I have cookbooks that just sit on the shelf, recipe cards that have come from one of those on-demand mail order services piled in a drawer, and even an endless list of favorited dishes online. But personally, my favorite place to search for something to cook is the recipe box my mother gave me a few years back. It sits so proudly on the counter in my kitchen, holding so many keys to my childhood.
Food is generational, it is something that brings people together, and it is where memories are made. Some of my favorite memories of holidays are making spritz and kolacky cookies with my mom, or the oven French toast she made every Christmas morning. Just the smell of any of those dishes reminds me of so many great times in my childhood.
So much of our lives revolve around the passion for food. It is how we celebrate our culture. It is how we show love and affection. It is how we pass down traditions. It’s what joins us at the dinner table each night. Food may be the one universal language that can bring people together. Bringing that celebration of food to life through photography is what makes it so beautiful to me.
Over the past 15 years as a photographer and four years as an art director/designer, I have found that capturing food is a unique challenge. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to capture the delicious shot. Just like cooking the perfect mole poblano, there are a lot of steps and ingredients needed to bring that story to life visually, but when you taste the end result it makes it all worth it.
PREPARATION IS KEY
Photography is more than just capturing a simple image or pressing the shutter. Just like a chef wielding a knife, mastering the tools is only the first step. Knowledge of the equipment with the right F stops, white balance, and shutter speed are crucial so I can quickly adapt to any variable that may arise. It’s important to know my camera and equipment like the back of my hand so I can focus on the creative rather than the technical. That takes any guessing out of a photo shoot.
Creating a mood board and a detailed shot list can also save a lot of time. This helps align the rest of the team to the creative vision and gives the chef and food stylist a timeline for each dish. It always helps me to quickly reference the shot list when I’m getting distracted by all the mouth-watering dishes.
A successful photo shoot is a balance between planning and trusting my creative intuition. I can create every mood board and plan every shot, but in that moment, I always try to remain nimble and expect the unexpected. Some of the most beautiful photographs were created from capturing the surprise moments on a shoot.
Include an example of an unexpected moment.
Another great bonus of shooting food is the ability to move around the space. Experimenting with different backgrounds and light sources can create an entirely different mood. There have been many times where I’m standing on my trusty step stool hovering over a table to get the perfect over headshot. It’s like photography gymnastics, and we definitely get a workout.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TEAMWORK
Photography is not made up of one person and a camera. In my experience over the past 15 years, what makes a great photograph is a great team. I have been so fortunate at Motion to have the best team of women I could have imagined on our Tractor Supply Out Here Magazine recipes. We complement each other in every way, and we also have a ton of fun working together at each shoot.
Ashley Bernick, our editorial director, is the left brain to my very much creative right brain and keeps everything on track (and organized) during our recipe shoots. She helps produce the entire production from start to finish, coordinating every detail and managing the entire process. Maddie Wojtalewicz is our right-hand gal, stepping in to assist on food styling, acting as an incredible photography assistant, and organizing all of our props. Finally, Carly Sabev is our talented chef and food stylist, who not only creates all the beautiful dishes but does all of the prep work AND appears in all of the videos of the recipes.
Include crew shots, and behind the scene shots of our shoot.
Through this dynamic team, we bring to life reader-submitted recipes that have been passed down through generations of TSC readers. One of my favorite parts is reading some of the handwritten notes that come with each recipe, understanding the passion and courage it takes to put their love and hard work out into the world. It reminds me of my mom’s recipe box and how each of those brings back a piece of my childhood. To be able to recreate that feeling from each photoshoot is priceless.
JUST HAVE FUN
Behind the lens, I feel like I’m at home. It’s like an old friend helping me craft a story through a visual medium. Whether through the recipes we photograph or the people and places we are resonating with from our readership, it’s a journey like no other. In fact, it’s the journey that helps tell the story. My favorite part of every shoot with our team is how much fun we all have. Usually, my stomach hurts not from the food but from laughing so hard. Food is meant to be celebrated, and we do our best to honor that.