I’m so excited to be working with budding food stylist Kristina Nichols-Wolter. We recently worked on a dog food shoot together and worked so well that I wanted to try out some test shots with her. Test shots are an artistic collaboration between photographer and stylist so they can work together creatively without the parameters of a specific client assignment. Test shots are great for portfolio-building.
Prior to the shoot we discussed the artistic vision. I imagined a rustic pub scene with a messy, juicy burger served on pewter and an icy cold beer to wash it down. Kristina and I discussed props selection and she brought different linens, pewter dishes and beer mugs from her vast collection. The pewter dishes didn’t work out as planned; it turned out that I could get a better angle by showing the burger siting directly on the table with just parchment paper underneath. We skipped linens because that now seemed too fancy for a place that serves beer on parchment paper. Kristina brought an amazing antique beer mug with a diamond pattern in the glass and it felt perfect to me. I imagined the beer glass mirroring the diamond-shaped leaded window panes of a rustic British pub. Once we had the prop styling selected, it was time to build the set and prepare the food.
For test shots, we just shot at my home studio, basically setting everything up in my large living room adjacent to the open kitchen space. I set up the rustic wood planks for the background and placed the props in the set. I needed an item to represent the final hamburger to get the moody lighting just right. In food photography we use “stand in” dishes to mock the real item which is called the “hero”. Food deteriorates quickly on set, so it’s important to have a good stand-in and time schedule coordination between the photographer and food stylist.
Kristina worked on cooking the burger and getting the food styling just right. She used extra lean ground beef so that the burger would hold up well and not be too greasy. She brought a mason jar of rendered bacon fat with her (because heaven knows I don’t have that at my place!) to melt and glisten the burger. My favorite part of the photography is getting the lighting just right, and watching the food stylist work their magic. Macro lenses pick up every detail in the food, which is why it’s so important to place everything exactly where it should go. As a studio food photographer, I shoot tethered, which means there’s a live preview of the images on my 27″ i-mac screen. This way I can be certain that I have the shot before moving on to the next shot.
Once we got the burger looking just right, we worked on the beer pour and the final barbeque sauce dripping from the burger. Kristina and I worked simultaneously, she applying the sauce to the burger with a dropper and me pouring the beer and adding salt to get just the right foamy head. I took my “safe” shots while my camera was on the tripod, and then took the camera off the tripod to experiment a little with different angles and close-ups. For the final shot, below, I combined two shots in post-production; one with the perfect beer foam and the other which had a nice drip and fallen onions on the parchment paper.
Check out the final result below. It really looks like a juicy burger being served in a rustic pub setting, rather than my home studio!