Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Taking Food Photos When You'd Rather Be Eating

Food photography is hard! Well, not difficult, really, but it requires the kind of time and effort that is 100% counter-productive to enjoying your meal. The food shown in "real" food photography does not taste anything like it looks. In fact, it's usually thrown away. First of all, this delicious looking food is often shellacked, under cooked, over cooked, over seasoned, under seasoned, coated in motor oil, shoe polish, spray deodorant, hairspray, white glue (really!) and worse, all for appearances sake. Well, I am certainly not going to do THAT. Secondly, in the time it takes to get a good picture, the food has gotten too cold, too hot, too soft, too congealed, too soggy, too dry, too wilted, too brown... certainly too SOMETHING. This is exactly why I never have good food photos. No doubt you sense my respect for food. That is, oddly, why I like to take pictures of it. But my respect goes too far to let the food expire past its prime (which is often only moments from when it is set upon the table) while I'm messing about with the camera. Since I've promised better photos, today I thought I'd take a picture of my pate. Pate, although not particularly pretty, doesn't melt and tastes decent within a wide range of temperatures, so I figured it would be a good candidate for my first photo shoot in which the photo was the primary purpose for the meal. Plus I wasn't starving to death, nor had I just prepared it, and too curious about the end result to take more than a quick snapshot.

In order to take this simple and not particularly amazing picture of my aforementioned Fegatini al Burro I had to:

  • Wait a day for my bread to stale enough such that I could slice it without its losing its shape.
  • Toast the bread slices, hovering over the toaster oven EVERY SECOND so I could remove it the moment it reached peak attractive toast color.
  • Take the pate out of the fridge and mash it around with mortar and pestle so it would be nice and spreadable, so as not crush my toast. Since my house was approximately 95 degrees (not kidding), that did not take long. Imagine what I'd have to do to photograph ice cream.
  • Root around in my freezer for some parsley - I didn't have any fresh on hand. Frozen parsley is difficult to sprinkle artfully, so I was forced to break my promise to myself that I would not go so far as to apply the parsley leaves with tweezers. For the record, I only "edited" the parsley with the tweezers. The majority of sprinkling was done freehand. I'm definitely not happy with the parsley.
  • Clear out all the silly things in the background, most of which I only noticed after taking a photo - a canvas bag hanging on a doorknob here, my skirt drying on a rack there, etc.
  • Take a least 10 pictures to get one good, no... one acceptable photo. I could have set my standards higher, but I was getting hungry.
  • I didn't even think about lighting, aside from turning the house lights on, and the flash off. This (not thinking about lighting) automatically makes me a bad photographer, although knowing to turn the flash off gives me a point or two in the other direction.

After all that, I didn't even get to enjoy the accompanying glass of wine, since I was, by that time, late for an airport run. This little "snapshot" probably took me an hour (not counting the day it took for the bread to stale). The pate was good, but too warm. It would have been better if I had left the camera in its case.

The wine? I'm drinking it now.


Sandy said...

This is HILARIOUS!!! Love it. My new secret for photographing food is setting the aperture wide open - blows everything out of focus that you don't want to see in the background (and couldn't be bothered to clean up). ;)

Paula said...

Yeah, I do that too (as you can see by my out of focus kitchen in the background). But the giant drying rack as big as a desk was a bit much even for that...
I'm guessing your cam has a few more options on that than mine! The best I can do is 2.8. Respectable, I think, for a $400 point a shoot digicam, but not quite up to what your machine does, I'll bet.