Before & After

Translating a great food plate to the perfect picture in a magazine. By Carly Peters

A food magazine minus tantalizing photography in nothing more than a bland cookbook. The glossy images set in the pages of Bon Appétit Magazine or Martha Stewart Living is what gets readers to stop, stare and purchase. But, beyond wiping away drool, many of those readers give little thought to how that image came to grace those pages. There’s more to translating a delectable dish in to a photo than placing down food and taking a picture. Just like any model, the right light, angle and photographer/subject communication is needed to achieve page-licking success.


Jeff and Tara Miller of 100-Acre Woods Photography have been honing their culinary shooting skills for several years working as exclusive photographers for Culinary Team Manitoba and numerous other restaurant clients. Both agree, a good food shot starts with great communication.


“When we’re setting up a shoot we really try to work with the chef, not just the restaurant owner or kitchen manager. Chefs tend to be very meticulous about their plates, how the garnish is placed, presenting the best looking product available,” says Jeff. “We find a happy chef, makes for a good shot.”


Tara adds they also work with the chef to ensure the plate is balanced, not just in the proportions of food, but with colours, and textures. They also try to let the ingredients speak for themselves by having them “stand-up” in the shot. They then decide whether additional props, such as a beverage pairings, are required to make the shot pop.


“When you look at the picture it has to have that initial impact, but after that it has to tell a story,” states Jeff. “If you place an item on a plate, people will look at it. But, if you have a beautiful piece of chicken, then a glass of wine, you’ve now created a mood, or a story. It’s a big task to create those said 1,000 words in the one picture.”


And, keeping the food looking it’s best requires more than just one plate of perfection. Jeff states, when possible, they request the chef prepare at least two plates of the same dish since the life-span of food is about five to six minutes. They use the first “set plate” as a stand in for lighting set-up and test shots, then the “hero plate” is brought in for the final scene.


While lighting might take a toll on food life-span, it certainly can make or break the look of a photo.


“If you shoot something straight on, with just a camera flash, or nothing at all, the image falls flat,” says Tara. “With the proper lighting it wraps around the object and creates something that’s three dimensional.”


Tara, who is the artistic side of the photography pair, is an adept judge of light and angles, allowing her to understand where shadows will fall from the natural light, and in-turn place their lights in response. She also employs props, such as mirrors, to bounce light and bring out the best in the dish.


All this preparation before actually shooting a single photo ensures that Jeff and Tara will have an almost print-ready photo.


“As a trained commercial photographer I was taught to shoot as clean as possible, getting it right the first time as opposed to fixing the image in photoshop later,” states Jeff. “As a photographer you may not know how quick the photo needs to be turned around. You may not have the time to correct things. Plus, it really allows you to maintain creative control.”


He adds when a culinary photo is over-corrected in post-production it becomes more of a piece of “art” rather than real food.


“Our biggest suggestion to restaurants when we’re working with them on a shoot is don’t create a false scene,” explains Jeff. “If you don’t use square plates every day don’t have them in the shot. If your food looks a certain way, you don’t want to appear differently in a photo. You want to show the viewer the real experience of the restaurant and the food.”

Get Shot

Jeff and Tara Miller, of 100-Acre Woods Photography, both suggest restaurants spend the time and money on professional photography for restaurant and food promotion.


“It’s about creating a brand. When you see a photo of a McDonald’s burger or a Subway sandwich you don’t even need to be told it’s their food, you just know it,” says Jeff. “Restaurants will spend thousands on renovations, or branded napkins, but will try to cut costs with photography. But what if someone goes to your website, or sees your ad, and those renovations, napkins and food don’t look as nice as they do in real-life because of a bad photo? You lose the customer’s interest.”


Jeff and Tara, with their fully-mobile studio, can help establishments achieve their brand vision within restaurant walls, giving the viewers a glimpse into the real dining experience. They also have a stock of props to create the correct mood, or styling required for the shoot.

Dragon Express making your life easier?

In this section of the blog you will find us talking about and reviewing equipment, software other tools that make our job easier. Since this is not a paid endorsement we will even tell you what we don’t like and why.

Being a photographer and not a speed keyboarder I am always looking for software or apps that will make life easier both on the road with the iPad and at home on the computer. For the iPad I am always looking for writing app’s so when I am making notes during a meeting I can quickly jot down info and concentrate on what the client is saying rather then fumbling with a virtual keyboard. I will be reviewing some of those applications in upcoming blogs but today I wanted to talk about a program I purchased for the home computer.

From the Apple App Store I downloaded an App called Dragon Express ($49). Dragon Express is a dictation software program that will convert your dictation to an email or word document. It will even allow you to open programs on the Mac but that is not why I bought it so I haven’t played around with that part of it. I will admit there is a bit of a learning curve to it but if it is 85% accurate then it is saving me time and then I just have to scan for errors.

I am looking forward to using this software on a regular basis, it will save me allot of time when I want to blog. Based on reviews of people that are more heavy users this might not be the friendliest piece of software but the other piece of software that they compare it to call Mac Speech is $199 so for my minimal usage of the program it will work just fine. Next blog I will be talking about the Nikon GP-1 gps and how it works great for commercial and landscape photographers.

Manitoba AG Days 2012 and Social Networking

Is your company attending or displaying at Manitoba Ag Days? How do you plan to keep your facebook and twitter followers up to date? With the end of CWB Single Desk there is going to be extra attention paid by the public and farmers a like to hear what is being said and by who. We will be out again with or great friends from Agriculture In The Classroom capturing the days events.

We are excited to team up with KAP to provide the next 4 cover images for The Farmers Voice. If you are looking for current Manitoba Agriculture images send us an email or give us a call and we will gladly send you out a sample catalog.

Coming up on February 8th and 9th  2012 we are very excited to be photographing the Special Crop Symposium and it also marks the first time we will be having a display both as well, where we will have the chance to showcase some of our finest work.

Using my vision for Help Portrait comes easy for me

Tomorrow I will be involved in my fist help portrait and can hardly wait to hear the thank you in people’s voices.

I won’t be able to see them as I take a photo of a mother and her child, or grandma with 3 generations smiling as proud as can be. but I can capture the moment in time for a family keepsake. I know in my heart what I am doing tomorrow will be a wonderful experience where 15 years from now, mom can look at a photo of her children all grown up and think back to this day.

What makes it more special is that we as professional photographers can share our talent and work together on this project to give back to the community.

I am a professional commercial photographer who is legally blind. I use my skills and knowledge to capture the image successfully by not being scared to tell the client I can’t see and them helping by me posing them at a close up range, I am proud of the portraits I create. Whether it’s for a paying, or non paying client, that never matters to me. Everyone gets my attention and concentration to put people in their “Happy” place. Everyone needs to feel special and all little girls need to pretend to be a princess in the world today.
Full eyesight does not always guarantee a great shot. I use my vision to create an image.