I ate it. I ate it with my partner and made soup out of it the next day. Damn, I hate spoilers. Nevertheless here’s the full lowdown on how to orchestrate a simple food shoot when you’re technically meant to be cooking dinner in a pokey kitchen.
1. Get Distracted by Sunlight
Harsh shadows are in. They’re on point. They’re trending in the commercial world. So when it’s flooding through my kitchen window I’m using it big time. I don’t have the room in my 8-grand-a-month 1 bed, to set up as I would in a lovely big studio, so it’s all hands on deck to utilize the sun’s power. I’d spent the morning making a start to some tasty textured backdrops to boot, so everything was coming up trumps by 2 pm.
My strobe and (stupidly large) softbox are positioned at an indirect angle so as to simply bounce light around the kitchen and soften the darkest areas of the still life I’d set up, just a little. We don’t want too uneven a finish here. The sun was really pulsing through so it was important to just take the intensity down a touch. Trial and error ensue.
No one ever talks about that bit, do they? More power, less power, a meter closer, half a meter back. Use the rosemary plant to add more shadow? Nah, doest work, put it back. Sun’s gone in! Sun’s back out! Change the batteries on the trigger. Et voila! 63 raw images later and 167 calories burned for 1 edit! I’m very fond of it nonetheless. Comments are welcome below.
2. Chill the White Wine and Prep the Green Beans
I fry my beans in a little olive oil with shallot and garlic, seasoning to taste, and adding fresh thyme before serving. Oops! Sorry, back to the photography!
The end results were actually pretty drab here to start with. I was more interested in working with the even, soft lighting from the softbox and taking the 105mm macro, no micro (sorry Nikon) out for a spin. The sun had disappeared by this point anyway so a load of boring old beans with translucent onion on them didn’t really scream out to me. Cue styling!
Now, believe me, I’m absolutely no stylist. But introducing a few knobs of butter, a sprig of thyme, and using my partner's blow torch to char areas and melt the butter slightly in this case, made me look and feel like a style god/budget Gordon Ramsey/mad scientist.
The resulting image was shot with a simple, steep angled soft box light from left to right and the 105mm working its magic, all with very minimal editing. Yes, I could have set up the C stand and boom arm to position the camera directly above. I also could have tethered to help set up and style through Mr. Macbook, but I can’t stress how small this kitchen is. Plus, the aim was to have a lovely wholesome Sunday cooking, not slowly turn every available space into a “The Bite Shot” shoot video. Christ, I love Joanie Simon, who’s with me?
3. Indulge in Wine and Potatoes
If you’re not from the UK then you may not be familiar with roast potatoes. We English adore them. At their best, they need to be shallow roasted in animal fat ideally from the fattest part of the fattest animal. I tolerate roast potatoes, frankly. So when safely away from the prying eyes of my countrymen and women I’ll do a Mediterranean/French twist with lots of herbs de province and garlic, crushing and gently frying so you still get the sticky crispy bits but without the coronary. Oh, and it’s a delicious, punchy little South African sauvignon if you’re interested.
I love cast iron pans to cook with and shoot. They’re such amazing, textural, big heavy bits of history. They can go through generations collecting seasoning and absorbing memories. The Perfect prop for food shoots. A reasonably simple setup using the 28mm this time! Can you believe it? Not a nifty 50 in sight! I do have an 85mm to bridge the gap but sometimes the proximity and width afforded by a 28mm is a breath of fresh air. Sue me.
If we’re really splitting hairs, we can certainly see how distortion plays a small part by looking at the pestle and mortar in the top right. I suspect this is also to do with not being 100% flat above the subject with a handheld shot. Again, tether, C stand, yes yes, I hear you loud and clear, to which I quaff “Sunday, wine and lots of cooking, minimal heavy metal set up on the Day of Rest, if you please.”
I still wanted to get a shot with those delicious crispy bits sizzling and coming away from the bottom and sides of the cast iron, so it wasn’t long before Mr. Micro was back on the body. The best bit though, right? Like the crispy bit of the lasagne or the sticky underside of a chicken thigh roasted directly onto the tray. This shot, I’m a big fan of. Macro lenses will keep a shallower depth of field much further into the aperture-narrowing process, but I like a wee bit of focus fall here. Perhaps the trends of 2023 food photography call for pin-sharp, corner-to-corner flat-lay style. Thoughts?
My partner informs me she's running late coming back from a friend's place and asks for a lift from the tube station. Luckily I’ve only had 1 glass of wine and now have 2 hours to kill. The chicken's almost finished by this point. It’s been roasted simply on a bunch of root vegetables and garlic, with stock in the bottom. Oh, I made a quick prosciutto butter with bits we had left and smoothed this over the breast, between the skin and the meat, keeping it moist.
It’s straight out of the oven and I wrestle with a steamed-up lens for 3 or 4 mins before having to continuously blow at the thing while shooting to get what I’m after. Note to self: there's a fan in the living room.
It was pitch black in the kitchen by this point — dark outside and I'd smashed my guidelight on the strobe within 48 hours of having it, which shouldn't and won't surprise anyone reading this who knows me. Luckily the infrared beam on the trigger helped lock focus in place and away I came with this naughty little number:
Gooey goodness, juices, and stock ready to be reduced for gravy and a perfect bird, resting and ready the be the icing on the cake, the meat cake. I took the power down a little on the strobe here and fired a higher shutter to bring down those dark areas and keep all those warm tones hugging the chicken and the roasted veg, with the 105mm really coming into its own. I played around with shots involving more backdrop and styling but the sheer black of the roasting tin and all that caramelization just screams for a deep, dark delve into the finished product, in my humble and hungry opinion anyway. A meal fit for a king no less!
I was pretty beat once we finally sat down to eat, but nevertheless, I’d call that a pretty perfect little Sunday, to be honest.
I’m thinking about doing this quite regularly — picking something to conjure up in the kitchen and taking you guys through my shooting process. Sometimes it’s highly successful, sometimes it’s an unmitigated disaster. But all good fun and hopefully it’s an insight into a personalized process, done frankly for the sheer fun of it! If you guys have any suggestions on what you’d like to see me tackle I’d be happy to take suggestions. Drop me an email or comment below