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How I Shot It: Food Photography

A post by freelance commercial and editorial photographer, food stylist & writer -Andrew Scrivani – one of the course presenters at next weeks Creative Live Photo Week.


In food photography, most of the time, the art direction we receive is pretty straightforward. I like to start by discussing the color palette of the piece. The season of the year can certainly influence how I approach the shoot. A regional theme or ethnicity that needs to shine through the images may also drive the selection of the propping, table surfaces, linen, and extra food items that may appear on the set. These are the sort of discussions I have when shooting food photos that tell the story of a particular recipe, a certain ingredient, an event, or the style of a particular chef.

I have said in the past that food photography has two concurrent compositions. The first is the food itself. What the food is, where it comes from, and how it is prepared and plated is the first part of the equation. The other is the frame that you put that food in: propping, setting, and scene. The combination of these two should allow you tell the story that you intended to tell.

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Occasionally, I get asked to flex a little mental muscle and make food pictures that go above and beyond these traditional elements. The images I am focusing on here did not begin with a food story, so to speak. They started with an abstract concept, an idea of how to illustrate the crossroads between food and beauty. We needed to illustrate how certain foods are part of your “beauty tool kit” — like make-up brushes, tweezers, eyelash curlers, etc.

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The art director and I sat at a table with a pad and pencil and started to scribble notes and sketches on what we could do with pomegranates, tweezers, raw fish, makeup brushes, coconut water, edamame, eyelash curlers, and “grass fed” beef. Several of these came together in flashes and ‘aha’ moments as we paired a tweezer with an open pomegranate and placed the soy bean pod in an eyelash curler.

The fanned-out tails of the fish and the makeup brushes made for a natural juxtaposition that was really pleasing to the eye and avoided reminding you of a dead fish. We also felt really confident that we could show a beautiful Porterhouse on a bed of grass to underscore to its grass-fed origin.

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We hit a stumbling block with one of the items that was essential to the story but exceptionally hard to fit into our established theme. We had to show that coconut water was part of this “tool kit.” Coconut water, having no real color or texture, was difficult to pair with any of the beauty items. So, since we had maintained a consistency with the rest of the images by using a piece of hot-rolled steel as our table surface to give a little nod to the industrial notion of “tools” we felt that the thread was strong enough to not include an actual tool. The second part was trying to avoid shooting any packaging of a commercially available coconut water and not doing the obligatory “coconut-with-a-straw shot.”


The final result was arrived upon in this shot where after draining off the water from a fresh coconut, I smashed the shell with a hammer and used the shards as design elements in an overhead shot. The idea here was to show a dramatic and striking composition that really hit home the idea that these foods, included in your beauty regimen, are powerful partners in looking and feeling your best.

The overall message here is that whether you are trying to tell an obvious story, or one that requires a little bit of imagination, every single visual detail should contribute to the story the photos convey. The reader shouldn’t have to read a single word to understand the story the photos are telling.

For more food photography tips, check out my blog and my upcoming creativeLIVE course during Photo Week which starts on Monday.

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Andrew Scrivani is a New York based freelance commercial and editorial photographer, food stylist & writer. Andrew’s work has been seen in magazines and newspapers worldwide including, The New York Times, Eating Well Magazine, La Cucina Italiana, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. His work is also currently featured in international advertising campaigns by Red Lobster and Sargento Cheese.

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