What a wonderful thought to begin a post about staging a photograph! I am compelled to remind myself and everyone following this blog that posing is not my cup of tea, unless the situation warrants it. Food photography is an exception to that rule in a lot of ways, staging is highly essential to add interest. Very rarely can you make plain mac and cheese look good in a picture, its the accouterments that usually make for a good prop to the mac and cheese, like the bowl its served in, or the half grated block of cheese on a wooden board with a few grated pieces and the box of pasta in the background. And then sometimes it is about presenting it as plain as can be without averting focus off the subject. I have a few examples of staged shots and a few that didn’t require any staging , whatsoever.
This is the simplest of all those ideas, one subject, no clutter and going in for a tight shot. The background is all white and there are no other elements to distract focus from the subject. Obviously, these are for times when you want nothing but full attention on the subject and the subject itself has an element of simplicity to it.
With this shot, the mini baklava bite has little nooks and crannies through which you can see the filling, its these shapes and the size of it that make for a slightly complicated composition. Given the equipment in hand, and after experimenting with white backgrounds, a simple wooden cutting board with a few of the ingredients carelessly strewn about(a.k.a staged) it made for an interesting picture that tells you what is in it, while not distracting from the subject itself. The wooden board is craggy and mirrors the lines of the mini baklava and the walnuts are just as oddly shaped as you can get. I kept the colors of all things in the picture in the same family and allowed light to play with the shapes giving it a more darker or lighter shade as required. This was photographed near a window so there are absolutely no artificial lights used.
Another example of a staged shot. When choosing a backdrop that has lines, it has to be staged in a way that all roads lead to Rome. Somewhere, in my mind, I am pretty happy with this picture. The colors on the place mat just add a very light warm pop to the otherwise cool color palette of the picture. This thought just struck me as I type this – styling a photograph is a bit like interior design, you want to work with that color wheel!
With this subject you don’t need staging, its colorful and has different interesting points on its own. Its got a certain symmetry from the panettone and the color of the berries breathe life into it. Another example of something that doesn’t require staging because of the complexity in the dish itself.
As a thumb rule for me, I find that shooting on a white bowl/plate always keeps the focus on the food and pretty much everything stands out on white. There are exceptions to this rule, try taking a picture of a rose’ sparkling wine against white, its just not the same as photographing it against a darker background with back lights.
And this is how you screw up the whole white background prop….take a neatly ironed napkin and place it under everything and shoot with all those distracting lines! Yes I do screwup and pretty often at that ….my experiments have been my greatest asset and learning tool. Ansel Adams also said , “There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept”. One thing I learned from John Greengo – always shoot a wider shot first and then start going in tighter and cropping is a good tool!
“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop” – Ansel Adams. I’ve quoted him a lot today but it just seems so appropriate and who are we really to argue with ANSEL ADAMS???