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Food Photography: Notes from the Kitchen Studio

A number of readers have commented on the photography here, sometimes with questions about lighting and technique. So we have today a guest post by the photographer himself, my dear husband, Jerry Redfern. As some of you might know, Jerry is a photojournalist with nearly 20 years of experience in an evolving profession—from newsroom darkrooms to digital technology to the utter disappearance of newsrooms, period. Jerry mostly photographs people and stories, but he brings the same journalistic eye to his shots of food. Here’s what he has to say:

Thanks to all for the recent comments on the photography. I thought some of you might be interested in how I shoot pictures of food for Mrs. Rambling Spoon.

The short answer is: very simply.

The photos of chard a couple weeks ago are a good example. I was about to cut the stuff up for dinner (Tip A: Take pictures of what’s in front of you), and I paused because I thought it looked cool. I got my camera from the dinner table (Tip B: Keep a camera close) and a flash from my office, and I spent about 15 minutes arranging leaves, and finding that the strobe looked best when filtered through a couple of jars of chile powder and reflected off a baking sheet (Tip C: Use the tools you have).

I shot with an old, manual-focus macro lens because I wanted to get up close (Tip D: Often making a photo is an exercise in deciding what not to show) and because it’s what I have (See: Tip C above).

Most of the shots in those 15 minutes were for chimping as I adjusted the strobe, angle and aperture to get enough light and enough depth of field so the pictures didn’t look funny (Tip E: Make sure blurry, soft, or dark picture bits are supposed to be blurry, soft or dark).

The photo of the pomegranate was even simpler. It was lying on the kitchen counter with the morning light falling on it through the window above our sink. I think I moved it a couple of inches so it was better lit, and I was done shooting in 5 seconds (Tip F: If you are going to remodel your kitchen, get nice, big windows and solid-color countertops).

Lastly, any light is good light, if you take the time to work with it. Plus, it’s really hard to photograph in the dark.

And double lastly, I take pictures of people the same way—very simply. Rarely, though, do I find people lying on my kitchen counter in the morning.

This photo was taken in the Cambodian village of T’aek, on the banks of the Mekong. The two women above talked with Karen about the scarcity of big, healthy river fish (a growing problem); and the increasing incidence of villagers selling their land for much-needed money, then having to rent that same land in order to farm it. The women are sitting beneath a house belonging to the woman on the left. The light comes from two strobes, one to the left and another to the right, balanced with the exterior light through the magic of chimping.

4 replies on “Food Photography: Notes from the Kitchen Studio”

I was brought to your website via a foodie friend. she knows I’ve been venturing into cooking thai this year. i bought a Thai cook book and immediately turned to the Mussaman page and dove in. predictably, it did not match up to our local Chadaka Thai restaurants version. But I don’t give up that easy. SOOO… i will attempt your version, which from a glance seems a bit more complex to make, but every ingredient makes my culinary lips smack. i will keep you posted. Also your husbands entry about photography turned a light bulb on in my head. I shoot macro-photography (not so much with food), but his simply lit set-ups are genius, and i can’t wait to give that a shot too. perhaps I’ll photograph the mussaman and send it to you. Cheers from lovely downtown Burbank CA

Joseph, welcome! Thanks for visiting, and I wish you the best in your cooking and photography. Let me know how the Massaman curry goes. Happy New Year.

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