Food photography: practice makes perfect taste so much better
Category: Photography
Date: 01/07/2019
Writer: Danie
ROOTS AND RITUALS – Food provides nourishment, but simultaneously through ritual, acts as a bonding mechanism among people, stirring and awaking memories. Food design expresses the inter-dynamics of psychology, sociology and the eco-impact associated with the eating of food.

Food As Art – A Sensory Revolution

Within one second, a taste or aroma can trigger emotions and flood us with memories of a place, people and state of mind. Food is mood for thought, and the digital age has resulted in a renewed awareness and celebration of cooks and cookbooks.

A dish has visual elements such as lines, form, shape, colour and texture, bound by a space. The French call a mixed salad a “salade compose”. In the same way, food photographers “compose” the various elements of an image to express the essence of a dish and what needs to be communicated.

Composition is style-led and the elements of balance, movement, repetition, scale and proportion, come into play. Balance depends on visually weighting the dishes, ingredients and complementary objects for optimal equilibrium, whether symmetrical or not.

Movement is either literal or compositional. The latter may be inferred through the use of lines, shapes or colours, or their combination, leading the eye from one element to another. Repeating elements such as shape, texture or form creates patterning, and similarly, reduplicating shapes may be used to achieve rhythm.

Scale and proportion helps create emphasis and defines a focal point. All the above aspects help tell a story, like a multi-layered cake waiting to be dissected.

Food Design Project: Valley Of Milk And Honey

Food photography is all about telling a good story that unlocks the character of the dish and its ingredients.” – Daniël Jansen van Vuuren.

Food photographer Daniël Jansen van Vuuren and stylist Yvette Lombard worked closely with chef Riana Scheepers as she and her assistant cooked up a medley of memorable dishes on the farm De Compagnie in the Wamakers (Wagon makers) Valley outside Wellington, South Africa.

It took three months of artistically and detail-driven work to capture photographs for Riana’s recipe book “Valley of Milk and Honey”. Danie appreciates the fact that food is immobile – giving him greater control over its presentation, although it does still present its own challenges.

The stylistic direction was informed by food still life paintings of the Cape Dutch masters such as Abraham van Beijeren, Rembrandt van Rijn and Jan Dawids, from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries, then brought up to speed with contemporary food trends. The opulence of the food spreads translates into a visual metaphor for sensorial richness and discriminating consumption.

Back To Nature: Back To Basics

Contemporary cooking honours natural ingredients. The trend favours the elimination of artificial additives. Most of the food featured in Riana’s book was farm-sourced (such as their own fruit, vegetables and eggs), while the meat was sourced from the Tankwa Karoo.

Recognising the beauty of the natural form of food ingredients, Danie sought to feature ingredients in their raw, unprocessed form, such as gritty carrots with their green heads, freshly pulled from the earth, or a whole freshly caught fish lying in the preparation dish.

Where food and design intersect

The physical styling of objects and utensils, and their placement, in relation to food, reflects the compositional theme of the oils of the old Dutch masters. Pre-used, painted objects were chosen as a background foil to the food in focus.

Danie points out that in food photography the final image should never look overly perfect. He favours a degree of “sloppiness” as artistic prerogative, such as jam spilling off toast, for example, to lend a greater authenticity to the composition.

He has further merged food and design by incorporating, for example, a grasshopper on a sweet potato and a bee that’s settled on a dessert. The ice cream image required hairspray to slow down the melting process as Danie ran between the freezer and the photo board in a hot summer temperature of 40 degrees Celsius!

A visual feast

Lighting is an important element for the creation of mood in a photograph. Danie prefers to supplement natural light, adding fill-in flash for crisper detail and for a touch of glamour. He uses two artificial light sources for ambient light, and, for darker themed images, one light far from the image focus. A polarising filter removes reflections on glass domes placed over food.

Where balance and equilibrium is important in photo arrangements, Danie notes that it is equally so in terms of the visual rhythm and continuity of a cookbook. So in Riana’s book, occasional lighter images were introduced to offset and balance the stylistically themed darker ones.

Unusual presentations pique interest

Danie introduces quirky settings or unusual receptacles to make his food compositions stand out – such as a dessert served in a classic teacup, or the pairing of food items with Dutch ceramic containers or vintage tins, offset with hand-embroidered materials.

Even food processes are highlighted, such as cookies being formed with a cookie cutter from a batch of rolled gingerbread. Occasionally, Danie will feature the chef or assistant too, or simply their hand concocting a masterly dish.

What does Danie bring to the table?

Danie works onsite with a photographic assistant, as well as a stylist who sources items for the shoot beforehand. He then post-produces and selects the final images to client or publishing house satisfaction.

Danie has worked with leading South African publishers and undertaken layouts [link to book design] for cookbooks such as “The Curry Book” by Ishay-Govender Ypma. “The Curry Book” was nominated for Gourmand World’s “Best Cookbook in the World” award in 19XX. He was also responsible for the photography in “Malay Cooking” by Cas Abrahams.

What are the secret ingredients that Danie brings to the table for his clients? A love for fine food, expert photographic skills and artistic direction, coupled with a meticulous eye for detail on which you can feast.

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