Food Photography Session — Session de photographie culinaire

What would you say if I took you on a tour in a professional photography studio?

Of course, I will not be the photographer. But a week ago, I was lucky to spend a full day in a professional photography studio to work with a team of great people. I drove up to Portland in Maine to meet Stretch and his team at Synergy2. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and I already knew my day was going to be very interesting: I was going to prepare two dishes and style them while Stretch was going to take the food shots. What better way is there to understand the required steps involved in a food shot session than actively participate in it? From the making of the food, the styling, to the shooting, all aspects were covered. No need to say that my day was extremely rewarding. I came home wrecked and happy. Until next time!

My Food Photography Session at Stretch Studio

A food session involves different steps:

Food obviously, which the food stylist prepares and arranges (me in this case). While a lot can be done ahead of time, all the finishing steps are done on site. The kitchen in the studio is very nice and well equipped.

The kitchen area

I prepared two dishes:

*my Avocado Crab appetizer
*my Tarragon Tomato soup.

I had brought with me all the needed ingredients, oils, herbs and spices, along with props that I thought we could use (although as you will see below, there is no shortage of props in a food photography studio.) In other words, I had my kit with me.

Two walls of tidily arranged and labeled boxes full of props of all kinds: fabrics, table sets, napkins, backgrounds, kitchen utensils, stones, sand, things to make snow, every possible thing you can imagine. A real craft store. I wish I could have carried some home!

-Discussing with the food photographer (Stretch) the vision in mind as to how the food will be presented. This involves what props will be required, what type of atmosphere to give to the shot, what colours will dominate and match the food (hence the choice of surface and background are closely linked to those), and what photo frame will be priviliged (the full bowl of soup will be shown? Will we show a plate? A knife? A piece of extra bread?) I had brought a few things with me in case we wanted to use them, and we eventually did (see the small turquoise bowl for the soup). As you will see on some pics, the food we shot was tiny small. But as Stretch mentioned to me when I asked him, there are no rules. Sometimes the food will be displayed on a big plate, sometimes on a small one. It all depends on the dish and the presentation idea. Since we preferred to shoot from a very close-up point of view, to have a small bowl was a better choice.

-Setting up the photo environment. Stretch’s massive (and expensive!) camera is connected directly to a computer, with a big monitor. The editing program (one Pro) used for the photos is launched so that you can instantly see the photos that are shot.

Wouldn’t you want to be able to hook up your camera to a computer like this, as you shoot, so that you can see the result on screen right away? Stretch could even shoot by simply hitting the return key on his keyboard. It really helped us assess the picture, see the light and determine whether we were to continue or not. The more experienced you are, the better you can determine when you have the right picture.

With the setting up, the first step is to choose the initial camera and light settings in accordance to the frame chosen for the shot, and record them. In the case of the soup for example, Stretch started by taking the bowl we would use to serve the soup; he placed it with some paper in it (as if it were the soup) on the surface where we were going to shoot in order to choose the framing, and with the help of the studio assistant, record necessary measurements as to light, speed and distances (you actually really measure where the bowl is so that you can place it back at that same spot). You are walking around with a tape measurer like a carpenter.

-Once we were happy with the setting selections, I started to cook the food and styled it. I was very careful as to how I was going to present my dishes. In the case of the soup for example, I did not pour the broth in the bowl before bringing it to the working table, but only once the bowl was not to be moved again. By doing so, the line made by the soup inside the bowl came out very clean. Details like this matter. As mentioned by Stretch and Sue his assistant, a food stylist works with different types of tweezers to arrange the food and change details if need be. Long or small tweezers are great. In other words, it is a very detailed-oriented work which requires a good bunch of good manual and technical skills. A misplaced piece of crab and it is all you can see in the picture.

Things to be careful about:
*make sure there is no dust as it shows right away on the picture, even if you cannot see it while shooting (using an air blower to remove the dust or crumbs is helpful)
*clean properly the pieces of dinnerware you choose
*take your time to arrange the food, so that it is neat and clean
*think about decorating pieces such as leaves of fresh herbs, different coloured salts, spices that can bring colour and enhance the contrasts in the picture

Camera equipment (I felt shy taking pictures with my camera when I saw Stretch’s equipment. Worth more than I can imagine spending on a camera for sure!) I even forget the brand name to tell you the truth aside that the company is Swiss Swedish but should you be interested, I can find the information. Note added: after asking Stretch, here is the info: Hasselblad H1 medium format camera with a PhaseOne P25- 22 megapixel camera back attached.

Light is key (and we spent a lot of time working with different sources of light, looking at how the light was going to be reflected on the food, and what reflecting pieces (such a piece of white board placed on left side of the dish) to use. The resources are endless and you can be very creative. All it takes is practice and understanding how light reflects on the subject.

-Be prepared to accept that your first styling idea might turn out to be the wrong one. Work with it as the food shot goes on.

Special effects can be needed. In the case of my soup, by the time we might have been ready for a final shot (and you never know when that is until you continue shooting and everyone is happy with the shot), the soup was obviously cold. No more steaming soup. I reheated it but since we were shooting from so close, it was hard to see the steam. So we worked for at least half an hour trying to figure out how to create steam (you become a real handyman). We used a steamer (yes very similar to the one used to remove wall paper), and small tubes to diffuse steam better behind the soup. In short, you need to be resourceful.

Retouching the pictures: once the shots are done, the final editing piece occurs. We did not have time to do this part (Jenny at Stretch Studio is the Photoshop expert) but I will be able to show you the pictures post production once Jenny processes them. In the meantime, here are the 3 shots we accomplished in the day, pre-production:

Photos by Stretch Tuemmler, Food Styling by myself

So this was my day during a food photo shoot. I would like to extend many thanks to Stretch and his team for having made this day possible. I learned a great deal and enjoyed every bit of it, including sharing the food afterwards. Ben quand même! When you do food photography, it is essential to be well fed, otherwise I call that food torture.

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  1. Wow Beat!! GREAT POST! Thanks for revealing the tips/tricks that the pros use for shooting food. Like you, I wouldn’t have minded bringing some of those props home. 😉

  2. Hi Bea, thank you so much for sharing all that! I had no idea so much went into a singe photo.

    Wish I had drawers full of props when I was photographing, but I already drive my boyfriend insane making him wait for his dinner while I try and a get a decent shot…

  3. oh my goodness! it was so neat to see pictures of them taking pictures of your dishes! those are the untouched shots?! they look amazing! i cant wait to see the final products! congrats!

  4. Bea,
    How did you get so lucky to have your dishes professionally photographed? Thanks for sharing such an interesting experience, and I will be dreaming of those boxes full of props, I know!

  5. Thanks for all that info Bea. I would love to spend a day seeing how the experts work. My small kitchen is becoming overrun with props I keep picking up for my food photos.

  6. Hi Bea
    What an insightful account into the world of food photography and your specific role as the food stylist. It seems that you got a lot out of the day, and have imparted some valuable tips to your loyal readers. I can’t wait to see the finished images, willl they be published?

  7. Bea, This is fabulous! How exciting for you, we will be able to say that we knew you before you were famous… I think that your photos are fabulous anyway without the ten million dollar camera. bises, Riana

  8. C’est magnifique et très impréssionant!! Malheureusement je n’ai pas le “matériel” pour faire les photos de cette façon, je n’ai qu’un simple petit appareil numérique!

  9. Merci de nous faire partager l’envers du decors… on culpabilise moins de la qualite de nos photos tout de suite…

  10. super interessant… j’ai beaucoup rigolé en voyant la taille de l’objectif qui mange littéralement le plat à photographier!!! et ça permet aussi de me décomplexer.

  11. Ouah ca c’est super interessant, je n’avais jamais pensé qu’il y aurait combinaison entre studio de photo et cuisine. J’adore les boites bien rangées, ca fait rever toutes ces boites, pleins de goodies. Merci pour le reportage, maintenant je sais pourquoi tu as toujours des photos a nous faire palir d’envie sur ton blog. 🙂

  12. C’est dommage je ne comprends pas très bien l’anglais…..
    Je voulais moi aussi prendre contacte avec un pro….

  13. Hi, followed the link from flickr 🙂 this was a great post! I’m envious of the studio’s kitchen!

  14. Bea, congratulation, what a very interesting experiences… i suppose you just feel comfortable preparing the food for the photography as you are used to be doing that for yourself…

  15. Bea, the pics are fabulous, and thanks so much for sharing all this information with us! One question: how did you manage to make the avocado stay that beautiful green? I always use lime juice or lemon juice but it still only stays a really nice color for a bit, then it starts going gray. Any tips?

  16. Thanks so much for this fascinating glimpse into the world of food styling and food photography. I very much enjoyed reading this lovely post, Béa. Well done!

  17. Merci beaucoup de nous avoir montré un peu l’envers du décor.
    J’ai l’air “minus” avec mon p’tit numérique à côté de ce super objectif !

  18. i loved the carefully placed herb flecks on the spoon shot – very precise!!! ( must have been the tweezers in use,no?)

    your photos are already incredible – i could not imagine them getting any better! but what fun that would be to spend a day learning more about the science behind a great shot. thanks for sharing your experience – i am inspired, as always, by what you do. 🙂

  19. Oui d’accord, come tu dis c’est professionnel tout ça !
    Alors ce n’est pas vraiment la peine de s’y attarder, si ce n’est pas curiosité et soif de connaissance, car avant que j’ai un zoom de cette taille relié au pc, les projos qui vont avec, etc… il neigera dans le Sahara ;o) lol
    Merci pour la leçon, ça sert toujours, en fin de compte, n’est-ce-pas 😉
    Mais toi tu dois déjà être bien équipée vu tes photos.
    Moi mon ami c’est photoshop pour l’instant mais seulement pour des fonctions très simples en ce qui concerne mes photos de blog car je ne veux pas trop les “arranger”, authenticité oblige !
    Merci encore.

  20. Bea,

    You know, I’m always impressed and a little intimidated by your photos. Your blog looks stunning. I always wonder if food bloggers with amazing pix on their sites ever get impatient when taking those photos. When I’m hungry or something’s getting cold, I don’t want to tinker with a camera—I want to eat! Of course, that partly explains why the photos on my blog are rubbish.

  21. Comme ce reportage est passionnant! j’ai trouvé super le coup de l’ordinateur directement branché pour voir la photo en direct live! quel talent quel travail, je ne suis pas une spécialiste mais c’est vrai que ça donne vraiment envie de s’améliorer!

  22. Wonderful blog, and thank you so much for sharing the process of food photography! I always wanted to know, and now I do! And as usual, your food and photos always look amazing and makes my mouth water 🙂

  23. Wow ! Je sorts de ma torpeur toilesque pour te féliciter ! Quelle chance tu as eu de pouvoir connaître cette expérience ! C’est drôle parce que l’autre jour je me disais que tu ne resterais pas longtemps sans devenir une food stylist de renom… Mais je suis d’accord avec certains commentateurs, je ne vois pas trop la différence entre ces photos studios et celles que tu prends d’habitude — je ne dis pas ça pour “ruiner” ta journée mais pour te féliciter, bien sûr 🙂

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  25. very informative post – Bea! Thank you so much for sharing your experience with all of us.

  26. Je n’ai pas le temps !!! il faut que j’y retourne !!! j’ai la chance d’avoir un ami qui travaille dans le milieu de la photo et quand il nous a raconté un moment passé avec Artus Bertrand… c’était tout comme toi et cet article passionnant… tellement que j’y retourne pour essayer d’en comprendre un peu plus… de toute manière celui-là je sens que je vais me le faire traduire !!!

  27. this was wonderful to read/see – thank you so much for documenting it for all of us to enjoy.

  28. Bea, I have not yet had a chance to read through all of the replies, nor the beginnings of your site.

    However, I like so many others am bowled over by your expert and delicate touch at arranging food and surrounding in such a deft manner. While it’s probably a lot of work on top of what you do,I’d love to see the continuation of such posts. The ins-and-outs-,in addition to the beautiful poetry of your ‘everyday’ bloggings.

    If I could actually speak French, it would probably sound really cute if I could say what a gem you are- so just know it, and please, keep it coming. You are a real highlight in my day!

  29. Thanks so much for posting these pictures and adding your commentary, it is a very interesting and informative read. And the food looks absolutely delicious.

  30. I’m so impressed that you made this happen. The photos are beautiful, and your summary is fantastic. As I said before, I am so envious and inspired to try to find a local photographer I can watch for a day myself!

  31. fantastique, tu as certainement passé une journée magique, toutes mes félicitations et j’espère que tu vas avoir beaucoup d’autres contrats.

  32. thanks for sharing those tips with us! I really like the photo of the avocado crab stack!

  33. I am in utter amazement. No wonder my pictures look so awful. Those are stunning.

    So how did you arrange that day?

    oh and you are using one of my favorite olive oils.

  34. Bea, merci pour cet article passionant. Il a fallu que je revienne, je n’avais pas le temps de lire et de tout regarder la premiere fois. Bravo et cheers a tes succes futurs.

  35. Ninnie, Catherine, Kat, Clare eats, Kathryn, thanks a lot!

    Rowena, yes wish I could have brought many props home. What would they do with those anyhow! 😉

    Cecile merci

    Tejal, yes myself I saw that the process is longer than I thought!

    Anita, I contacted them, and after a chat about my blog etc, they suggested it.

    Audrey, yes my kitchen is also getting so small!

    Gastrochick, yes I will get the pictures when I have them. They are also sending me a print which I am very much looking forward to!

    Riana, thanks you are too sweet!

    Clairechen, oui, cet appareil est plutot impressionant! Tant de pixels!

    Debo, non pas la peine de culpabiliser. On n’a pas les moyens de se payer du materiel comme cela sauf si on est professionnels!

    Astrid, oui pas mal, hein! et le bazar oblige. Je passe ma vie a ranger! Vive les lave-vaisselles 😉

    Barbichounette, vas-y! 😉

    Fabienne, thank you!

    Mel, yes the kitchen was very nice, with a great nice clean look and lovely light!

    Relly, well, I was nervous all the same you know! You never know what results you will get! It was difficult to choose the dishes I was going to prepare. I am glad I did not choose icecream!

    Stef, yes lime juice on the avocado is key. Prevents discoloration. But cannot be kept until the next day anyhow. Has to be eaten the same day.

    Thanks Tania, I am glad you enjoyed it.

    Sylvie, non pas minus. On fait avec les moyens du bord, pas vrai?

    iamchanelle, thanks so much for your lovely comment. I feel flattered I am providing inspiration source!

    Thalie, mon appareil n’est pas si performant en fait, je souhaite un SLR que je n’ai pas encore. Mais bientot j’espere!

    Yulinka, that is sweet of you to say that. No need to be intimidated. Yes I hear you, I had to work around that problem about eating food cold, as it can take time to shoot photos, until you are happy with them!

    Mercotte, merci bien. Oui, l’ordi relie a l’appareil, c’est super cool. Idealement, c’est vraiment beaucoup mieux comme cela.

    Sandra, ahahah, you are funny!

    Kai, thanks so much!

    Dianka, thanks 😉 well, I am not sure whether I blew them away, but they liked the food 🙂

    Liza, ahahh, tu vas prier pour cela tous les soirs, tu me promets, juste une petit priere! Mais si, e t’assure, j’ai beaucoup de progres a faire! On devient tres critique de son propre travail!

    Thanks Sam!

    Dorian, oui, il te faut un traducteur en ligne! Je serais curieuse de connaitre ce que ton ami a dit de son experience!

    Thanks hd connelly!

    S’kat, I feel really touched by your note. When one writes and does something, one can have a hard time knowing how it can be received. I feel very happy that my notes and little stories are highlights in your day! Very sweet of you!

    L, I think you would have a blast and should definitely try to make it happen! With your photo blog and knowledge, you could document it so well!

    Merci Anne, on espere! 😉

    Shaz, yes the crab appetizer is pretty good I have to say!

    Thanks Paul

    Gabriella, I just contacted them and we arranged it 😉 Easy like this.

    Gracianne, ahhah, tu es drole!

    Merci ooishigal.

    Once more, I am very pleased you find it as interesting as I find it interesting to live it. I look forward to next time!

  36. Wow, c’est vraiment sympha. Tu as pris ton temps de repondre tous nos commentaire. Moi je saute comme de sauterelle, pour voir quelques blog que je apprecié,et j’attend toujour ton livre. Et toi qu-est ce que tu attend…he he.

  37. What an interesting post! No wonder they get their shots perfect. Although I think you do a great job with yours even without that heavy equipment. I always get inspired by your posts.

    One thing though… Sorry to be a smart-arse, but Hasselblad is not Swiss! It is Swedish. I had to correct that cause Viktor Hasselblad started the company in my very own hometown in Sweden and I’m pretty proud over that considering they totally changed the photographic industry. I’m not suprised you got this wrong information though cause Americans always mix up Sweden and Switzerland. We are pretty sick and tired of it… I’ve heard: “Oh, yeah you do watches and cheese with big holes, right?” so many times that nowadays I just smile and say sure 🙂

  38. ahah, merci Relly! Je ne sais pas ce que j’attends, tu seras mon premier acheteur!

    Hi Carin, ah yes thanks for your note. My mistake! I guess I did not remember so well when I asked Stretch. And since I did not know the brand, it did not click! 😉 As far as I am concerned, no worries, I know where Sweden is and where Switzerland is too 😉

  39. Wow! Wow! Wow!

    First of all what an exciting opportunity for you to get this chance. I can’t believe the studio and the equipment … it’s all so state of the art.

    The dishes you prepared were incredible! I especially loved the second picture … the one with the spoon. I almost wanted to reach out and taste it!

    But most of all I loved your indepth description of all the work that goes into styling and photographing food. So very different from what goes on in our kitchen.

    Well done! I can’t wait for you to have the chance to do it again!!!

  40. Pingback: Fotografía de comida » Foto Digital México

  41. Amazing! Bea, you are fab! I have loved your blog and pics from the minute I laid eyes on them and now you have blessed us with this insight. For a beginner like me this was so helpful and a plain thank you seems so lame – but still THANK YOU!
    I hope someday I can be so confident about my pictures that I can get a pro photographer to spend a day with me.
    You inspire us all to achieve challenging goals.
    Huge hug for this one!

  42. Vu la qualité de tes images, je pensais que tu étais photographe.
    Mais en fait, tu es styliste culinaire, c’est bien cela ?

    Désolée, je m’y perds un peu en anglais…

  43. i’m somewhat new to food blogs but yours is over-the-top!!! Whooooaaa!!! Anyway, today I WAS shopping at a really fabulous fresh market shop (fabulous for Chicago, that is)and i came upon Black Radishes!!! So i bought 2 not knowing what to do with them, but remembering you wrote something about them is a recent blog——like they have a really pungent smell. but how do you prepare them? Cook them? eat them raw??? i couldn’t find the place where you wrote about them. i think they’ll last for a few days. HELP!! WHAT DO I DO WITH THEM?????
    – TRENT

  44. Bea, I might have told you the wrong info on where my equipment is from. The Hasselblad camera is from Sweden and my PhaseOne digital back is from Denmark. My view camera which I also use with the digital back is Swiss, as well as my lighting system and camerta stand. Sorry about the mix up.

    It is nice to hear such positive feedback, I saw the day as very successful. Great job Bea!


  45. Bea, I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life on food shoots as an art director (and lately a photographer) and I’ve never seen anyone touch on the most important aspects of a day’s shoot as you have here. I think it’s brilliant and I want to applaud you for giving everyone a view into the world of food photography!

    If you are ever in Los Angeles I’d be honored to have you accompany me on a shoot! Consider it an open offer 🙂

  46. Thanks Ivonne, I hope it will happen again indeed!

    Meeta, that is a very nice comment that you are making! I feel flattered. I am happy to hear you benefit from it!Thanks again!

    Marie-Laure, ni l’un ni l’autre pour le moment, mais j’adore les deux!

    Tarzile, merci! Ravie que cela t’ait plu!

    Thanks Trent. You must have received my email, right?

    Hi Stretch, thanks for the clarification! And for such a great day indeed! I think many food people here are jealous of your equipment! 😉

    Matt, thanks so much for your sweet note. It was such a nice instructive day. If ever in the Los Angeles area indeed, I would feel very flattered and pleased to accompany you on a shoot! Hope it will happen!

  47. On se rend bien compte que l’on accroche plus vite aux recettes avec de belles photos, c’est cruel mais c’est ainsi ! La cuisine est un art et les gens ont besoin de rêver… et avec tes photos Béa, c’est clair que nous fait rêver, tu nous donnes faim même après manger ! Le reportage était super intéressant sinon, et je pense que l’on est beaucoup à chercher la photo parfaite ! Encore bravo à toi en tout cas.

  48. Thanks Sid.

    Lilo, merci bien à toi. Je suis bien touchée par ton gentil mot!

  49. Hi! Thanks for all this info on food photography, I’ve just started to shoot my own pics and these tips will be extremely useful. Cheers. Tatu

  50. Hi Bea – what a fabulous experience! Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us. Gorgeous pics.

  51. Thank You for sharing your experience. Who knew how much work goes into one photograph. I feel a little better equiped at food photography even if its just for my little food blog. Thanks!

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  54. Hi there. love your blog ?
    any food photography workshop soon ???
    please let me know,Thanks.

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