Finding Inspiration When You've Hit a Wall
Post + Photos by Nicole S. Young.
I’ve had the honor of talking shop with Nicole Young before, most recently during our Google+ hangout, and one thing is always clear: Nicole loves what she does. You may regularly see her stunning work on iStockphoto – the Photoshop expert is also a leading food photographer and blogger, whose latest book, Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots is not only an excellent visual tutorial, but also a treat for the foodie eye. In this post, Nicole takes us behind the scenes to her new loft to shoot a tasty stir fry. Learn a few pro tips for turning a delicious meal into a tantalizing photograph, and try to get too hungry while you read!
I enjoy photographing food, mostly because I love food, cooking, and shopping for kitchen and dining accessories. The great thing about food is that I’ll never, ever run out of dishes to photograph, but sometimes I just lose my excitement about creating food photos. Maybe I get lazy, or I’m just overworked and can’t focus long enough on a solid idea to really wrap my brain around it. I’ll hit a wall, a “mini” wall, but I feel creatively drained and lose my motivation. It happens to all of us, but all it takes is a little motivation to boost that excitement and feel the need to create again.I’ve found myself at this mini-wall for the past month, and I needed some inspiration.
The other day I was out shopping at Crate and Barrel and found some accessories that were just gorgeous, yet very simple, yet also very elegant and perfect props for a photograph. Then I started to think about those soba noodles that were sitting in my cupboard, and the pieces started to fall into place. The next day I walked out to the market to pick up fresh veggies and seafood (another way I get inspired to photograph food), came home and cooked up a meal. It was perfect, and exactly what I was hoping for. I just needed a small dose of inspiration to get me back on track.To create this photograph I first set the stage with the dishes and props. I always set up the camera, dishes and lights, and also get my exposure in-camera before cooking the food. Food spoils and wilts quickly, so my goal is to always get the area prepped so that when the food is ready it is ready to be photographed immediately.
Next, I start cooking the food. All of the food I prepared for this meal is edible, but I do cook it a little differently when I know it will be photographed. For example, I blanched the green veggies before adding them to the stir-fry so they would be much brighter in color, and I set the noodles aside in a small amount of oil to keep them shiny and prevent them from sticking together.
Once the food was all cooked and ready to go I added it to the bowl and did a tiny bit of styling to make it look presentable. To ensure that the noodles wouldn’t sink too low in the bowl and look flat, I added a small upside-down bowl that would help bulk up the pasta. Next I placed the noodles in the bowl, used my fingers to help curl them and move them around, and then I added some of the other ingredients and placed them throughout the dish so that they were spaced evenly. Lastly, I put a beautiful juicy prawn on top to finish it off.
To light the dish, I used back-light (I have very large Northeast facing windows in my loft) and filled them with white foam board. I also softened the window-light a bit with a diffuser, and used a piece of black foam board directly behind the setup to cut down on reflections. Just before pressing the shutter I also added some fill-light to the front of the food to add a little bit more light and color to the photograph.