Photo Fridays: How I Set Up, Style, and Shoot

by Shawnda on June 29, 2012

in Photography & Props,Tips

Homemade Sriracha

I’m going to walk you through how I setup, style, and take a standard shot, start-to-finish. What you’ll see below is an accurate representation of how I shoot a recipe photo – especially the missing prop – with maybe 5-7 minutes extra to account for the extra stop-and-start points. Oh – the recipe for the subject, a homemade sriracha, will be posted next week.

But you probably want to move along and find out why I did what I did. And why I didn’t do what I didn’t… so let’s get started!

9:31am I push the coffee table over to the window and grab the following items from our-coat-closet-turned-my-prop-closet:

  • 2 boards – One will be the tabletop for my shot, the other simply a surface that I can prop up against a box and clamp on a poster board background. These tabletop/boards are super easy and affordable to make, you can find instructions here.
  • Black poster board
  • 2 clamps – Purchased at your friendly neighborhood home improvement store for ~$3 each
  • Reflector – Read more about using the “bounce and fill” technique here.

Homemade Sriracha

I already have a picture in my head of what I want the shot to look like. Now it’s time to get that image out of my head.

I also already know the color palette of the food that I’m working with and I use that to decide which color linens (if using) and tabletop to use. Because the sriracha is such a beautiful red-orange, I wanted to shoot “dark” so that the richness of the vibrant color really came through. I also went neutral/white – basic – on the rest of the objects in the image so as not to distract from the hot sauce.

9:43am I’ve just wasted 10 minutes searching for a beat-up, little shallow tin dish that belonged to my great-grandmother. Can’t find it anywhere. But I’ve gathered everything else I want for the shot from the prop closet and kitchen:

  • Homemade sriracha in a reclaimed Central Market jelly jar
  • A few “consolation prize” white dishes to replace the missing tin dish (at this point, I haven’t decided which to use)
  • Tea spoon
  • Neutral linen found in the remnant bin at the fabric store
  • Coarse twine
  • Scissors
  • Tepin chiles from the plant in our backyard (because I used them in the hot sauce)

Homemade Sriracha

Originally, I was going to cut a small square of fabric to use as a “coaster” for the jar. After I got started, I changed my mind and put the fabric away.

9:51am I’ve now washed my hands 4, maybe 5 times. You can ask my 2-year-old – these chiles are NOTHING to play around with. I’ve cut chiles, composed the shot about halfway or so, and then stop to take a top-down picture to check exposure and to look at the shot on my camera.

Homemade Sriracha

Thanks to some of the fabulous instruction I’ve gotten from some of the greatest food photographers anywhere, this is also where I stop to ask myself:

  • Am I heading in the right direction to get that super fab “this should really be in a magazine” (ha!) image that I had in my head?
  • Does the shot and styling make sense? Am I showing you homemade chicken noodle soup that I’ve poured into a carafe that I usually use for margaritas? Or am I presenting it to you in a way that you would actually recognize and serve the soup yourself. Or did I actually just put a knife and fork next to that stack of chocolate chip cookies.
  • Is my eye drawn to the food or is it distracted by all 15 of my props?

Then I move on to the finer details. I do spot a few things in the photo above that I don’t like: the spoon placement is awkward and the leaves of the pepper between the jar and round dish are facing the wrong direction and not catching any light.

9:53am Composition is mostly done, problems spotted 2 minutes ago are now fixed… but the spoon is still a problem and I find the twine shooting out of the top of the screen a little odd.

Homemade Sriracha

9:54am But first, I walk to the kitchen and take another pullback shot.

Homemade Sriracha

9:55am I like the exposure, the tweaks to the composition, but that spoon is still bugging the crap out of me…

Homemade Sriracha

9:56am AND THIS IS WHY. Scale. My tea spoon is far too big for the jar and the shot. By shooting overhead, it wasn’t so clear that I have as much spoon sticking out of the top of the jar as I do jar. (Sidebar: don’t be afraid to cut those pretty little paper straws down a couple inches so you don’t have 5 inches of straw sticking out of a tiny glass of milk.)

Homemade Sriracha

9:57am I run over to my little utensil box to grab a new spoon. And just like that, I’m a happy blogger. I take the final shot and the picture is in the books.

Homemade Sriracha

9:58am I reach into my camera bag for my USB cable and I find an open tube of blue Toy Story toothpaste in its place. Typical.

10:12am I am my worst critic. I’m staring at the photos in Lightroom, seeing a couple of teeny tiny things that I wished I had noticed before. But because I made the rookie mistake of cleaning up already and the details really are minor, I click my “The Usual” preset and export the photos. For more information on how I edit, check this out.

The stats:

  • 26 minutes – That’s a little elevated, due to the extra stopping and trying to figure out what I needed to shoot after I got started. I’d say that I usually spend 15-20 minutes photographing each recipe post.
  • 21 photos – That’s nearly double what I’d take for a standard recipe post, my goal is no more than 12. I’ve wasted far more time than I like to think about in the early days of this blog… taking 40 shots of a recipe, only to waste even more time sorting through the nearly-identical pictures.
  • 1 recovered USB cable – found it in my daughter’s toy box.
  • 1 missing prop – still haven’t found it, but it’s definitely not where it belongs nor is it in my daughter’s toy box.

You can check out my Photography page for a collection of tips, tutorials, and FAQs to get a little more information about the photography that you see on this site.

So for those of you that has asked to see my setup and want more information on how I style a shot… did that kinda sorta help at least make things a little clearer? Even just a little?

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