Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Art of Presentation: Photographing Sous Vide

OK, I jumped into sous vide cooking with both feet, assembling my arsenal of pricy equipment and scouring the web for all the sous vide information I could.  Which is partly why I assembled this website, to add to the modicum amount of information that's on the web!

Now for confession time...  I admit I thought I could create this website with my daughter's handy $150 digital pocket "turquoise" Costco camera!  I figured "The food can do the talking"!  Well, I was "WRONG!".  So again, off to the web and a lot of studying and low and behold I discover the world of "Food plating, styling,presentation and.... photography!"  Yes, there is a whole world devoted to this complimentary topic.  In fact, I would call it a symbiotic relationship since that way to communicate a great recipe is through the web now a days and that requires a great food photo.

The saying goes "You have the shot when you want to 'Eat the screen'!".  I've found there are basically three components to a great food shot:

  • Camera:  This one seems obvious! But I originally thought "All digital cameras are roughly the same for taking food pics" ..... wrong again.  First of all, most professional food photographers have digital SLR (DSLR) cameras.  They cost upwards of $2000, but have all the manual bells and whistles to take incredible shots, including better lens, tethering (ability to see and store images directly to a computer), RAW output and all the manual settings for aperture, ISO, etc...  Since I spent my $2000 on sous vide, I needed to lower my photographic budget, which meant looking at "digital pocket cameras (DPC)".  Luckily, this market has matured enough that a new class of " high end digital pocket cameras" has emerged which attempts to bridge the gap between the "point and shoot" pocket camera and the DSLR.  These high end DPC have much better lenses, good macro modes, more manual settings and even tethering and RAW output capabilities, all features necessary to take a great food photograph.  These cameras can also handle various lighting conditions much better.  The Canon PowerShot S95, Panasonic Lumix series and the Pentax XZ-1 all fit the bill.  I chose the Canon Powershot S95 for its reasonable price, smaller size, and good lens and macro mode.
  •  Lighting: OK, I thought "just use the camera flash and it will all come out fine"!  Again... WRONG!  The first thing you learn for food photography is NO CAMERA FLASH.  When working at close range (macro) with food, it's very important that the food is well lit from all sides to show the food's texture and convey the very essence of the food itself.  Shadows don't do that.  In fact, shadows detract from that.  In addition, "yellowish" incandescent lighting also detracts from the visual.  So I purchased an inexpensive lighting umbrella and white piece of cardboard so that I can evenly light the food.
  • Food Plating Styling and Presentation: Can you image doing a model runway show without makeup, hair styling, and proper designer clothes?  Well, the same goes for food photography.  Doesn't matter how good your camera and lighting is if the subject is just slammed onto the plate.  There's a whole art (and science) to food plating and I won't go through it all, but some basics are:
    • Keep it simple and clean
    • Don't over crowd the plate, leave lots of room.  Use large white plates so that the food is the focus, not the plate.
    • Try sauces under and around the food.  Get squeeze bottles and large spoon to deploy the sauces.
    • Get height as an added dimension to your presentation
    • Use colors for highlighting.  Use fresh herbs to accent.
    • Use ring molds to dress up messy items.
I'm writing this blog entry BEFORE all my photography equipment comes so you get the benefit of seeing how NOT to do food photography (yes my site is currently a poor food photography example!).  But I'm excited to get my feet wet when my "stuff comes in" and hopefully you'll come back to my site and see my progress!  In the meantime, if you want to see some incredible food photography sites with some great recipes too, I found a couple that I'm certainly trying to emulate:

LATEST UPDATE:  I got my camera and lighting equipment!!!!!!
So I've been taking shots and playing with the settings and lighting and I think I've made pretty significant improvement on the photos.  Still not Ansel Adams (or the equivalent in the food photography world), but a significant leap forward.  Check out the difference below.

The photos on the left are the old P&S and the photos on the right at with the new Canon S95

I also got a book on food photography called "Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots" by Nicole Young.  It really looks great.  I'll keep you posted!

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