Most of the food photos on my website have been solo projects. Me and my camera. Me preparing the food and then deciding if I can delay gratification a bit longer to make good images, or succumbing to my hungry belly. I realized there's only so much I can do alone...and I wanted to up my game by working with a food stylist. Someone, like me, starting out in the field and who wants to build their portfolio and gain more experience working with other professionals. Someone who could take the food beyond what I could do, and relieve me of the pressure of having to both make and then photograph the food. And resist the urge to eat it before photographing!
I put out feelers and met Bebe Black Carminito. Bebe is a food stylist, blogger, baker, and all around cooking extraordinaire. She and I have a similar story: we both had former lives and careers doing something else before deciding to leap into what we had always wanted to do. For me, making images; for her, making food. We decided to collaborate and started planning for a “Mad Men” inspired picnic story.
Here's what resulted.
To read about the food that Bebe made for this shoot, visit her blog.
With one month to prepare, we created a Pinterest mood board, researching food and props from the 60’s, scouting a location, testing recipes and lighting, and resourcefully sourcing everything we’d need for our shoot. I created a google doc for our production, which we updated as we planned. It ended up being 16 pages long! Multiple texts flew back and forth. Lots of images of potential props, questions about era-specific details, and excitement. I visited the location twice. The first time with Bebe and her husband, during which we also "tested" the food she was planning on making for the shoot. The second time with my friend Keith to test out lighting. We spent many hours of communication and coordinating. Our goal was to photograph one wide, one medium, and one close in shot to tell a story and get other shots inspired from our mood board as we could.
The day of the shoot we all met up with all of our gear, props, supplies, etc. at 10:30 am. Our concept was for the picnic to be at Golden Hour (right before sunset when the light is nice and glowy), which we knew we’d have to emulate with lighting but were, nonetheless, hoping for clear and sunny skies to help us out. Instead it was a typical foggy/cloudy and cool summer day in SF. I brought hand warmers and hot chocolate to share in preparation for the weather. We set up and started photographing a little after 11:30 am. We ate a quick and delicious lunch prepared by Bebe around 1 pm and then continued to photograph until 5:30 pm. Broke down and loaded out by 6:15 pm. We all worked really well together and had a lot of fun. Below are BTS (Behind the Scenes) images.
Our original goal was to shoot right before Labor Day and then publish these for the holiday as an end of the summer story. We photographed on schedule but it took me a while to edit them. I got busy with other work (money!) and received feedback on the images that changed how I wanted to do post-production. I also had to figure out how to achieve the look I wanted for the images. I am self-taught in Photoshop. A lot of googling, asking people, playing with different tools, making mistakes, readjusting, and repeating. All of which takes time.
I’m pretty happy with the results. I submitted five of them to the local APA chapter for the annual end of year competition. And this one was accepted into the online gallery for the Something Personal Show!
I learned WAY more from this test shoot than I ever expected:
- There’s a good reason why there are so many specialized roles in a photo shoot. It really is a production. I was simultaneously the producer coordinating the details, the photographer, the creative director, the prop stylist, and scout, among other roles. Bebe was the food stylist, wardrobe/prop stylist, and model. I pulled in two friends to assist and am so thankful for Keith Bodziak and Peter van der Pas’s help. Bebe’s husband, David, was also a big help as her assistant and all around “other duties as assigned” guy. Extra brains, eyes, and hands on set make a big difference! When Bebe and Peter were modeling, they couldn't attend to their main responsibilities as food stylist and digitech. Also, modeling is hard work. Getting the right position/posture and holding it in the same spot for several shots and making it look natural and relaxed is challenging especially in the cold! For future test shoots, I definitely want to work with more folks in specialized roles.
- The proof is in the pudding. What I had to do in post-production told me what I should have done better in camera. White balance. And paid attention to during the shoot. Color balance. Just to name a few things. Next time.
- Our production was very ambitious. Getting 8 shots was a lot and we definitely ran out of steam towards the end of the day especially after lunch and being outside in the cold. Also, I know that some images are stronger than others, so shooting fewer would have given us more time to really make those images even better.
- Asking for feedback and being open to the critique is essential. I shared my initial images with Sue Tallon, a photographer for whom I work, and asked her a simple question about "which pie shot" did she like? Now I realize what a silly question that was. Sue didn't even bother answering that question; instead she gave me a lot of food for thought about how she saw my work and the potential she saw for it. Her feedback changed how I retouched the images and they are stronger for it. In fact, the image she liked was accepted into the APA SF chapter's annual Something Personal online gallery.
- Photoshop skills are important. Oh yeah. I need to take a class so I'm not learning by doing things in the most inefficient manner possible. That said, I know a lot more about adjustment layers now.
- Sometimes what I envision is not what I will get. I wanted this to be more of a lifestyle food shoot but because of its highly stylized nature, it ended up being more editorial. I was actually a bit surprised at how stylized the images turned out and I liked them even though they didn't fit the "lifestyle photography" category. Because the images are more about the story and style of the era, it's not really even food photography either - not in the "beauty shot" sense of food photography. I don't mind that they're not lifestyle food photos but I will be more careful about how I concept my future test shoots! That said, previsualizing the shots I wanted was critical to my getting the 8 shots that I did for this production. Having done another test shoot since this one, I believe that the more I, as the photographer, can previsualize what I want to achieve, the more effective and efficient I can be on set.
Not that I didn’t know this already but it was a good reminder of how great my community is. Keith and Peter were both game to assist somewhat last minute and they were fantastic. Keith brought his lighting gear and know-how. Peter was a fantastic digitech and model. His fiance, Matthew, created and donated a beautiful foraged bouquet for our production. Matthew is a florist by trade and has his own business, The Hanged Man Co. My friend Kevin let us borrow an ice bucket from his midcentury modern collection. Feedback from the amazing Sue Tallon and Judy Walgren. Shout out to Victor Cobian who pointed me in the right direction for accomplishing the edits I wanted in Photoshop.
And how that community is growing by working with wonderful creative professionals such as Bebe and David. Bebe really put her heart into this shoot and was the sweetest and most enthusiastic person to work with. She was also very patient with my delay in getting these turned around. Thank you Bebe!
That's a Wrap!
Official credits with links to Instagram accounts where available:
Photographer/Producer: Jung Fitzpatrick @JungFitzpatrick
Food Stylist/Model: Bebe Black Carminito @ChampagneAndCookies
Lighting Tech: Keith Bodziak @KeithBodziak
Digitech/Model: Peter van der Pas @pder
Food Stylist Assistant: David
Floral Arrangement: The Hanged Man Co @TheHangedManCo
Midcentury Modern Mayhem: Kevin
Wardrobe & Prop Styling: Bebe & Jung
Location Scouting: Bebe, David, Jung & Keith
Photoshop Consult: Victor Cobian @VEC_Photo_
Creative endeavors really are a team effort. Thank you so much!!