A VISUAL FEAST
Leon Rose has worked on dream food assignments for the likes of My Food Bag. He talks us through how to shoot a gourmet dish — best if you don’t read this on an empty stomach
The current trend in food photography, for quite some time now, has been to use natural light as a backlight or sidelight and fill in the shadows. Your nice big north-facing window at home coupled with some diffusion and some white card can give you a very satisfactory result. This lighting works really well in most situations, and could also be easily staged using LED SoftPanels. In fact, these panels (if purchased as a premium pack) come with a very versatile soft box that would work a treat as the backlight.
However, here, I decided to go for a more gourmet look, using the F&V UltraColor Z800S and Z400S BiColor LED panel lights and the honeycomb grid attachments that clip easily onto the panels, for more of a hard-spot effect. I wanted to give the feeling of a dish that was in front of you if you were dining at a dimly lit high-end restaurant. I also cheated a little bit by pulling out a Lume Cube (see last issue’s Gearducated article) and popping in some extra highlights. Food photography, like almost every other genre of commercial photography, is a team effort. And, unless you are a trained chef or a very talented cook, you will need to use a food stylist. In this case, I asked a friend of mine, the very talented Ary Harland (who I have had the pleasure of working with during my contract for My Food Bag), to come up with a couple of dishes for us to shoot. We met on a Sunday at my house and kicked my family out so we could get stuck in. I also needed to find some cutlery and crockery to suit, so I spoke to another good friend and colleague, Megan Harrison Turner, and she kindly let me raid her prop store.
Ary came up with two beautiful dishes — the first, a pesto pasta, and, the second, a lamb shank — both hearty winter warmers. I had briefed Ary that we would be shooting dark and moody and to be sure to add a pop of colour into his styling. I kept the prop styling minimal and monotone to allow for the colours to dominate the images. It is important to highlight the dish and not over-prop, which can take the focus away from the dish. Using different textures is a good way to add subtle interest. I did this with tiled placemats, fabric napkins, and by using my lights to highlight the plate edges. To give the restaurant feel, I added a glass of wine to both of the wide images, and a little kava bowl of rock salt, and I kept the cutlery dark to blend into the image. The most impressive part of F&V’s Z-Series of LED lights is that you have complete control of the colour temperature, from daylight through to full tungsten, using the Kelvin scale. This allowed me to give the high tungsten feel to my images in-camera without the need to dial it in in post. In other situations, you can match your key light to the rest of your frame with ease. There are two dials at the back of the
panel that control power output and colour temperature. You can run them off the mains using the V-mount AC adapter and cable that come with the unit, or you can purchase the V-mount Li-ion batteries separately. On to the image capture — macro lenses can be very helpful in food photography, allowing you to get in and really focus on the textures of the dish. The Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG Macro OS was a great companion; it’s a sharp lens, and, in comparison to other lenses in my kit, captures the shadow detail much better. It’s also nicely weighted (not as heavy as the Art-series lenses), making it very easy to shoot with handheld. It has three switches on the lens: focus limiter, Optical Stabilization (OS) –mode selector, and autofocus–manual focus (AF-MF) switcher, with the focus limiter being a three-way switch that enables AF range limit. You can select between full AF range, 0.45m to infinity, or 0.312 to 0.45m, depending on what you’re shooting. The process of capturing each dish started with a wide shot, showing the dish in its environment, followed by tighter images focusing on texture and colour. I found that when I went in tight, hand-holding the lens, it was very responsive. It focused quickly and efficiently and didn’t hunt at all. Interestingly, this lens comes with two lens hoods — one for a cropped-sensor camera, and one for a full-sensor. Lens hoods are a very important accessory for a lens, and it surprises me how often I see people shooting without them. Light flares can come from all directions and light sources, and the lens hood is your first barrier in combatting them. All in all, it’s a good option if you are thinking about getting a fast macro lens at a mid-range price. Get stuck in to shooting food; it can be a lot of fun and will give you plenty of challenges — but the best part is that you’ll get to eat it at the end.
IMAGE 1 CANON EOS 5D MARK III, SIGMA 105MM F/2.8 EX DG MACRO LENS, 105MM, 1/60S, F/5.6, ISO 800 IMAGE 2 CANON EOS 5D MARK III, SIGMA 105MM F/2.8 EX DG MACRO LENS, 105MM, 1/60S, F/5.6, ISO 800 IMAGE 3 CANON EOS 5D MARK III, SIGMA 105MM F/2.8 EX DG MACRO LENS, 105MM, 1/40S, F/8, ISO 800