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Matinee: Food Photography With Scrivani, Kang, Şahin Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

18 March 2017

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 179th in our series of Saturday matinees today: a three ring circus that starts with Food Photography Tips with Andrew Scrivani.

Food photographer Andrew Scrivani succumbs to the listicle urge with five tips for shooting rather than eating the stuff.

We'll quickly point out that photography food is a subcategory of product photography, though. So what he has to say about lighting and composition is generally applicable to the genre.

So lick your lips.

We're going to list them here for you on the theory that you may want to refer back to them and not want to scrub through the 7:13 minute video even though it's all charm and brightness.

Tip One: Define your light source and shoot against it to create shimmer and shadow.

The most important thing about food photography, Scrivani says, is to use a single light source in the daylight range. It's not a night job.

Secondly (you're getting two tips in one here), Scrivani says you should not keep the light behind you (as Kodak always recommended) but shoot into it or across it. This gives your subject more volume and some drama, as he illustrates.

About that drama. Scrivani doesn't talk much about food styling, which is an art in itself, but he does briefly mention that were he in a studio (where is he, you might wonder, if not in a studio) he might use water and a spray bottle to "add glisten."

We interrupt this tip to present a 4:41 clip of food stylist Lillian Kang talking about her job:

Kang's advice doesn't particularly pertain to product photography. Food styling is really a specialty. But in researching the subject we found her story inspiring. You might just say it glistens.

Tip Two: Soften light with a diffuser for a softer look.

Direct sunlight is hard light. It makes a dark, deep shadow where it can't reach the subject.

You want soft light for product photography.

You get soft light with a flag, Scrivani says. Which is just a big old diffuser. The bigger the better, which is why impoverished photographers have often resorted to shower curtains and bed sheets in their quest for an affordable diffuser.

Tip Three: Cut and shape light to create more contrast.

Now this tip is generally applicable (and we have generally applied it to our own product photography for Photo Corners). It's also as simple and easy to do as it is effective.

No, you don't need a chef's knife to cut and shape light. You need white and black illustration board or foam board or anything that approximates a big stiff light or dark card.

The white card will reflect light and the black card will absorb it.

So to lighten the shadows of your subject, bounce the light source back on them with a light card. And to kill the light (say for even darker shadows), bounce it off the black card. Simple. Effective.

We do use small clamps like Scrivani to hold our cards up without using our hands (which are otherwise employed with the camera).

Tip Four: Know your camera.

This one echoes our recent Of Violins And Cameras piece wondering how long it takes to get comfortable with your gear. Scrivani admits it takes him a while. He's used his Canon for a long time.

You might wonder if that might get you lapped in the race for technical achievement. How can you use an old dSLR when your competition has just invested in the latest medium format miracle?

Scrivani isn't worried about that. It's more important to know what you camera does, how it handles the light, how the images can be processed.

"It just needs to be the camera you know really well and make good pictures in good light," he says. Comfortingly.

Tip Five: Use food and props to create a world.

Why should science fiction writers have all the fun? Create your own world, Scrivani says. Set the stage, add props, compose tightly. It's an alternate reality.

He goes through a setup for shooting a donut that includes a brief but amusing consideration of donut gender.

"If you keep your world small," he concludes, "you can make something really nice."

And if that seems a bit abrupt an ending to such an appetizing subject, we have just the thing for you. It's a 2:24 clip by food photographer Erkin Şahin of some "fresh and tasty" images accompanied by some wonderful music by Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson.

See if you can detect Scrivani's tips in the clip. Shallow depth of field, diffused light, lightened shadows, darkened ones, the creation of new worlds.

Or, you know, just lick your lips again.

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