At TIV we've been Art Directing and Food Styling for a good 10+ years...long enough to really understand the process and how best to represent a brand through great food photography. Like most of our services we approach food photos as a team. Brandt Art Directs and Prop Styles, while Christy develops the recipes and Food Styles.
A lot of people ask us what goes into a delicious photo like this, so we thought we'd share the TIV approach to food photography:
BRANDT: I start the process by discussing the brand with the client and what type of photography would make the most sense. Are we going for fancy? Are we looking for approachable? No matter what it has to have a Pavlovian affect on the viewer. We need drool here, people.
CHRISTY: Once we have an idea of the products we're promoting, I get to dream up new recipes. Some are traditional and some push the boundaries a bit. I literally keep a notepad by my bed incase I have an idea in the middle of the night. Then I start creating actual recipes and testing them out.
BRANDT: While Christy is trying to fatten me up testing recipe I start developing a mood board for the client to review. It might have actual dishes or linens and comparable shots we like or it could be more about textures and color pallets. I also share this with the photographer to make sure she knows what we're looking for in lighting, angle of the shot, etc so she can prepare. By the way, whenever we can, we work with MJ Wickham, but she doesn't get to talk on this blog. Sorry, MJ. About a week or so before the shoot we go prop shopping together. We get a lot of odd looks from store clerks when we buy one of everything.
CHRISTY: I spend the day before the shoot food shopping. I have to find the best looking ingredients for each recipe. Typically it takes me most of the day and takes me to 3 or 4 stores, depending on ingredients and the season.
BRANDT: On the day of the shoot we wake up early and Christy starts doing any prep work that she can. We never know how quickly things will move so having ingredients chopped, items that can be cooked ahead of time cooked, etc. can be the difference between a great and amazing photo. While she's working on prepping I start assembling sets. I review the recipes again and look for ingredients that we can emphasize through prop colors, plates that will best show off the recipe, feelings that can be achieved through textures, and flatware or linens that can help set the tone. MJ sets up the cameras and lighting.
CHRISTY: The shoot day is intense. We always have a set number of shots we need to get, so I'm balancing prepping the dish we're shooting, pre-work for the next shot and trying to keep track of time so we don't end up working all night. It's amazing how quickly the time goes...and how tired my feet are by the end of the day!
BRANDT: Christy is a foodie all the way. So she really gets what makes something not only taste great but look delicious. I've watched food styling go from an almost plastic perfection (can we move that grain of rice a bit?) to a much more approachable look (throw some crumbs on the table cloth). I love seeing the context that the food is in so it not only highlights the recipe but the experience of eating.
CHRISTY: For the most part I use traditional tools to cook the dishes. But I do have my tweezers and Q-tips for making slight alterations on-set. I like the food to look the way someone who makes the recipe at home can achieve, so I never use anything that's not actually part of the dish.
BRANDT: Usually the day after the shoot MJ sends over the files. I won't date myself by talking about polaroids, but digital photography has made the turnaround incredibly fast and the results exactly what you expected. I download the files and Christy likes to choose and retouch the final shots.
CHRISTY: Every once in a while I have to remove a toothpick used to hold up a piece of food or help a leaf look a bit fresher after sitting under the lights on set. But for the most part I just make sure the color levels are right on the photos and get them cropped and off to the client.
And there you have it. Food photography de-mystified!