Food Photo 101: Shooting BBQ

March 25, 2008 in BBQ, Food Photo 101

Another view of BBQ pork butt

(Dark and delicious BBQ’d and smoked pork butt)

I am sorry that the next class in this series has taken so long to produce.

Today I am going to step away from technical and aesthetic foci, be a bit less formal and try to tackle some of the challenges of shooting BBQ’d foods and scenes for your blog.

Some of you, like Curt, may have a preference (or obsession) for BBQ so many of your images are going to have similar BBQ related needs.

Whole trout with asparagus, key limes, and grapefruit

(Whole trout with asparagus, key limes, and grapefruit)

When I think of BBQ I think of my backyard and mostly grilling, which is not BBQing at all.

Charcoal for grilled fish

(Charcoal for grilled fish)

Grilling is, I think, much easier to shoot because the grill can be better lit and you are not trying to capture the unctuous depths of a pit smoker.



Mozzarella stuffed blue cheese and basil hamburgers

(Mozzarella stuffed blue cheese and basil hamburgers)

Whole trout on the grill with asparagus

(Whole trout on the grill with asparagus)

Pit Smoker

B.T.'s BBQ: Boston Butt Pork Slow roasted pit BBQ

(B.T.’s BBQ: Boston Butt Pork Slow roasted pit BBQ)

Both cooking methods can give you similar problems – mainly dark, lumpy chunks of delicious meat that is mostly not photogenic or not nearly photogenic enough to equal the beauty of it’s flavor.

BBQ pork butt

(BBQ pork butt)

It is also hard to “food style” away the essential darkness of a perfectly smoked BBQ’d pork butt because that, in person, is what is so arresting in its beauty. In a photo, the pork butt looks like it has been burned and dried to inedibility (when, in fact, its smoked and moist).

BBQ Pork Ribs

(BBQ Pork Ribs)

Another problem with BBQ and grilling is that its a shame to lose the context by focusing too closely. If you show just the BBQ’d rib you miss the dramatic smoky grill, pit, or smoker. This means you might want to shoot outside and then lighting becomes less predictable (but exciting too). To do any sort of ambient outdoor shooting you need to master your manual settings, shoot lots of shots from many angles, and be patient!

BBQ beef ribs

B.T.’s Smokehouse: Slow roasted pit BBQ beef ribs

Go for detail, interesting point of view, drama, and emphasize context whenever possible.

B.T.'s Smokehouse: Slow roasted pit BBQ beef brisket, pork butt, chicken

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: Slow roasted pit BBQ beef brisket, pork butt, chicken)

Did I mention that you should be patient? Be patient with yourself mostly because you need to take the time to capture many alternative shots but you need to also take the time to go through all of those shots and asses which ones work, how they happened and also identify those that didn’t work. Those that didn’t work can be helpful teaching tools for you so that the next time you will know what to avoid (not that you would take any fewer shots, just that the ones you do take will likely not repeat too many of the previous mistakes).

Slow roasted pork butt

(Slow roasted pork butt)

I have been including various shots above from my own grilling and BBQ. Next I am going to show some images from a shoot a couple of weeks ago that I did at Brian Trietman’s B.T.’s Smokehouse (see these two blog posts: An improbable meat nirvana in a BBQ wasteland, Criminally Good Smoked Salmon and Bacon – B.T.’s Smokehouse). I was shooting inside of his mini-restaurant and I had no special plates because I wanted the location and the non-fussy nature of the BBQ to show through.

I took a flash head but did not end up using it. Below you can see a shot of the set up – a table by some windows and a fluorescent light overhead. The light coming in from the windows was super-bright bluish light bouncing off of the snow outside. By far, the most dominant light was from the windows.

B.T.'s Smokehouse: insanely delicious smoked salmon - setting
B.T.'s Smokehouse: insanely delicious smoked salmon

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: insanely delicious smoked salmon)

I wasn’t that happy with the light in that location and my attempts to bounce didn’t give me much sparkle as you can see below.

B.T.'s Smokehouse: insane smoked bacon

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: insane smoked bacon)

I did some other shooting in the mini-restaurant/service window but didn’t do much outside because the snow was just too much for getting much of a shot. I used my Canon 30D kit lens for the general shots below.

B.T.'s Smokehouse: smoked beef jerky

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: smoked beef jerky)

B.T.'s Smokehouse: bacon for smoking - seasoning

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: bacon for smoking – seasoning)

B.T.'s Smokehouse: ribs for smoking - seasoning

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: ribs for smoking – seasoning)

Your Task

Using everything you have learned in the past Food Photo 101 classes, go out and either shoot your own BBQ (I am sure Curt will because he has quite the set up and I am looking forward to seeing it!) or perhaps find an event where some real pit BBQers are doing their thing.

Post it to your blog and send us your link or post it to the Food Photo 101 group on Flickr.

Thats it! I am looking forward to seeing what you all submit.

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Food Photo 101: Lou Manna’s Food Photography Workshop

February 26, 2008 in Food Photo 101, photography

Copyright 2008 Lou Manna All Rights Reserved

Copyright Lou Manna All Rights Reserved

If you want to take your photography to the next level where you are using more than ambient light, where you are using strobes, then professional food photographer Lou Manna can be your gentle guide.

As I mentioned previously, you can register for this course through Workshops@Adorama. The next class, Digital Food Photography: Creating Delectable Images, is on March 2, 2008 – a Sunday, 10am to 5 pm. It is held at his studio at 126 Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District, one block from Adorama.

Lou is simply fantastic. He is not rote in his approach, rather, he makes you feel like he really cares if you get what he is teaching you. The moment you walk in the door you immediately feel welcomed. He has teamed up with another food photographer who is also a chef, Dennis, who cooks lunch and the food for the shots later in the day.

Manna Class: Another food photog cooking for us

When I walked in the door, I was shaking and strung out because I had the most horrific drive into NYC.

Lucky to be alive

I had the misfortune to take a NY State garden parkway that was icy and wholly untreated. My car did donuts, floating in circles, rammed backwards up against a stone wall and came to rest facing traffic in the left lane (no breakdown lane on the left, just me and on coming traffic and an icy frictionless road). Two other vans swerved to miss me and flew into the guard rail, totaling them both. No one was hurt and my car started up so I was able to get out of the left lane and keep the pile up from continuing.

Lucky to be alive

Even though it had some $2,100 worth of damage, I was able to limp further on into NYC for the class and then get home.

Lucky to be alive

Anyways, I was hell bent on going to that class and was determined to enjoy it because I had been dreaming about it for years.

I thought I had come a long way but there were attendees who came from Chicago and even Istanbul, Turkey specifically for this class. Talk about commitment to learning food photography!

The first thing we did was pop our CD roms with our sample photos into one of the seemingly endless number of computers in Lou’s loft. In fact, we were surrounded by this fantastic mixture of technology, photographic studio equipment, food styling supplies, and century old NYC loft architecture. It was a bit dizzying!

Manna Class: environment

It was great to see what other people were doing, such a great breadth of experience. We then took a break to grab some of the delicious lunch that Dennis had made for us (and which made the loft smell amazing all day).

We then got to see some of Lou’s huge body of work that spans all of the sorts of food photography that you can imagine. He does the most luminous, cheerful, bright, vibrant work. Toward the end of this we began to talk about the mechanics of how various images were shot. This was the segway to the next activity, setting up the lighting and related studio stuff to take great food photography!

We started with some of the hardest subjects you could shoot, wine and beverage bottles.

Manna Class: setting up

The image above shows some wine bottles that he was shooting. When working with liquid filled glass, you have to work really hard to make sure that the reflections and internal refractions and shapes all turn out pleasing in your photo. He would put up mirrors, meter light, put up dark forms, vellums, adjust lights, all the while taking test shots which we would see on a tethered giant HD flat screen TV.

Manna Class: test shot

The set up for any one shot can grow into an amazing array of all sorts of light modifiers. Its sort of neat to watch it grow and change to meet the needs of the subject.

Manna Class: setting up

Here you can see how complex it can get.

Manna Class: setting up

Manna Class: setting up

Manna Class: setting up

Lou does some amazing shots for Partida Tequila. Below you see a diagram he shared with us mapping out how he shot some of those tequila bottles.

Copyright 2008 Lou Manna All Rights Reserved

Copyright Lou Manna All Rights Reserved

After the bottles, we moved on to food shots.

Manna Class: Manna shooting

I have to say that I loved the entire day and I learned many things, one of which is that I need to get a light meter to cure some of my strobe issues.

When it came time for us to do some food shots, I did a tiny bit of styling and then shot a bit but my hands were still shaking from the accident (adrenalin can really kill your dexterity) so it was sort of hard, much harder than I usually find when at home.

Manna Class: Test shot

I would recommend this class wholeheartedly.

If you are not interested in the use of strobe, some of this may not be for you. If you want to master food photography and bring consistency to your work, the hallmark of professional photography, then use this workshop to enter the path to harnessing those pesky photons!

In search of a few good themes ..

February 16, 2008 in Food Photo 101, Meta Talk

my workflow

I thought I was blocked before, the hacking didn’t help matters. I strongly urge you all to backup your databases and all blog related files. You wordpress people, you need to upgrade and not delay.

I also suggest that you keep an eye on those plugins that become classed “dangerous” because the wretched small-minded hackers have figured out how to exploit the plugin’s weakness to access your blog. In my case I am thinking its the forums (wp-forum 1.7.4) so I have disabled it. I am sorry to you all who use it but right now I have to figure out two things: a secure forum and then how to import everything from the current forum onto the new forum system.

The forum is not my highest priority right now tho because I have to do the following:

  • write up my Lou Manna post
  • find, test, and customize a new theme
  • Write the next food photo 101 class (so darn behind from all this disruption and I am so verrrrrry sorry)
  • catch up on my other posts!

There is more but I am trying to concentrate on these few things.

I am sorry if there are parts of the site that do not work correctly yet, thats part of the process. You may also find that the theme changes erratically from visit to visit or even during the same visit .. I am testing new themes when its like that. Sorry if it makes you feel dizzy!