A guest blog by photographer Constance Higley.
Food, gatherings, and storytelling have always been such meaningful aspects of my life. Growing up, the dinner table was the pinnacle of everything in our home. It was this sacred space to sit, relax, laugh, and simply enjoy each other—almost as if everything else in life merely existed in order to make that part of the day possible. Breaking bread together is one of the most impactful community-building experiences, transcending generational gaps, cultural differences, religion, race, political strife, etc.
I believe that the stories told around the table, the stories of the people at the table, and the stories of the people who help to create that experience are of utmost importance. So, I'm sharing five tips to help you effectually tell and celebrate the stories of all involved in this process, whether it's for a commercial shoot or around your table at home.
KEEP THE STYLING SIMPLE
It’s very easy to over-style an image. Remember that props (dishes, flatware, textiles, etc.) exist to support and compliment your subject matter, not to compete or overshadow. Make sure that the composition makes sense. Ask yourself why you’re using the props that you are. Are they appropriate for the story you’re telling? Are they superfluous? Make sure to only include props that are necessary in telling your story. For example, if you’re baking something that doesn’t require a rolling pin, don’t include one in the image. Spend time familiarizing yourself with which knives are used for what purposes, which utensils go with which course, which wine glasses are used for Chardonnay versus Merlot, etc.
More often than not, solid and neutral colors are the best options. In most cases, I tend to avoid graphic, patterned, neon, or bright colors. That being said, I don’t avoid color all together. Subtle complimentary colors can help to accentuate your subject matter. For example, if your dish is a yellow pasta, a light blue table cloth can help to highlight your main subject.
UNDERSTAND THE FOOD
If you’re working with a chef, you’ll most likely not need to alter much, as they’ve typically spent hours figuring out how to plate and display their masterpieces in a way that best represents their hard work. If you’re not working with a chef, be sure to familiarize yourself with the dish as much as possible prior to shooting. Know it well, and create it a couple of times before capturing it. You’ll come to find that some proteins look better when they’re a bit undercooked. Some desserts will hold better if they’re frozen prior to shooting. Embrace the trial and error model here, and you’ll surely thank yourself!
Additionally, small portions are your best friend here. They’re more visually appealing and much easier for the viewer to process.
The goal is that everything in your shot appears fresh and appealing, and different foods have different shelf lives. Are there tricks to make everything last longer? Of course! However, I’ve found that nothing really beats a freshly plated dish. For example, produce starts to lose its vibrant hues, items meant to be served chilled or frozen start to sweat, food that has a natural glisten starts to look dry, drinks that foam (beer and champagne) start to look flat.
While you can always whip out coconut spray to add glisten or a dash of salt to bring back the life to your glass of champagne, I believe the best trick you can have up your sleeve is experience. Experience always brings with it confidence and speed, and those two can be your new best friends when working with subjects with a short life span.
SHOW OFF THE BEST ASSETS
When composing the shot, decide what the most important component is and what angle is best for capturing that component. For example, in a citrus salad, grapefruit wedges can play a really beautiful, informative, and photogenic role. Fruit wedges have a natural glisten and shine, so move around your dish to find the light that best accentuates that aspect. For a medium rare steak, it’s important that you show how the meat is cooked. For a meringue pie, a side view to show the peaks is a must. Is your coffee or soup steaming? Make sure your composition highlights that steam.
SHOW THE PROCESS
Process shots add a sense of humanity and draw the viewer in. They also act as a sort of thread that weaves the entire story together. Focus on the farmer and his routine, the chef in her element, and the community that is being built through gathering around the table.
Process shots also allow you to display aspects of the dish that may be better shown in motion while serving or plating. For example, maple syrup being poured onto waffles, chocolate ganache being spread on a cake, powdered sugar being sprinkled onto pastries, wine being poured, fresh pepper being cracked, etc.
Ready to start taking some delicious shots? Here's a few questions to keep in mind while styling & shooting:
- How is the light highlighting the most important elements of the dish?
- Is the environment complimenting the subject or competing with it?
- Do the props involved make sense for the subject matter?
- What is the best perspective or angle for this dish?
- Does the food look fresh and appetizing?
- Have I created enough contrast for the image?
- Does the styling represent the brands/chefs/makers in the best way possible?
- How can incorporate the human element into this image?
"It's what's on the inside that counts." The ol' adage may have good intentions, but when it comes to the presentation of your photos, it's dead wrong. Every interaction with your clients, right down to their fingertips wrapping around a freshly-delivered package of prints, is a chance to make a lasting impression that invites them to work with you again. Which makes what you put on the outside just as important as what you put on the inside.
Need a little inspiration? Using Richard's elegant packaging in ROES and some simple customization (either DIY or here at the lab), you've got the perfect finishing touches to make every deilvery a special one.
Psst... get 20% off prints & packaging right now during our sale!
EARTHY & EFFORTLESS
Pair a kraft box with a sprig of something special and a handwritten thank you to give a simple, personal touch that feels au naturel.
CONTRAST & COLOR
Give 'em the old razzle dazzle! Use bright, monotone hues (like coral) on the outside to make dark and moody images pop once they lift the lid.
STRIKING & SIMPLE
A little drama never hurt anybody... a lustre black box tied with Richard's twine is an impressive, professional base for almost any brand style. Try stamps on the inside (or outside) of print boxes to further stylize your packaging!
ROMANTIC & REFINED
Ribbon, anyone? Adding a custom tie is an easy way to transform our rich cocoa boxes... Add a poetic quote to spark some extra passion.
SWEET & SPIRITED
Bring on the whimsy using misty turquoise boxes packed with confetti and confections (yummy!) alongside your prints.
Who better to photograph life's most important moments than your best friend? Well, that's the approach that photographer Audra Wrisley takes—capturing magical moments with the same compassion and dedication that a clients' closest companion would. Based outside of Washington, DC, Audra has cultivated her passion for analog photography from the darkroom of her college to the fashion photography scene in New York to her studies in Barcelona for art direction. She's sharing how she ended up doing what she swore she never would (shooting weddings!) and why her journey from film to digital and back again has reconnected her with what she loves most about photography, today in Richard's Photog Spotlight!
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Audra Wrisley: I’ve always been a bit of an observer, and I think this is what naturally led me to photography. I love being in nature and connecting with people through the camera, especially since I’m more of an introvert! I fell in love with the freedom of photography, and being able to capture fleeting moments has always felt magical to me. Before I started college, I followed my heart and at the very last minute, decided to change my major from from premed to photography. The darkroom amazed me, and I fell head over heels with the whole process of making photographs.
R: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big one... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?
AW: Although I’ve had some killer side-gigs as a nanny, waitress, and everything in between, I’ve had my heart set on photography since the beginning. I feel really lucky to be able to do what I love for my job!
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
AW: My husband and I love to travel frequently, and capturing new surroundings is always so inspiring. I also love shooting beauty and editorial work, and I really enjoy collaborating with other creatives on projects.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
AW: When I graduated with my BFA in photography, I swore I would never photograph a wedding! Fast forward to today, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Although I think it’s always a challenge to find that balance with creativity and making a living, I try to be selective with my work, and make time for personal projects. Shooting film has given me the freedom to spend more time shooting personal work and traveling, and less time behind my computer, which is amazing!
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
AW: Like many film wedding photographers, I rely heavily on my Contax 645. Its speed, reliability, and incredible Zeiss lens is unmatched. Although I'm sure I'll eventually fall in love with another camera, I wouldn’t dream of using anything else!
R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it today?
AW: My very first memory of shooting film is from childhood, when I was finally allowed to borrow my dad’s 35mm Minolta. I fell in love with the process of shooting, and although having to wait to get my photos was torturous (and still is!), the reward when the photos come in felt like Christmas morning! My mom even blew up one of my first photos in a big poster print in my room (in case you’re wondering, it was of a butterfly).
Although I shot quite a bit of film when I was in high school and continued to in undergrad while studying photography (oh the darkroom days!), when I started to work professionally it made sense economically to switch to digital. After a few years of shooting and spending SO much time behind my computer editing, I realized that I had slowly gotten away from what I loved most about photography—being behind the camera and not my computer. Film has many incredible aesthetic qualities, which is why I continue to shoot it, but perhaps the main reason is because it hands down makes me a better photographer. The process of shooting film and having only 16 frames per roll, metering light, and really thinking about each frame has forced me to slow down, absorb a moment, and consciously frame each image with intention.
R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?
AW: As a film photographer, the lab is such a crucial part of your workflow and has such a huge impact on the final images! Since my digital days, I've cut down immensely on my editing time behind the computer, but that is only possible when the scans I receive in my inbox look exactly like I want them to. Having a Color PAC with Richard has been one of the best investments I’ve made! I love that they ‘get me’—down to those nitty gritty details, like how I like my pinks and greens, and above all, those gorgeous skin tones. Being able to communicate easily and openly with Richard has been crucial to maintaining consistency in my style and my work.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
AW: I'm a little OCD when it comes to prepping for a shoot, particularly when it comes to my gear. The night before, I spend an hour or so getting new batteries for everything, unwrapping film, wiping lenses, getting the MoneyMaker in shape... you name it, it's ready to go. I like to spend the morning of a wedding day or big shoot pretty quietly, with a great cup of coffee and a nice walk with our pup, Garcia.
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
AW: I’ve got a pretty eclectic ‘pump-up’ mix! I love a little old school Jay Z, rocking out to Lenny Kravitz, and some great reggaeton is usually what’s on my go-to playlist.
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
R: Dogs or cats?
R: Modern or vintage?
R: Breakfast or Dinner?
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
R: Early bird or night owl?
AW: Early bird.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
R: Batman or Superman?
AW: Let me ask my nephews!
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
AW: Historical non-fiction.
R: Comedy or Drama?
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
AW: I’m kind of an undercover hippie at heart, so I’d love to hang out with plants all day, or have a little shop with handmade natural candles, soaps, & products.
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
AW: I’d love to be invisible! I think as photographers we spend a lot of time as wallflowers, waiting and watching for these amazing moments to happen. Although I love interacting with clients, I’d love to switch a little button and go incognito for awhile!
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
AW: “Gezellig” is a Dutch word I love, and it has no real English translation! My husband is from Amsterdam, and although I'm not the best at speaking Dutch, I'm very slowly learning enough to keep up with conversations. Although it doesn't quite capture it, the best I can explain it is that it's a mixture of cozy, intimate, and fun—imagine a nice backyard dinner with friends with lots of candles and wine. So gezellig!