Friday, October 12, 2012

How to Photograph Sandwiches, #SeriousSandwich

Photographer Steven Freeman and Chef Emeril Lagasse prepare Eggplant Muffuletta for the "Kicked-Up Sandwiches" shoot. Photo by Jeyhoun Allebaugh

The key to improving food blog photography can be as simple as asking yourself “does it look good enough to eat?” according to StevenFreeman, photographer for the newest cookbook from Emeril Lagasse, “Emeril’s Kicked-Up Sandwiches” (Morrow, $24.99). 

Freeman spoke with me last week from New York about the new cookbook, working with Chef Emeril and how to improve the photographs on my own blog.

Emeril and Jen Lover look over the upcoming shots. Photo by Steven Freeman.

Freeman works with Emeril and his culinary team to create the cookbooks from planning through post-production. The entire process takes about nine months. For the newest book, Emeril brought the idea of a book on sandwiches to his culinary team in March 2011 and the pictures were shot in a New York studio in September 2011 in just 3 ½ days. Freeman credits the professionalism of Emeril’s team for such a fast shoot – “they are an extremely fast and efficient team.”

Charlotte Martory drizzles hot sauce on the Fried Oyster Po Boy with Jalapeno Mayonnaise and Avocado, 
as Steven looks on. Photo by Jen Lover.

As for the food, “every single thing you see is real,” Freeman said. “In fact, on a typical shoot, we have a catered lunch. On the sandwich shoot, we did not. All the food you see in the book, we tasted.”

Which led me to a related question – how do the professionals have the willpower to keep from eating the food as they shoot it? Or put a different way, what’s your Kryptonite? (My Kryptonite has to be fried chicken. Smelling just-fried chicken and seeing that crispy skin, I don’t think I could keep my mitts off of it long enough to get a decent picture.) Freeman agreed with me about the fried chicken, but said his favorite from the shoot was the Roast Po-Boy with debris, the New Orleans word for the flavorful bits left in the bottom of the roasting pan. When you order debris with your po boy, the bits and gravy are part of the sandwich. (I think I’d have a tough time keeping my hands off of that, too.)

Emeril photographs The Cuban as Prop Stylist Jen Lover holds the background, and First Assistant Kevin Guiler controls the reflection. Photo by Steven Freeman.

On a shoot day, in addition to the photographer and his assistants, there are 4 to 5 members of the culinary team, plus Emeril, working collaboratively to get the best picture of each sandwich. Emeril is a hands-on author, preparing the food, involved in the action shots such as dripping sauce on the food. (Pro tip from Freeman: to get those kinds of shots, use natural light and a fast shutter speed.)

Stacy Meyer, of Emeril's Culinary Team. Photo by Steven Freeman.
 Here are some fabulous examples of Freeman's (and Emeril's Culinary Team's) work from "Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches."

I like the way the egg salad sandwich is packaged with colorful veggies here:

Emeril's Egg Salad Supreme. Photo by Steven Freeman.

 “When I shoot food, I want people to look at it and taste it,” Freeman said. 
Close-ups, such as the one of the gooey melted cheese in the calzone, accomplish this. “When you’re that close, you can taste it.”

Genoa Salami Calzone. Photo by Steven Freeman.

The eggplant muffuletta kinda jumps off the page, too.

Eggplant Muffuletta. Photo by Steven Freeman.

Looking to improve your food photography? Freeman has two recommendations:

1.       A tripod is your friend. And
2.       Natural light is your very best friend. 

The first is self-explanatory, and Freeman offers help to make the best use of natural light: 
In your home, find a window with light coming in and place the food there. Turn off interior lights because you want light coming from just one direction. If the light is harsh, diffuse it by using a bedsheet or other light material to cover the window.

Professionals use “silks,” but do-it-yourselfers (like me) can go to the fabric store and buy material somewhere “between a wedding veil and a bedsheet.” If using a lamp for the light source, place the silk over the lamp.

If you’re like me and have a lovely kitchen, but not good light, head outside.  I have a covered porch with great light, but sometimes, depending on the weather, season and time of day, the light can be harsh. Freeman suggests hanging the silk to diffuse the light. 

To balance shadows in pictures, use foamcore cards. This is when having a partner (or kid!) can be useful. Use foamcore cards to balance the light across the subject. For me, this will take some practice, but I can see how it will fill in the dark areas on my pictures. Like the shadow between the sandwich halves on my version of Emeril's egg salad sandwich

Freeman graciously looked over some of my #SeriousSandwiches photographs and offered professional criticism. My egg salad sandwich could benefit from some well-placed foam core cards. (and I agree – I’m now critiquing all my pictures for odd shadows and harsh light.)

I sent Freeman a picture that I was pleased with, the overhead shot of Olive Salad for the Muffuletta. I liked the colors and there were no weird shadows. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention in the viewfinder and cropped out the bottom lip of the jar. A happy accident, as it turns out.

Olive Salad. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

This is Freeman’s crop of my shot, he calls this stage “sculpting” – using the editing tools to create the very best image possible. I think it improves the picture. What do you think?

Olive salad. Edited by Steven Freeman. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books.

Thank you to Steven Freeman for a delightful interview and the food photography tutorial. 
I can’t wait to get my silks and foamcore in place and improve my pictures!
View Freeman's Portfolio.

Thank you to Steven Freeman and Morrow Books for the photographs included with this article. Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer, except as noted above. 
Thanks also to Tavia Kowalchuk of Morrow Books.

This post is part of Emeril's #SeriousSandwich cookalong to celebrate the publication of "Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches," which will be released October 16, 2012. 
For pre-orders, see here.
 To win your very own copy of the book, see here
To read other great posts about "Kicked-Up Sandwiches," follow #SeriousSandwich on Twitter.


Tara said...

I love this post! My oyster po'boy photographs looked JUST like that...not really. :)

Family Foodie said...

Awesome post with great tips. Thank you for sharing

Anonymous said...

This is excellent blogging! A wonderful addition to the canon of food blogs. I hope it gets a ton of hits & traffic, you deserve it.

Kimberly said...

Great post! Way to go!

Lucy Mercer said...

Thanks, @thesecretingredientblog! Me, too!

Sara C said...

Lots of great tips in here! I liked seeing Emeril behind the camera too. Man, now I'm hungry!

Susan 30A EATS said...

Love seeing Emeril behind the camera! Nice post and good tips from Freeman!

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

I loved how dramatic your photo was after it was edited!

Lynn Coulter said...

oh my my...i am so craving that olive salad!

Carrie @ poet in the pantry said...

Very cool post! I didn't realize it took so long for a cookbook to go from concept to press!

Anonymous said...

Great coverage and tips! :)

bbqbill said...

Thanks. Love Emeril and I learned how to photograph better. good stuff.

Jeanette said...

I really love reading about behind the scenes work that goes into making a cookbook - fun post to read.