I recently flew to London to be a student for a day on a William Reveall Food Photography course level 1. Since creating this blog, I’ve become increasingly hooked on food photography and that combination of presenting dishes I have created through the best possible pictures. To date I have improved my technique by reading specialist books, talking to other photographers and accruing better equipment. But I still struggle to get that perfect picture. And so I have been really looking forward to this course knowing that Will was going to help me achieve those dreamed-of shots.
Six of us turned up for the Saturday course. Will was welcoming and put us all at ease straight away. We started the day sat in his kitchen with coffee and croissant while he went through the basics. The atmosphere he created left us able to check our understanding, ask questions, seek clarifications. Shutter-speed, aperture, ISO – I work with these and thought I had an OK understanding of their essential interrelationship, but there is nothing like a professional explaining them and going through the detail. As the session developed, Will watched us all working and helped us achieve some fine tuning. A particular highlight for me was moving my camera from automatic to manual with, I suddenly realised, a new sense of confidence that I was getting the light, speed and focus where they needed to be for the shot to be right. This was very exciting.
Part of the course was Will taking us through the history of food photography. He used great examples of photographs from the 1980’s to modern times. I’ve struggled to come up with a relevant style of food photography, but the 80’s shots contrasted with contemporary styles showed me just how different food photos can be and helped me to think what I want as ‘my style’. Here’s an abbreviated summary of just how things have changed:
Lots of studio lights with a golden tinge
Less food and props in each image
Sometimes almost messy
We moved into the studio next door and Will set up three areas where we could practice food styling and taking the shots we wanted. We talked about light source, positioning the food in relation to the light and our cameras in relation to the food and light. We looked through the props (crockery, fabric, paper, cutlery, other bits) that Will had in the studio. Will’s assistant Jo, of Paleo Crust, then produced roasted vegetables out of the oven and we were ready to plan our main food shoot. Working in pairs, the six of us built scenes which had a story and which matched the food layout and props we had chosen. Then we started to take photos.
What’s a food story?
I’ve read about this concept in food photography before, but I hadn’t really understood it. Will’s course helped me understand it better. These two photos were taken side by side on the same table with the same light. But the food and the props create two completely different ‘stories’ with each having a different ‘feel’.
Black and gold paper background
Precise, layout or styling of food
These 3 components lead to a contemporary feel to the shot. The food story could be that we are in a smart restaurant and this plate of food has just arrived on the table.
White painted table background
Kitchen tea towel
Relaxed positioning of food
Glass of water with lemon
These four components combine to create a relaxed kitchen feel. The sun is shining in on the tomatoes. The food story might be that we have just returned from a visit to the market. It’s a hot day, so we have a glass of water and the lemon cut for the water is also in the shot. Perhaps the tomatoes are a little wet from the market, hence they are on a tea towel on the table.
As the day went on I think there were two things that really stood out for me that I learnt.
1. Attention to detail is all important
2. Take your time
I can be a person who is keen to do the thing and get it done, if you see what I mean. So I’m moving on to the next bit before I’ve perhaps properly finished the preceding bit! For me the implicit part of Will’s course was that photography doesn’t really work with that approach. You have to take the time to look at each piece of the scene. There’s a lot of detail to be considered both with the naked eye as well as through the lens and with continuous experimentation to produce that perfect shot.
With Will’s help we, Emma, who I was working with and I had created this scene. Will then came over and looked at what we had created critically.
• The lemon is at position nine o’clock on a clock face. Will changed this to eleven o’clock.
• There is a ruffle in the fabric by the fork. Will opened up the fabric, so this ruffle was hidden.
• We moved the parsley from the top of the scene to the side, so we could see more of it and it balanced the shot.
• The light is coming from the left hand side. Will put up a black screen so that there was less light in the corner of the water bottle; this gave it a slightly moody, more interesting feel.
• He then used a white foam board on the left hand side near the fabric to bounce light from the window onto the pasta itself, so highlighting the food in particular.
It’s all small stuff but important stuff, and the overall result is a more interesting photo, that makes me want to pick up the fork and get eating!
Here are two more shots, the first one is our attempt and the second is Will’s improvement. Again it’s all little tweaks, but the overall effect is clear.
After lunch it was back to food styling. Jo appeared with a tempting layered-sponge and together we created a scene to show it off to it’s best. As I said, getting the right shot takes time and here are some of things considered in this cake shoot:
• choose the right table for this shot,
• find one fabric only to decide it wasn’t quite right, so chose another and then find it was creased so Jo kindly ironed it,
• check the cake for it’s most photogenic side,
• work with direct as well as reflected light,
• find the best (i.e. the most photogenic, not necessarily the best tasting) strawberries in the punnet and positioned them carefully
• position the background, so you can’t see the rest of the studio,
• add or remove props as needed e.g. a chair was added for the second shot.
Then we took some photos!
Then to give us an experience of an action shot Will sprinkled icing sugar while we took turns to get our best shot.
The course has left me with a whole new lot of confidence to take the photos I want. I’m looking forward to getting back into the kitchen and then getting my camera out.