Thursday, July 14, 2005

I'm ready for my close-up

noisette et pruneaux
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Last week found me biking to an industrial building in Verdun to visit a professional food photo shoot. Les Chèvres' pastry chef, Patrice, was working on the pictures for his cookbook and he invited me to come and have a look. I am glad I did. First of all, the pictures they've done so far are incredible. True, his desserts are beautiful, but God knows a bad picture can ruin a beautiful subject. (And the reverse is also possible: a beautiful picture of a bad subject.) The best thing I learned was all the smoke and mirrors involved with food photography.

Flipping through copies of glossy cookbooks can cause serious lifestyle envy for some. I count myself among those who dream of summering at the Vineyard, hosting clam bakes, and having drinks poolside. I don't even have matching silverware. Gorgeous pictures of food, as seen in said glossy cookbooks, make me feel woefully under-equipped and under-funded. I found the antidote to this affliction in Verdun, or at least the cause.

Entering the space, you feel like you're in a long-forgotten storage unit used by a film production company. The lofts are cavernous and filled with large shelves. These shelves are filled with random things, like pieces of cloth, various glasses, boxes, some hunks of wood... I made my way through the different photo shoots until I reached the kitchen studio. A small table was set up for the plated desserts, surrounded by lights and screens. A huge camera was aimed at a piece of wood set on top of a mauve cloth. It looked so surreal. I couldn't help but look past what was framed by the camera: the wires, the mirrors, the piles of random props.

I took the photo above of the noisette et pruneaux dessert from a different angle than the photographer did. It looks like any old snapshot of a plated dessert. In this case, it's a hazelnut cake with caramelized hazelnuts, poached prunes and, oh-oh, was it chevre ice cream? You get the idea. A classic winter dessert. The picture, once it was taken, was so much more than the sum of its parts. The same hunk of wood and scrap of cloth suggested a rich leather sofa beside a fireplace in fall. You could imagine the cigar smoke lingering, the brandy, the dog sound asleep at the foot of the ottoman... After the Hunt, I called it. It was incredible how much they did with so little. And this was only the first picture.

For the next dessert, the mood changed completely. A few changes to the lighting, surface, and colour evoked a lovely farmhouse in spring. The sun was streaming in through the screened off porch. My mind wandered from the house and into the charming country garden. The peonies which have been there since 1921 bloomed in profusion. The children were always careful not to disturb the flowers.

I watched them take five different photographs, each with its own style. All of it was done with only a few props. Of course their camera was top-of-the-line, but otherwise it was very simple and understated. These people are professionals. They took great pleasure in photographing Patrice's beautiful desserts.

Patrice Demers' book will come out in October. I highly recommend it, both for the recipes and the photographs.



Anonymous said...

If you want that soft-focus look that so many food shots I've seen have, you've got to zoom in bigtime, then move back/forth to set your framing. If you have "macro" mode on your camera, use it. Unfortunately, digital cameras are not as generous with the out-of-focus as film cameras (due to certain technical mumbo jumbo I won't bore you with). But maybe you already knew that. Okay, shutting up.

I think you can get closer to the plate, too. And maybe at a lower angle, which will help with the out-of-focus. Again, shutting up...

Is that a tiny reflector on the right-hand side of the picture? Or some kind of utensil?

Ana said...

I know what you mean. About a month ago I purchased a new digital camera that can shoot pictures much closer to the subject. Although better, I find that the flash gets in the way sometimes. My son borrowed my halogen lamps, the ones you buy at Canadian Tire. I've been thinking of using them to light the food instead of relying on the camera flash. Will get them back and try my theory soon.

Having said all that, I think that some of your pictures are really pretty and very professional-looking. Have you thought of submitting one for Does my Blog Look Good in This?. The deadline is July 21.

michelle said...

S.J., I am so bad with the technical aspect of photography. I recently found out what the little flower button is for: macro. Anthony is better about these things. I took the snapshot a bit further from the plate to give an idea of what the setup looked like. Yes, that is a tiny reflector. Isn't it cute? The final photo taken by the pros is nothing like mine. They were all over that soft focus thing.

Ana, nothing can compare to the gear that people who do this everyday have, but that's their job. I rarely use the flash, instead, I try to keep very still and use the natural light. This might take a few tries due to shaky hands, but it's worth it for the warmth. Thanks for the tip on Does My Blog Look Good In This? I have been meaning to do an IMBB since #6. I even missed some perfect-for-me themes. But tea, not to be missed. I will post if it's the last thing I do...

Thanks for reading, take care, Michelle

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