Monday, March 11, 2013

Natural Light Food Photography at MDR Studios

There are many things I love about photographing food; the subject always sits still and never complains, I can show as much detail as I want, and I can take my time to get the shot right. I find photographing food to be very cathartic and engrossing – not something to be rushed. Of course, I usually do it alone – I don’t have food stylists or prop stylists to work with, and I am my own client.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a food photography class at MDR Studios in Los Angeles. I had been searching for just the right class, and this one fit the bill. It helped a lot that my oldest son is living in Pasadena and I could combine the class with a trip to visit. I probably wouldn’t have dragged myself out to California if that hadn’t been the case, but I am so glad that I did.

First, the instructors – Christina Peters (photographer) and Liesl Maggiore (food stylist) were nothing short of amazing. Having learned from the Internet, online classes, and books, I’ve been doing it myself for a while. I surely could have used a class like this before I started taking pictures for my book, but no doubt I’ll put everything I learned to good use for the next one.

Here’s just a bit of what I learned:

Decide on the shot first. This may have been the most enlightening bit of knowledge for me, as most instructors suggest moving the camera around to find the best angle and composition. Not Christina – she decides on the shot (including where to place her camera and what lens to use), and while she may move the camera a bit for framing purposes, for the most part once her camera is set up it stays where it is. Then she moves the food (in tiny increments), adjusts the light, and adjusts the camera to get the right exposure and depth of field – making tiny tweaks along the way to get the right shot. One picture could take hours to set up and shoot.

While Christina is manning the camera and all that goes with it, Liesl prepares the food. Patience may be the most required skill for a food stylist – in addition to having a good eye. Liesl knows what she wants the picture to look like when it is complete, down to where every crumb goes. She spent a good half hour (maybe more) filling a pitcher with the drink Christina photographed. Every slice of fruit, and each ice cube was carefully placed.

Each of the students had an opportunity to create their own shot. Since most of what I do is baked goods, I chose some scones to photograph. (Note: these are not gluten-free or allergen-free, but they made a good subject.)

After a few preliminary shots to get the right exposure and light, this was my picture:

Christina suggested getting in closer and trying to capture powdered sugar being sprinkled on the scones. That required re-adjustments to the camera for a faster shot at a higher ISO setting, and here was the result:

Hungry? Well, we can’t eat these scones, but there are three terrific scone recipes in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free


Unknown said...

Thanks so much for sharing what you learned in your class. Upon your tip to me a few weeks ago, I pulled my tripod out of the closet. Huge difference! Thank you for the suggestion. Your pictures look great! I'll keep practicing with mine...

Colette said...

Joanne, yes -- the tripod may be the single most important piece of equipment we have!