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My Foray into Food Photography

Growing up I always tried to be the best at everything I did. One day I could drive a golf ball 300 yards and the next day jump 60 feet through the air on a dirtbike. I approach my photography in the same manner. Over the years I've shot, researched, and got frustrated in just about every genre there is. Over my career, I've become well versed in shooting just about anything you could throw at me. I know that no matter what, there is and will always be someone better than me, but hey, I get a paycheck every two weeks for my work so I must be doing something right.

 In my quest of learning and shooting a wide range of subject matter, food always eluded my technical knowledge. No matter what I did, I couldn't achieve a photo of food that looked, well, professional. Granted I really didn't research food photography all that much, if at all. I thought all I had to do was get some appetizing food, shoot at f/1.4-2, and I would be yielded with "a professional food photograph." HA.

 A prime example of my first failed attempt of shooting food. A huge steak on top of a pile of weirdly colored corn on a red plate. Yikes!

A prime example of my first failed attempt of shooting food. A huge steak on top of a pile of weirdly colored corn on a red plate. Yikes!

The above image was shot with a T2i and 50mm 1.8 with a white beauty dish camera right at a 45 degree angle. Food + shallow dof + lighting equaled instant success in my book. At the time, I thought that this was a decent image because it met my criteria for a "good" food photograph. I continued to shoot food in the same manner, and I got the same result for every plate of food I shot. It also didn't help that I had absolutely ZERO idea how to style food as well.

After this shot, I just gave up shooting food. The cheese was blown out, the bread looked rock hard and no matter I did, nothing met my expectations. I guess you could say the food looked somewhat appetizing, but what bowl of past fagioli doesn't look good? Stylistically and aesthetically, they were extremely amateur.

During my internship for Whirl, the current staff photographer, Cayla, was an awesome food stylist and even better food photographer. During one of the first food shoots I assisted on, I noticed that she had her light placed behind the food, and filled the shadows in from the front/sides. In my head I thought "this looks all wrong" but every frame she shot looked better than the last. Another strange thing was how picky she was with the styling. The direction of a fork could ruin the entire image, or the way the fold of a napkin was rendering could draw your eye away from the plate of food. In my food career, I took a handful of shots and used photoshop as a crutch. Cayla would take hundreds of photos of a single plate of food. This all seemed asinine in my head, but it was how a real food photographer worked. Fueled with inspiration, I tried to give food another chance. I paid close attention to my lighting and even more attention to the props within the image. I shot a ton of frames, tried all different angles, styling, and surfaces, and to my surprise, a halfway decent image emerged, regardless of how much retouching I had to do.

Once Cayla left and I was put in charge, I knew I really had to step my game up so I could retain the reputation our magazines have and more importantly, make the staff position. I would be shooting the absolute best dishes the city of Pittsburgh had to offer, and it was my responsibility to not only please the chefs, but show the editor-in-chief that I was a capable food photographer.

Since I work in the editorial industry, a run and gun setup is more than desired. We need to get in,make sure we have the shot in less than 15 minutes, and get out. Studio food photographers will often take hours upon hours to shoot a single dish of food. They have control of every element, and often have a team of stylists making sure the food looks as appetizing and appealing as possible. Since I'm often shooting prepared dishes served by high-end restaurants, the food is plated beautifully and it makes my job just that much easier.

 My run and gun setup. 47" octabox behind the food and a silver/gold/ or white reflector depending on the scene and food.

My run and gun setup. 47" octabox behind the food and a silver/gold/ or white reflector depending on the scene and food.

These are some of my newest images that I've shot for Whirl and Edible Allegheny. I am very happy with how my style and skill has progressed with shooting food. I don't consider myself a professional food photographer, as I still have a lot to learn plate/prop styling wise, but I can say that I am finally happy with my food photographs. I went from almost giving up entirely to shooting the cover of a magazine. The team at Whirl is second to none. I'd like to thank Sam Casale and Sam May for helping me style all of these shoots and land my first ever cover.


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