To conclude the month we have spent together on this blog, I decided to share a behind the scenes look at a photo session with you. I will share with you the various steps I follow when I prepare photographs for my blog.
The photography recipe
I decided to photograph a tortilla baked in the oven. As you can see in the photo below, it’s not an easy dish to photograph. There’s not much of visual interest and the dish isn’t particularly appetizing. I start from far away to be able to make this tortilla a culinary delight for the eyes. That’s the big challenge for me and it’s also what makes this an interesting article for you!
Step 1: Styling of the dish and composition of the scene
This is the reflection stage in the photo session. It includes:
– The presentation and styling of the dish.
– The choice of background.
– The choice of decor and china.
For the background, I have the choice between wood planks and medium density boards. I chose these blueish wood planks.
I could have gone with natural wood, but brown tones wouldn’t have contrasted as well with the pale quality of the dish. The whole effect would have been lacking in visual relief. That wasn’t what I was looking for here.
The blue will go beautifully with the yellow of the tortilla thanks to the fact that these are contrasting colors.
As for presenting the dish, we don’t want to simply leave it in the silicone dish. In the cupboard, I found a ceramic mold of the same size. The style and color perfectly match this recipe, so I transferred my tortilla into this casserole. So you’re probably asking yourself why I didn’t simply cook the tortilla directly in the ceramic casserole? That’s a great question! 😉 Baking in a silicone dish makes it very easy to take the tortilla out of the dish, and that also means that a little later, I can cut the tortilla into beautiful squares.
The serving dish is better, but we’re not quite there are we? Now we need to place the dish in the scene and then add elements to the decor.
As I was preparing the recipe, I kept the egg shells in a bowl, because I thought I might use them in my photo session. In general, before you throw out vegetable scraps, ask yourself if you could use them in your photographs.
All by itself in the dish, the tortilla seems sort of sad. To enhance its visual appeal, I decided to add some color and volume by placing some red onion rings and parsley sprigs in the center.
I also need to think over the decorative elements of the scene that will contribute to the atmosphere. Along with the broken egg shells and red onions, I wanted to add a bouquet of parsley in a glass filled with water, a glass of wine (which I’ll also use a little later in my shots) and a few fresh eggs.
I also added some tandoori spices in my recipe, so I sprinkled them over the wood to add some color.
To finish the composition, under the dish I place a cloth that features some muted colors.
Step 2: Directing the lighting – 1st part
Below, the scene from a distance to show you the layout of the elements and the management of lighting.
I often start my photo sessions with a lateral light by placing my scene parallel to my French door and the reflector on the opposite side.
The planks are placed on a small table so I can photography while standing. This wasn’t always the way I worked. I used to photograph directly onto the ground.
Step 3: Taking shots: some errors to avoid.
Now it’s time to start taking pictures. I verify the parameters of my camera: ISO 200, Aperture between 1.8 and 2.8. I never go above that except for commissions where I’m asked for an image that is less out of focus.
I have always preferred modeling to create a lack of focus. Photos that are too sharp are too descriptive, and I find them far less appealing from a culinary standpoint.
The following stage consists in placing myself at different places before my scene in order to execute various shots: Overviews, close-ups, views from above, frontal shots…the farther away you get, the more you’ll have a global view of your scene. The closer you get, the more you’ll plunge the viewer into the heart of the recipe.
I often move background objects around to include them or exclude them from the frame. I also change the positioning and placement of the dish I’m photographing.
When you are photographing a dish, you may tend to want to show the entire dish. But that’s an error I often see and I recommend against: crowding it within the bounds of the photo, as in the first photo below. It will give you a very uncomfortable sense of suffocation.
So for this, there are two possible solutions:
– Neatly cut one or two sides (corner framing) of the dish by moving in to clearly frame one side and leave space on the other side (Second photo).
– Leave space on the sides of the dish by backing up or by moving from a vertical frame to a horizontal frame (or vice-versa) as in the third photo.
In my examples, my dish is placed very straight. But I tend to prefer to position dishes at an angle to give them more dynamic energy. It all depends on the shape and the size of the dish you are photographing.
Step 4: Directing the lighting – 2nd part
In this photo, you see my second approach to directing lighting: back lighting. Because the planks are placed on a table, I can easily move them to orient the light more or less in the background.
By turning the scene, I observe how the light shapes the scene before I decide on the angle I want to keep.
You can see in my photo that I use my reflector even with back lighting. I place it an angle so that it can reflect the light and still leave me with the room to photograph.
Step 5: Taking shots and changing culinary style
While trying out different views, I take these shots under new lighting.
When I feel as though I have taken enough photographs of the dish, I decide to change the styling and slice into the tortilla to show the inside and present individual portions.
I place the tortilla squares onto a plate and include silverware and a glass of wine (here’s what the wine is for). I also put a small dish on the plate, where I add the red onions and parsley. At this point, the dish is placed in the background.
Step 6: Directing the lighting – final part
For the last time, I am once again changing the composition of the scene by putting it in parallel with the lighting, but this time, I am setting up a vertical backdrop, a medium density board, which I’ll use as the background wall for my next shots.
Step 7: Final shots
With a uniform background, I can place myself perpendicular to my scene and photograph my tortilla squares (left photo). The background brings an additional color to the photo. Note that there is a marriage of colors.
To conclude, I cut a piece of the tortilla which I leave on the fork. This photograph gives the viewer the impression that he or she is at the table (right photo). When you have finished taking pictures of the entire dish, go right ahead an slice into it, dip a spoon in, spear a piece with your fork, etc. You’ll give more life to your scene and share more with the viewer.
A final piece of advice on taking shots. Try to get some original points of focus. Sometimes it’s really fun to focus on a secondary element, and plunge the main element out of focus. And even though it’s out of focus, you can still read the tortilla square started.
Step 8: Computer verification and post-processing
Now that the shots have been taken, I proceed to verifying them on the computer before I put everything away.
After sorting and selecting the photos I’ll keep for my blog, I take care of the whole post-processing phase. I generally bring in luminosity, adjust the balance of the whites and color metrics, add a bit of contrast. To do this, I use two software programs: Digital Photo Professional (software sold with my camera) which lets me manage my RAWs and save them in JPEG format, and Photoshop for the finishing touches I make to the JPEG files.
Step 9: Clean-up, washing-up, and putting things away!
This is the least fun! And it’s even less fun when you don’t have a dish washer. 😀 Good luck!
And to finish this article, I feel like sharing with you the recipe for my potato and tandoori spice tortilla. 🙂
Here’s to great pictures and a great meal!
Serves 4 (22 cm square casserole):
5 firm, medium-sized potatoes
1 generous cc powdered tandoori spices
10 cl milk
1- Put the potatoes in a casserole filled with cold water and start cooking.
2- Cook for 30 minutes (cooking time depends on your potatoes, poke them with a knife to see if they are done).
3- Drain and let cool before peeling the potatoes.
4- Cut them into pieces.
5- Crack open eggs in a bowl.
6- Add the chives, milk, tandoori, and salt.
7- Whisk the ingredients together.
8- Add the potatoes and pour into a square 22 cm length casserole.
9- Preheat oven to 180°C and bake for 25 min.
10- Let cool before slicing. Serve with a green salad.
Under the pseudonym chefNini, Virginie has been hosting a culinary blog of the same name since February, 2008. She offers unique creations, shares her inspirations, and her tips through educational articles. Self-taught and passionate, she decided to leave her web developer career to focus exclusively on her blog. In September, 2011, she became an entrepreneur, creating, photographing, and writing about cuisine. She is also the author of a book on culinary photography published by Pearson.