. And I kind of lay it down and start to create some architecture, a little at a time. And the less kind of clumping you have, the better it is. And again, it's fairly natural, right? It's fairly natural, and now I have just about as much pasta as I want on that plate. Now I have a couple of pieces, I'm going to dirty these napkins. I have a couple of like, rogue pieces out here that I don't really like, so I'm going to try to kind of adjust them a little bit without being too contrived. My tweezers are a better tool for this. And if you think that it's not connected to anything else you can always pluck it off, or just kind of start twisting them and turning them a little bit. That one broke; we'll take that one away. And you get one or two that kind of splay out, and that's okay, because that's kind of natural looking. And then from there, I check my plate and see if I got, like a real big mess around my edges. But I think the first thing to understand and the key to it, is you build from the ground up. And by elongating the pasta first and then giving it that twirl gives it the right architecture, gives you some space. Oh good we've got some towels and stuff, that's good. Okay so then I'm going to add some sauce. And I'm going to try to be careful not to drip on my plate. And I'm going to try to kind of just give it a little bit of what it needs. Without getting crazy. Okay, so now I've created contrast; I also got a little drip. Now you could always take care of that with a paper towel or a Q-Tip, which is a really good styling tool. Wet wipes are okay, but get the ones that don't have lanolin or aloe in them, just something clean, because otherwise that gets greasy. So, you kind of wrap it around your fingertip and get in there and usually the best way to do it is either to dab it, or push it back into the food. Like when you're clearing a plate of like an oily thing, kind of just getting your finger in the edge and then pushing it into the food and then wrapping around, is the way to kind of keep it from creeping up on the edges. That's a really good thing. So now that we've cleaned that, and we've made sure that our edges are free of smudging, the next thing we want to do is maybe put a little cheese on this, right? So, I'm going to go with kind of a wider grate, and I look at that and I say, "All right, well, "a couple of those pieces are a little too big for me," so I'll go back with the tweezer again and I'll take off the ones that I think might be overpowering the plate, because now I'm losing the illusion that we're on a small plate, right? Then you can tell, because now the cheese is way bigger than everything else. So I'm going to pluck out a few of these and may even actually put a couple on the side and then I can add a couple in. So I have a little bit of a blank space here, so I want to kind of fill that a little bit, so I'm going to pick one that's size-appropriate, and I'm going to place it in, okay. And it's that delicate, and it can be. And the other thing you can do now, kind of get a couple of the smaller pieces or crumble them up a little bit, and then kind of add them to the outside a little bit. All right, so now this is one where now I'm going to say, "Okay, I don't particularly think "that one leaf is going to work on this, right?" So I'm going to take a few and chop a little bit. (sprigs snap) Let's see if I pull the right knife. There we go. So, if you don't have good knife skills, be careful. (chopping) So depending on what I want to achieve with this, I have the picture in my head, and the picture in my head is of this kind of broad sprinkle where it kind of gets all over the plate and maybe outside the plate. So that's what I'm thinking with this particular presentation, so I want it to be small. Because I don't want any one particular piece of parsley to kind of overpower it so I'm going to cut it really small. So now I'm going to kind of get a nice little pinch of it and I'm going to go from high up, and I want to get a nice broad sprinkle. And if I feel like there's one part of the plate that needs a little attention, I might add a little more. So, that's essentially one ... I see one piece that's a little too big, pluck it out. And then maybe a little bit more here because there's not enough contrast for me. So this looks kind of small, right? It doesn't look like anything that's going to be any particular, you know, abundance. But I want to show you that with a macro lens I may not concentrate so highly on ... I may not concentrate so highly on any one thing (shutter snaps) but I can get in ... Okay, so what I'm trying to do now is I'm going to highlight some of the kind of smaller elements here, and I've got this really nice twist going on right here. (camera beeps and clicks) So that's where that kind of laying it in a twisting fashion kind of works. And then you've got all these other little elements there. Now another way to plate this would be to go and get a little bit messier with it, right? So I'm going to ... But there's still a way to do this, the same thing, right? So first I add this pasta ... And then I'm going to add some sauce over it, you know. And then I'm going to toss it up, then I'm going to plate it again. Put this one over here. Okay, and I'm going to, not use my hands; I'm going to use a spoon. So I'm going to get this all kind of together. Again, after you get this sauce on here, you're going to plate it with your hands again. Get another small plate. Now if I had any like meatballs, or any other things that I'd want to add to this plate, I would add them after. Now this is going to be a little more challenging because it's definitely going to be messier. But again, long strands, start in the middle and start to build. You're going to get a kind of a different look, a little bit messier, right? And what I'm going to do after I get this done, is ... That's too messy. I'm going to do the twirl shot, right? I'm going to grab a fork, because now that the food is made, right, and I'm going to use just what I've got here. Maybe do a little bit of a finer grate on the cheese. (grating) Clean my plate. Okay, so now, forks are here. So the fact that I already got my spaghetti twirled is going to help when I want to do this kind of a shot. Because now my plate is kind of clean and set, and I'm going to get in and I'm going to try to get a nice clean pull on it, wrap it around the fork, just like you would, and then I'm going to put it in a position on the plate where it kind of looks natural. Now, I look at that, and immediately I say, "That's too much," so I throw it out. So you've got to get to like, the edge, make the twirl, set the fork, and then readjust the plate. This is really good pasta because it's really long. But it's definitely a little harder to play with. Okay, so now I've got my twirl that I like, right? So now I'm going to clear out a little spot, I'm going to get it on my plate, and now I've got to clean up again, right? Because I got that, I've got to get my edge again. Make adjustments. I'm not going to spend an inordinate amount of time on this. And I'm going to add a little extra sauce. The silence is deafening in here. (class laughs) Okay, so it doesn't look like much from this perspective, but when I get really close to it, again I'm going to hone in on those really small details of this particular shot. My camera's already full of food anyway, so it doesn't really make much of a difference.
And Andrew, we're hearing that the screen is about a stop under, so just a little bit under, so feel free to ...
Okay got it. Okay so I'm going to get back in here and get close again and really kind of concentrate on one little detail in this whole plate. (camera beeps) And let's see what we get. (shutter snaps) Okay, so that one little kind of curl is the thing that I want to focus on. (camera beeps and clicks) Something like that, I mean that's kind of crazy, but ... (camera beeps and clicks) It's kind of messy. It's not ideal, but the idea is the technique is the one that you're going to kind of play with, the idea of using these things, these elements, to build a plate from nothing to something. Go ahead, question.
Out of curiosity, what's the minimum focusing distance on that lens?
Yeah like how close can you get?
Oh god, it's like three inches?
It's really small; it's really close. The other thing I wanted to maybe talk about is another one of these kind of cool elements, is making a dollop. Okay, so I know we have some cream around here somewhere.
All right, we'll get you something to dollop.
Okay, well in the meanwhile let's talk about any questions that are coming in.
How about let's just start with your camera and your lens?
Oh, well I have a 5D Mark III, that's what that one is. Oh, here we are. I'll put these here, cool. Hey, chocolate pudding! You're not getting that back. (class laughs) All right, I have a 5D Mark III and a 2.5 50-millimeter macro lens made by Canon. It's probably the least expensive lens I own. It's very inexpensive; it's like under $300, or right around there. By comparison to a lot of the other lenses in my bag, including my other macro lens, it's really cheap. But the reality is it's a really good lens for food. And Canon has never thought to upgrade it, because no one ever complains about it. Right? (class chuckles) Okay, so let's talk a little bit about dollops. There is a person, we have a lot of plates around here, there is a person in New York, they call her "The Dollop Lady," because her whole job is commercially making dollops. (class laughs) I'm not joking; it sounds ridiculous but it's absolutely true. First of all, food styling "tricks" and things, this would qualify, is as far as I push the trick aspect, is that, that's not whipped cream; it's yogurt. Drained Greek yogurt, it makes the best dollops. Because it's thicker, it has more weight, so that when you do want to make a twist or a dollop with it it doesn't immediately melt into the food. Actually whipped cream is a nightmare to work with. It really is very, very difficult to work with. And honestly, if the dollop is going to be the star of your particular picture, then using this is going to be better. And then you can always put the real whipped cream on it later. Okay, so I need a small something. All right we'll use this; this is perfect. Okay, so let's pretend that this pudding has been made in this particular ramekin. (class laughs) Sorry. It's hazardous. All of you at home, sorry! No pudding for you. Where did my paper towels go? Okay, so I'm going to clean my edge again, make sure I do the best I can to kind of make sure I've got it nice. And I'm pushing right into the food. Okay. And, I'm going to try to close up this gap here, because I don't like it. I want the food to go right to the edge of the ... And you know, poking and prodding at your food is definitely acceptable in food styling. The other thing that you might want to do is start to give it a little bit of a swirl to start. So, you know, this looks a little choppy to me so I may just kind of give it a little bit of ... You know, I've already given it a little bit of an architecture. And then, this spoon's a little big for me; I usually try to use a smaller one. No one else has to eat this, so ... All right, so the first thing I do, is I get it and I start to give it a good churn, and I even it out. Because yogurt has a tendency to settle a little bit. So, oh ... Mm-hmm. (class laughs) Okay, so it has a tendency to settle, so I kind of give it a nice good swirl and fluff it up a little bit. If you want to go crazy you can actually do that with your whisk or your hand mixer, but it's not really necessary. Plus also, already starting in this direction gives it the idea that that's how we're going to go, right? So then I get a nice, I give it a twirl like I do with a spaghetti spoon, right? And I pick it up ... Kind of wipe off a little bit of the excess. (smacks lips) Okay, and I start right over the top, let it start to go down, and start to work ... Okay, this is really thick, so this is helpful. So I can go a little more. Go right to the middle and start to twist. Push and twist, push and twist, and then (smacks lips) then you get the little kiss on top. I don't know if you saw that. So you've got to practice it. You're not going to get it perfect right away, but you can see, when I grab my camera, that that little kiss on top is the thing that makes the shot. (shutter snaps) I'm not even taking a second shot. See? So the idea of kind of just getting it and then making it stand up, and that's a first try. Now a lot of times we do that many, many times to get a really perfect dollop. But I'm satisfied with that one. I've got a little kiss on top, it looks pretty natural. And that's kind of that trick where, you know, getting it down to the middle and then kind of twirling and pulling is the thing that kind of gives you that little hat. And that's one of those nice little tricks that somebody has made an entire living out of. It's pretty cool.