For this assignment, I have chosen Still Life photography; heirloom recipes as my approach. In my earlier works, I lack a certain emotion element in my images. In this attempt, I use vibrant colours in food to evoke emotions.
initial research updated on 15.01.16
Equipment preparation commenced on 29.01.16.
Shooting commenced on 30.01.16.
In-depth progress updated on 31.01.16
Mock up spread on 03.02.16
Client’s Brief (In-depth Progress)
For many people, food and family have an intimate connection. Preserving family recipes trigger the memories of our childhood and the relationships with our past and present families. These legacies are the family heirloom that bridges the younger generation, so they may understand about their family heritage and continue to strengthen these ties. While cooking is an art of self-expression, photography becomes the platform for revealing these experiences. Hence, there is more to food editorial photography in commercial still life. Though my service in food photography can be applied across a broad of applications, such as recipes for website & blogs, product, lifestyle, recipe magazines & newsletters, as well as Info-Ed videos; my work here focuses on editorial recipe books.
Clarity of direction
In retrospect to this assignment, I found collaboration with Mr KaiChiu, a Hongkonger uncle whose family has resided in the UK for more than a decade. We chose a traditional Chinese dish, Wonton noodles; a popular Cantonese noodle dish found in many Asian countries.
As the end product of the image focuses on the food as a reminder of family bond and memories, the prepared dish should coherently reflect the culture of the person behind the cooking. For Mr KaiChiu, it reminded him of his childhood days when his mother used to make this dish for him every day. The twenty-second video shows snippets of making the wonton dumplings, in relation to one of the many traditional techniques in Asian heirloom recipes. When cooked, the dumplings in the dish become slightly translucent when held up against the light.
Planning Approach & Visual References
My initial approach was to use natural daylight and as much vibrant colours in all of my planned images. My primary reference comes from a recipe book which originated from an Info-Ed programme produced by the Singapore media company, Mediacorp.
As I searched for more visual references, I realised western food styling to be unsuitable for a traditional Asian dish and good photography were particularly hard to find. Stock photography sites were my best references. My research then brought me to Asian commercial food photographers and chef recipe books, such as Singapore celebrity chef Sam Leong, and photography works of established Singaporean photographer, Bene Tan.
Prior to the shoot, we discussed the proceedings of the preparation of the dish. In our discussion, it was agreed upon that he would see to the food styling in his kitchen while I cover the technical aspects of photography. However due to the conflict in our schedules, we only had one available day of the shoot. This meant that I had to plan carefully as there would not be any chance of reshooting. Part of my consideration of the five images as the end product was to determine the items needed for the shoot. I came up with a detailed checklist as I sketched my visual contents. Logistics and manpower issues were also considered.
This image shows the wonton dumpling in its raw form. Traditional wonton wrappers are created similar to pasta. Since we didn’t have traditional Asian tools, I improvised with whatever “old” props we could find which is coherent to the image. I added a diary element into the visual. The day was getting dark, so I set up a ranger kit light outside the house to replicate daylight. I used a white board to reflect some light onto the tray of dumplings. This results in a slightly mixed variation of Chinese and western influence.
The chef-of-the-kitchen in action. My ideal plan was to have this moment captured at daylight. Adding an external flashlight made the image looked artificial. In this situation, I had no choice but to carry on the shoot using the kitchen lights. As a research scientist in his day job, Mr Kaichiu insists his white coat as his apron which reflects his occupation. On analysing the visual I later realised, the white colour elements were too overpowering. One detail which I could have improved upon was to utilise his dumpling meat bowl to built my visual instead.
The hero food image. A simple setup which took me a long time to figure out the best arrangement. On set, the family started using the kitchen, so ingredients and space were quite constrained for me. Using a macro lens, I set up my camera on top of the wooden table. I choose a bird eye view, so I could utilise the ranger light kit to replicate daylight. Capturing a side profile would have revealed many lighting flaws. I noticed primary colours were involved.
I attempt with a more close-up at a slightly lower angle. Sensing a lack of prominent red visual, I requested for red chilli. There was all but one dried chilli in the house. One thing I liked about this composition was that the translucency on the wonton dumplings could be seen. What could have improved upon, I later realised, was to include the chef piecing the final touch-up of the dish in the frame.
I focused on snippets of making the wonton dumplings as a highlight of the video.
I edited my rough cuts in one sequence and applied an adjustment layer across all the sequence. This help to quickly balance the colour correction in all of the video sequences.
I created a separate sequence track for the closing title, using my images as part of the video.
I placed all of my sequences into a master track and render them out in mp4 format and with H.264 codec.
Mock up Spreads
Different sets of challenges came up on the day of the shoot. Mr KaiChiu had to attend to some matters in the morning. The ingredients were just adequate, and he did not foresee the need for additional portions. We worked with less than two hours of daylight and he was already preparing dinner for his family. It was a stressful time for me.
When we reviewed together after the shoot session, he revealed that generally he had a pleasant time during the session, and was impressed by my creative problem-solving methods on set. As it was Mr KaiChiu’s first collaboration experience in food photography, he had no idea the amount time needed to create each image. On my part, I could have worked out a time allocation of each shoot for him to have a better understanding. Given the opportunity of a longer period of time, perhaps, we could revisit some images and improve upon.
This third assignment became a first-hand work experience in a production shoot. In all collaboration projects, planning is crucial. But more importantly, it is good communication with the client that makes or break the project.