prepping for a food shoot
“But I really think that white plates work well in photos!” I say quite adamantly.
“No, kalaban sila ng camera,” (they contrast too much with the camera) the photographer replies. “Go and look at any cookbook and you’ll see that there are hardly any white plates used.” (I did do just that, and I beg to differ, my man.)
This is a conversation that I had last week with a photographer. He and I have been commissioned by a major food company to style and shoot for one of its projects. At the pre-prod (pre-production) meeting last week, we got along pretty well, except that we had issues over using white plates. I love my white plates, whereas he insists on texture and color, including black, which I’ve found difficulty shooting on.
Anyway, at the shoot today, I do end up styling on two white plates. It works well enough from what I see on the photographer’s iMac. The photographer clicks away, but not before his assistant takes a paintbrush – and to my utter horror ”“ starts retouching what I’ve just styled! A little swirl of the potato here, a smack-dab of oil there ”“ my god, so what the hell am I doing here?! The bloody photog’s got his own food stylist! Not only that, the photog thinks he IS a food stylist!
“Could you add more potatoes to this dish? All I can see from my lens is the bowl.”
“This placemat needs to be ironed, please.”
“I need a teaspoon and a saucer.”
It’s quite a humbling experience.
I am all but seething at seeing my creativity tampered with. I sit shocked, staring at this photographer’s superstar assistant who has come equipped with oil, a paintbrush, placemats, even a food torch! I mull half-seriously about walking off the “set,” with a defiant fling of hair, head held high. And then I stop. What hair? I have the shortest hair in the world! Walk off the set? Who am I kidding ”“ the shoot is taking place in my house! Besides, unprofessional is one thing I’m not.
Fortunately, the client who commissions me is someone I’ve known for a while, so when she finally arrives at the shoot, I bitch to her in hurried, fierce whispers. “I never said I was a food stylist,” I mutter bitterly chopping intensely at the peppers I need to fry. “I just do this for a hobby, you know.”
Before long, we are deep into the shoot. I put aside my smoldering cauldron of repressed irritation and quickly shift into the photographer’s flow. He takes about 30 minutes to shoot one dish (re-touch included by the superstar assistant, ahem ahem); so I focus on styling each dish according to what I’ve originally planned, and hand it to him. I begin to see that my concepts for the dishes work, the assistant simply polishes what I’ve done. Like I said, it’s a humbling experience but I do end up watching (and learning!) quite a few tricks. This photographer has been in the business much longer than I have, so I see that it’s only natural that he knows more than I do. And the shots do turn out beautifully.
I can’t help but gawk at the immensity of his equipment. My house has turned into a mini studio. There are big lights, at least two umbrellas, reflectors in various forms, a light meter that emits a little “beep”, a kickass laptop. There’s even a bed sheet, or at least that’s what it looks like to me! My little camera is looking like child’s play right about now.
Soon, I settle into a rhythm and after the shoot, I’m back to my lovable self. We all enjoy the buffet lunch that I prepare from the leftover food that isn’t used in the shoot. It’s terrific and everyone leaves stuffed.
As I clean up my kitchen, I can’t help but think that styling for myself is a universe, nay, an entire constellation (!) away from styling for a client. I have more fun when the only person I have to please is myself. Photographers (and their assistants included, ahem) are also a different kind of breed to deal with. I’m very grateful however to have these opportunities to interact and learn and better my craft. I can only be the better for it.
But I still insist that white plates look good in photos.