Checking the color and the light on the light table.

Even worse using direct light.

I thought I was just kidding when I wrote the Photojournalist blog covers everything from sports to food styling. I thought I would be writing more sports photography blogs than food stories. Not true…….

To style or not to style that is the question? My recent Oscar Party shoot at Barndiva in Healdsburg answered the question: yes. The dishes and the drinks were named after nominated movies and my first dish was a salad inspired by the movie “The Artist.” Barndiva chef Ryan Fancher used a palette of colorful, local produce to create the painterly, palate pleasing Green Goddess.

Usually complex plating is a mess. A photographer’s job is to direct the eye across rame. What do you see first? How does the eye flow around the image? When I shot the salad from the side, there was no focus point. (see the examples below). Finally, I simply put the plate on the floor next to a large door in indirect light. A large reflector to the right fills in the shadows. The eye starts on the right side and lingers over the dish. This is one of those images that would look great printed 10 feet across.

The drinks needed some serious styling, and lucky for me Barndiva owner Jil Hales knows how to style. She named the rugged rye-based Salander, after the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the “slightly fey” vodka drink in the front, the Clooney. We started with a light table so the drinks would glow from below. As usual at a daily newspaper, I was assigned on the same day as the shoot, so no time for thinking or buying props. We first added the gold stars, then Jil produced the interesting ribbon when I hopefully asked if she used old 16mm film for decoration.

It looked good but still didn’t say Oscars. I place a small strobe triggered with infrared to the right of the table, increasing the glowing highlights. The twisted orange peel had to be the focus of the image, but it lacked elegance. The light bulb turned on and I challenged the bartender to carve me an orange peel piece of film. Forty minutes later and now we’re talking Oscars. Jil added the final touch: floating the stars in the Clooney.

Even worse using direct light.

Searching for the angle, but not quite right.

Checking the color and the light on the light table.

On a ladder looking down, not quite there yet. It needs more glow from a second light and the ribbon.


Finally, orange peel film and gold, gauze ribbon.


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