Behind the scenes … of a professional photo shoot

Has pancit ever looked so good? (Photo courtesy Lara Ferroni)

Two weeks ago, I was back in Seattle to assist with the photography shoot for my cookbook. Never having participated in a photography shoot before I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I loved it!

Often, a food stylist is hired to prep and cook the dishes as well as decide on the “look” of a shot which includes tableware, cutlery and linens. (“Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” cookbook author Andrea Nguyen offers her experience here). In this case, it was just me and photographer Lara Ferroni working in her kitchen and home studio.

Lara’s studio was a light-filled space on the second floor of her gorgeous brick house. Her camera was set up in one corner of the room while on the other side she had two closets packed with tottering stacks of dishes in every shape, material, hue and pattern. Next to them sat a chest of drawers filled with linens, cutlery and silverware. One of the perks of being a food photographer is being able to buy items in singlies and on sale; and you don’t have to feel guilty, says Lara with a smile.

Twenty-five dishes and a host of ingredients were on our shot list. We cooked and (Lara) shot over the course of about a week. Despite what you may have heard about food photography, we used and cooked real food, and even gobbled up the dishes after. (I was, however, very amused by her acrylic ice cubes.)


 Things can go wrong too! Here’s a shot that didn’t turn out because the custard didn’t cook all the way through. (Photo courtesy Lara Ferroni)

 Lara strongly believes in portraying the dishes just as they would look prepared in your home kitchen–simply styled and no fussy arrangements or details. (I second that!). Her touch-up tools include oil and a brush and perhaps a brulée torch to give a burnt, crackly glaze when required. She uses only natural light, varying the exposure depending on the light available at any given moment, which can be quite tricky since this is Seattle. For the most part, we had to stop work around 4 p.m. when the sun started to dip. 

One of the biggest lessons I came away with is just how important communication is between author and photographer, especially when dealing with a publication that has cultural context.

Lara would look at me and ask, “Chopsticks or …?” And I’d say, “Fork and spoon.” Yes, not all Asian-especially Southeast Asian-dishes are eaten with chopsticks. And speaking of chopsticks, Japanese and Chinese chopsticks are shaped differently and made from different materials. Some dishes are served family style while others are dished out individually. Details really do matter.

It was a fabulous learning experience and I’m thrilled to have work with such a talented photographer. I can’t wait to see the final results, and you will see it too in full Technicolor come October 2009.

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21 thoughts on “Behind the scenes … of a professional photo shoot

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  2. salam kenal Pat,
    I’m a fans of Lara. She take beautiful food shot everywhere and great thing about her is she loves to share it.

    Very great to know she’s working with fellow Indonesian. Look forward for your book!

  3. Hello, I’ve just come over here from Lara’s site. Thanks for sharing a bit of an insight into the photo shoot process. I’ll look forward to seeing the finished article hit the shelves in October

  4. Congratulations on your cookbook coming along so well! It must be a dream come true to see it come to life!

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