A couple of weekends ago, I was lucky enough to spend the day at the studio of Lou Manna, a commercial food photographer here in NYC. He was giving a workshop through Adorama all about digital food photography, so obviously I had to check it out!
Here's Lou. He is definitely a character! He is very approachable and outgoing, and not afraid to speak his mind. In his own words, he's "in your face", kind of like his style of food photography — bold and striking! (He really liked that pointer and nearly broke his TV with it at one point ;) )
Lou is the author of Digital Food Photography, which is a great read and has a lot of good information about both photography basics and working with food in particular. I definitely recommend it as a jumping off point, as well as his blog, which also has some photography tips.
His studio has a big kitchen, and the rest is filled with computer and photo equipment. One corner of the studio was dedicated to props — glasses, plates, fabrics, and an incredible amount of little bits and bobs to add character to the photos.
We also had the pleasure of working with Dennis Williford, aka "The Photo Cook". Dennis is a chef and photographer, and he cooked us a delicious lunch and helped us to style food for our photo shoot at the end of class.
The first half of class was a meet & greet, followed by a portfolio critique of each of the students' portfolios, which was very insightful and helpful. After that, Lou gave a presentation to go over some concepts like color balance, composition, and working with the food. We had some chicken cacciatore for lunch, and then Lou went deeper into the subject of lighting. To end the class, each person styled their own food and took photos.
Lou works mainly with studio lighting, which was perfect for me since that is what I use in my "finished product" photos on this blog. His setup is a bit more sophisticated than mine, though!
Lou's primary studio setup is a stand with a sheet of translucent plexiglass serving as the base. The translucency is great, because you can shine light coming from underneath to get a bright white backdrop for the food. The food in the picture was styled by one of the other students in the class.
Some food styling action:
Dennis helped me with my styling and suggested that I use this beautiful purple potato. I'd never seen one like this before:
Lou set up the lighting for us, using a main light with a softbox, a bright backlight and some mirrors to reflect light back into the shadows. He is a huge proponent of mirrors and a technique which he calls "feathering the light", which means directing the main light slightly away from the subject and bouncing it back with reflectors.
Here's one of my attempts — I opted for a relatively simple salad and used some of the cool props available. Dennis gave me the tip to keep the salad in the fridge while setting up my shot to keep it looking fresh.
That one was OK, but Lou made it more enticing by spraying a mix of water and glycerin onto the salad:
I guess that's why most of the food used for professional photos isn't actually eaten! :)
In professional food photography, no matter what kind of style the final shot has, there is always a stylist at work to keep the food looking its best. If you're interested in learning more about food styling, I have taken and highly recommend the online food styling class given by Photo Styling Workshops. You can also check out Lou's blog or book, or the wonderful blog of Lara Ferroni, Still Life With.