If you haven't been to the New School of Cooking in Culver City yet, you must be running out of excuses. Not only is the open-windowed cooking school across the street from Evan Funke's Bucato and Sang Yoon's Helms Bakery empire, it's also putting together some of the best baking and cooking classes in the city. Now, in an effort to expand their reach, the New School of Cooking has brought on Anne Fishbein for a month long series of workshops on food photography. You know, so you can take photos like this (and this and this).
Let's admit it, we all want to be more like Anne Fishbein. Not only has she been photographing for the Weekly for more than a dozen years, her work can also be seen in New York's Museum of Modern Art, at the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Fine Art. Her book, On The Way Home, chronicles everyday Russian life, including bakers, soldiers and children in the city of Yaroslavl.
While our hats are perpetually off to the fantastic Anne Fishbein, it is her work with food that most readers know her for. Her approach always seems effortlessly beautiful, and she's able to capture images with such vibrancy that they are often simply stunning.
And now, with a few helpful tips from the first week of her class at the New School of Cooking, you might just be able to find your own eye for photography. Here are five great food photography tips from Anne Fishbein to help you get started.
It's All About Light
What does the term photography even mean? From an etymology standpoint, it is the study or recording (graph) of light (photo). And since we all had that one art teacher in middle school who blew our minds by telling us that color isn't really color at all, just the interaction of light and various elements, we know that light is the most important aspect of what we see.
The same is true for photography. Every part of your camera, no matter how fancy or old it is, revolves around the notion of light. So when you're walking around, looking at the world or a beautiful chicken taco, think about what light can mean for you and your photos.
Own Your Image
“Real photographers always shoot in manual exposure mode,” says Fishbein. Why? So that you can 'own your image'. The idea is to give yourself as many opportunities to not only succeed, but to thrive creatively.
While auto features have a time and place, manual mode allow you to control a range of variables that would more than overwhelm even the most intelligent camera's digital brain. By manually operating primary functions like shutter speed, aperture and ISO, you can tweak your images in subtle ways to give you the perfect shot of flame-licked rotisserie chicken that you've been waiting for.
You know that hefty rectangle of paper that came with your shiny new digital camera? It's called a manual, and you should read it. No, you're not going to memorize every detail right away and yes, it is a little like you're back in high school all over again, but if you want to take crisp, clean photos of something otherwise mushy like sea urchin guacamole, it's going to take some studying.
Learning beyond the basic functions of your camera's out-of-the-box capabilities will also help you understand issues and create stronger solutions faster than if you're just thumbing around the menu screen, looking for the Microsoft paperclip guy to help you out.
While it's important to be in control of every aspect of your camera when taking luscious food photos, some functions will matter more than others in certain situations. Shutter speeds determine the length of time that light can enter your camera body and been seen by your sensor, which means for anything relating to motion, you'll want to pay close attention. Aperture, on the other hand, controls how much light gets through to your image sensor, which is important for things like depth of field — you know, that look where a certain portion of an image is in clear focus, while the rest softens and fades away.
Usually, because the food you're photographic is sitting still, aperture will take precedence over shutter speed. But if you want that perfect shot of someone pouring a beer at Connie & Ted's, you'll have to balance the two worlds of aperture and shutter speed.
Make It Yours
Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules for food photography, just suggestions along the way to help you create an enticing image. A lot of the time, that might mean you should play it safe or do what's expected, but if you stick to that rut too often you'll lose the soul of an image. Food, like any other medium being photographed, exists as a moment in time and then it's gone, so take advantage of the opportunity to make each photo yours. There are lots of different ways to get to the results you want; find your path. And then keep finding new ones.
Anne Fishbein's food photography class at the New School of Cooking runs every Sunday in October, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The each session does build upon the information from the previous week, but drop-in slots are available as well.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Farley Elliott writes about food, drink and entertainment at OverOverUnder.com.