In this blog series, I'll offer some glimpses into what it's like to attend our culture photo shoots, and give you a behind-the-scenes perspective on how some of our most beautiful photos were created.
Until I became a food editor, I had no idea about what was involved in photographing foods. You need a good photo of a Brie, you say? Here's what I might have done previously: Simply swing by the cheese counter and buy one. (Duh, right?) Unwrap it, place it on a plate, turn on an overhead light, and take a few shots. Maybe cut out a slice and photograph that. If, by chance, there's a blemish on it... hey, that's what Photoshop is for, right? Wrong. Oh, so wrong. As I've come to learn, creating high-quality, appetizing-looking, realistic, and publishable photos of food is never, ever that simple.
Styling and photographing foods is an art form, and it's one that requires a ton of planning and hard work. For our culture photo shoots, we spend weeks collaborating with writers, cheese advisers, and distributors to select and pre-order cheeses and other necessary "prop" foods, as well as essentials like plates, silverware, cheese knives, and napkins. For every cheese we shoot, we typically have at least one or two extras, just in case. Same goes for non-edible props (you wouldn't believe how many cheese knife body doubles we have, just in case).
Each shoot typically has a food stylist. Just as celebrities and models have professionals on hand at photo shoots to apply makeup and style hair, our cheeses also have experts who work to make sure that the foods are being shown at their very best. And these food stylists (and sometimes cheesemongers) are hired and brought into the planning well in advance. Our art director communicates our goals for each photo to the stylist(s) and photographer, who then each spend some time of their own coming up with ideas for optimal plating, propping, and camera angles.
On the day of the photo shoot, everything and everybody comes together -- usually pretty early in the morning. Typically, a large feature (say, an article about a cheese style such as "American originals," or a spread on cheesy baked pasta dishes) requires at least five distinctive photos. And believe it or not, shooting those five photos can take hours!
To get things started, check out the shots I took during our shoot for our special-edition Cheese+ issue. This was a big action shot (as far as action shots go when you're talking inanimate dollops and slices of cheese). To accompany our Pairing Cheese and Honey article, stylist Eugene Jho is dripping honey over a gorgeously globby ricotta-topped baguette slice as photographer Jeremy Merriam snaps frames (top photo). The following photo is another shot of Jeremy shooting the honey-covered ricotta. And below, here's one of the images that the whole little setup delivered (we used a variation of this photo in the print magazine, on page 24. (Oh, yes, and then we gobbled this ricotta-honey goodness right up. Yum.)
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