Healthy and Sane

Professional food photo shoot and DIY background boards

February 22nd, 2012 · 20 Comments · photo tips

Oops, I did it again. Disappeared on ya that is. I did have an action packed week resulting in lots of blog material so hopefully that means that’s the last time I’m MIA for a while Smile Anyway…

Last week I did something super cool; any food blogger’s dream really – I attended a real professional food photo shoot!! You guys know I’ve been volunteering with Cooking Matters for a little while now (just finished another 6-week class as chef instructor and getting ready for another, woop woop!). In the February newsletter I noticed a call out to volunteers to assist in a photo shoot of all of their recipes. You know I got on that right away! The position was actually to do the cooking of the recipes. It was going to be an aggressive schedule so I quickly realized I would be stuck in a kitchen without a real insight into how the magic happens. So I asked to do a half day of cooking and a half day of assisting the food photographer and stylist. This was met with some hesitance at first but then I got a call back from photographer Ellen Callaway (check out that link, she’s super talented!) who said she got a little more flexibility and I was welcome to come down for a few hours. Done and done! [Moral of the story – ask for what you want or you will likely be disappointed.]

When I got to Ellen’s house (where the photo shoot was taking place), I saw that the cooking was very much under way and that I was basically invited to observe. The atmosphere was super casual. Catrine Kelty did the food styling, her daughter did the cooking, and Ellen took the photos. They worked really well together and made the whole thing look effortless (we all know it’s not!)

Cooking Matters food photoshoot-6

I was surprised to see that Ellen works with almost 100% artificial lighting. Those giant black “curtains” purposely blocked any natural light coming in. And the set-up was relatively minimal – some crates, a table top, and then… thousands of dollars worth of lights, cameras, stands and a strobe that automatically sets off the lights when the flash goes off (fancy stuff!).

Cooking Matters food photoshoot-9

Of course equipment is not everything – you need to know what you’re doing! Ellen has been doing food photography since 1997 and Cartine has been styling for over 15 years. They were pros for sure.

Cooking Matters food photoshoot

Little pieces of white paper bouncing light in just the right spot:

Cooking Matters food photoshoot-5

Ellen first took several hand held shots until the right angle and general styling was agreed on. This “draft” was emailed to the client (he couldn’t be there). He then let us know if he wanted any changes (different spoon, plate, more visible veggies, etc.). In the meantime Catrine also perfected the dish – like a surgeon. She had these giant tweezers and tiny spatulas, placing bits of veggies, herbs and chicken in just the right spots; fluffing up layers of lasagna; adding chickpea chunks to hummus. I’m usually hungry when I take my food photos so it was interesting to see how much care goes into each shot when it’s done on a professional level (and there is no husband standing over your head asking if dinner is ready to eat yet Winking smile ).

Cooking Matters food photoshoot-4 Cooking Matters food photoshoot-2

Once the general shot is approved, Ellen takes the final pictures with a tripod and makes sure that all the shadows are in the right places and the lighting is well balanced. The final shot gets sent to someone else to post-process.

Cooking Matters food photoshoot-3

Just a few super quick snap shots with my point and shoot… I didn’t want to be in the way. Sometimes the food looked better in pictures than in real life – impressive! [It was all delicious though, we ate it for lunch.]

Cooking Matters food photoshoot-7

Obviously I don’t have money or space for crazy equipment but this did teach me to at least try to take more time to get the right shot (especially with things that don’t have to be eaten immediately… like muffins and cookies). And I like the idea of practicing the layout with a hand held camera and then busting out the tripod. It’s still one of my 30 by 30 goals to master that beast (which has been collecting dust). One of these days for sure…

Cooking Matters food photoshoot-8

So yeah, that was awesome. Thank you Ellen and Catrine for letting me be a part of it!

I thought this would also be the right post to share with you my little DIY project from a while back – portable table tops for photo backgrounds. You may remember that I set up a little photo studio in my bedroom – this was my next project to tackle.

There seem to be a lot of wooden table tops made of planks, but when I went to Lowe’s to get the supplies, the guy at the store convinced me to try this easier route, reminding me that most tables are made of solid wood. So true!

staining wood

I just bought some 2’x2’ wooden boards (1/2” thick) and stained them. All you need a stain of your choice (I picked out “walnut” stain), an old t-shirt and space, preferably outdoors (the stuff is stinky). And then you just rub a thin layer of the stain over the wood. It was surprisingly runny. I was afraid it would be thick and hard to apply but nope, it took seriously less than a minute.

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Easy peasy!

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It gets tiny bit darker after drying. This is when you can apply another coat if you want. I got lazy and did just 1 coat. It’s been working just fine.

staining wood-4

Some photos on the new “table”

vegan tacos salmon balls

[The colors look different due to exposure in the photos – it’s the same board]

sweet potato kale salad

I don’t really miss those planks!

Next up, I wanted to do the distressed look and once again decided to go for a shortcut…

crackle finish board

Crackle paint! Btw, this is just the other side of the stained top above. You get 2 table tops in 1!

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So the idea is that you paint your surface like you would with any other regular paint, and when it dries out the paint starts to crackle. The reality of it? No cracks in sight!

crackle finish board-3

I was cheap and forwent the primer but reading reviews online, it seems like many people found that it didn’t really crack even with the primer… so I guess I’m glad I saved myself an extra $7.

The board looks almost plain white in the photos. It kind of worked in this little photo shoot so I’ll leave it to it. Smile

cherry chocolate oatmeal cookies cherry chocolate oatmeal cookies-2

Have you ever been to a professional food photo shoot? What would you ask the stylist or photographer? I asked Catrine for styling tips and she referred me to Food Styling by Dolores Custer and Food Fanatics.

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