A glimpse into the studio

A fun Salad… and how it gets shot!

Of course the first step in making this recipe is to brown the butter! Here’s a shot of the butter in the pan merrily bubbling and hissing as the excess water evaporates.

You want to cook this until all the bubbling and hissing stops and the butter just starts to turn a light brown color. Cook  over medium heat and stir frequently to prevent the butter solids from burning. (If you go too far in the butter starts to burn you’ve actually created another classic French sauce, appropriately named Black Butter Sauce!).

The bowl and plate for this shot are made of bamboo, one of my favorite materials for its color and texture, not to mention environmental friendliness. The little dishes are made from some sort of leaf simply folded up into a bowl shape. These were all sourced from Tap Phong (on Spadina Avenue, just S. Of College St.). The fabric is a naturally textured silk.

I wanted the lighting to be warm and textural to bring out all the details in the salad. I decided to go with an unusual choice of a beauty dish for this shot, and it worked well, striking a nice balance between softness and contrast.  For those not familiar with a beauty dish, it’s basically a large diameter reflector, in this case an Alien Bees 22 inch beauty dish. These are most often used for fashion and beauty shots, but I like the quality of light it gives this particular food shot.

When I had a look at the first test shot I felt that the light was a bit cold and uniform, so I decided to break it up with a mixed warming gel. I created this by mounting a piece of clear acetate in a foamcore frame then sticking small pieces of red, yellow and orange gels to the acetate. This gives the light a slightly dappled warmth without creating an overall color cast. You can see exactly what I’m talking about in this shot.

Because the beauty dish is still a relatively hard light source the shadows of the plates and bowls were way too dark so I added a gold reflector to bounce in some warm light and give a nice glow to the shadow areas.

This shot gives a nice overall view of the setup, and demonstrates why a studio stand is so useful for shooting food. (A studio stand is a massive, heavy beast with a vertical column and a sort of boom.  It allows you to easily position your camera in places no tripod would dare to tread… like directly overhead and 8 ft up in the air!)  Note the beauty dish with gels in front and the reflector bouncing light into the shadows. Also take careful note of the piece of foam core suspended between the camera and the light to block any light from hitting the camera lens and causing flare. This is a very important step to take on almost any studio shot where there is a risk of light hitting the lens, causing flare (loss of detail and contrast).

Now a little bit about the salad itself. When you create a salad for photography you don’t toss it….. you build it, piece by piece and leaf by leaf. You can see in this close-up of the bowl that we’ve created a sort of dam for the salad out of lead filled film canisters. (Remember when film came in this little plastic containers?) This allows Linsey to build up the salad so it won’t cave in on itself and create dark holes.

She also individually placed each piece of popcorn, corn pop and roasted corn. This is all done with no dressing on the salad. Once we’re happy with the look of the salad, she then applies small drops of dressing with an eye dropper. This prevents the salad from looking like a shiny oily mess.

Once the salad is dressed I have scant few minutes to get the final shot done before the lettuce starts to wilt and the dressing runs. This is the way with food photography, you can spend hours fussing and fidgeting with light, the food, the props….. and then it’s bang bang bang grab the shot in a couple of seconds before the food dies!

Photo Credits:  Photography by Rob Davidson
Food Styling by Linsey Bell
Assistants:  Chris Hazard and Amber Scott

Click here for the recipe so you can try this for yourself.


2 responses

  1. WOW! I love this post, it’s like having a peek inside Saveur’s kitchen studio. Great tips!

    August 17, 2010 at 7:18 pm

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