How I took the following ingredients and make a stacked shot of a sandwich: Sprouted bread, Arugula Pesto, Mashed Avocado, Roast Beef, Sundried Tomatoes, Molded Cheese and Microgreens.
This was a very technical image to compose simply because it had to be done before I took any shots. I like the look of it and yet I'd like to work on perfecting the technique. With ingredients in my possession, I set up a 9' white seamless lit with two strobes/umbrellas for the background. Sounds like overkill. I figured the luxury of space would make it easier to work. Next was setting up the platform to support the food.
I don't want to ruin anyone's day by suggesting I didn't shoot this in one frame so my apologies in advance. I picked an even number of items on the ingredients list so I could shoot from four different angles. I'll explain in a bit.
The next step was to set up a 1/4" thick piece of clear plexiglass as a tabletop. It had to be far away from the white background to not have light spilling onto my subject. I taped a fresh piece of 8.5x11" acetate on the plexi and traced a piece of bread with a thin Sharpy. Make sense?
This was my foundation. Have it in your minds eye? Once I had this template, I set up my tripod with a geared center column. With the piece of bread on the tabletop, I set four different points on my tripod column from eye level (for the ingredients in the center) to the final position at a higher angle (for the bread slices). I made sure the white background was silo'ing the subject at all positions.
Time to shoot food. I started wit the center items (cheese and microgreens) at the eye level position. For each ingredient, I placed a fresh piece of acetate over the one with the outline drawn on it. I would place the ingredient in that space and fill it while trying to imagine how it would look if it were in the top half or bottom half of this sandwich (basic gravity). Pairing shots and moving to the predetermined points on my tripod, I ended the shoot with the two bread slices.
The lighting was simple but very studio-esque rather than most food work with a daylight feel. I placed a bare head dead center and very close to the food so the falloff would be immediate. You can notice the hot spot at the center and the edges getting darker. I did this to hold your attention towards the center of the frame. The shadows on the tops of surfaces like the bread was done with a piece of black foamcore blocking the light. A little attempt at photo realism.
Silo'ing each ingredient was easy in photoshop since I had the pure white lit background. I took all eight layers and positioned them in what I thought was a visually intelligent spot while keeping in mind the printed page limitations. Luckily this was a full spread in the magazine but I wasn't certain of that at the time.
As with all things, I look back and say,"I wish I had done this and that better". For this shot I would have wanted the pesto and guacamole to look a bit more real. They seem a little too perfect and therefore a little to unreal. The tomatoes do have a sag in them which goes with the illusion of gravity and I may have played that up more. For a technical exercise it was pretty fun. My food styling skills were certainly the weakness which is justification for always having a professional food stylist on set.
Now that I'm properly hungry, I'm motivated to try another shot like this. If for anything else it's just fun! As a perfectionist, I see everything that makes it look like a composited studio shot and I want to find a way to push the illusion to be more photo realistic. Next time...
Let me know if you have any questions about food photography or whatever!