“You need photographs of food that inspire you to take action.”
This is the mantra of photographer Michelle Manzoni who considers mouth-watering images of foodstuffs to be a primary element in the success of PhotoSplash her commercial photography business. (http://www.photosplash.ca/)
I discovered Michelle’s work when reviewing Rhonda Barr’s cookbook “What’s Up with Gluten? Against the Grain” and immediately became intrigued by the tantalizing images. I had first become interested in food photography when I started to write this blog but had very quickly become paralyzed by my own inadequacy as a photographer after I started to look at other people’s stunning examples. I immediately treated myself to a beginner’s photography course which at least taught me not to take pictures of my thumb or the camera strap. But I have come to the conclusion that REAL photographers actually see things that I don’t even notice.
Manzoni is the consummate professional. As a child, growing up in Hamilton’s east end, she pored over photographs in family albums. At the age of 12 she received her first Kodak Instamatic and says that she then began to see the world in a new way. After a few other lacklustre career initiatives, she decided to do what she really cared about and completed her photography diploma at Mohawk College. She has built up a thriving business over the last few years.
As a commercial photographer Manzoni practises all genres of photography — from portraits, to destinations, to events. But she still takes pictures “for fun”. Recently she has branched out into fine art photography, taking part in a show at the Hamilton Artists’ Inc. (with artists Sarah Beattie and Michelle Teitsma) where she played around with photographs printed on canvas and metal. Called “A Calamity of Uncommonality”, the show explored the blurring of boundaries between processes and image construction in a variety of media.
Anyway, food photography seems to have become so endemic a pastime nowadays that everyone is using their phones to make pictures — for journaling and for constructing reminiscences of their trips and special occasions. (The National Post has a weekly two page spread called Gastroposts for amateurs to make their mark.) I thought it might be fun to get some tips from Michelle on how even beginners can produce more inspiring images.
The first thing I recall my photography teacher telling me dolefully was that I would never be able to take magazine quality photographs with my little point and shoot camera. Manzoni concurred — equipment is very important, she says, and she uses a top of the line Sony. The best camera in the world, however, will not fix an unimaginative eye. What is of first importance, she notes is having a tripod to avoid shake; You need to have very sharp images and motion blurring is the true evidence of the amateur.
The other necessity is a thoughtful approach to lighting. Lighting will change the colour of the food — you don’t want it to have a yellow cast. You should also avoid reflected colours or harsh shadows. Manzoni recommends full spectrum lighting whether natural or studio lighting. Her worst nightmare, she recalls, was a job which required shooting portraits in a lime green room. And the very best shots of food are done on a clean white plate.
Attention to detail and preparation also are important. Keep in mind that little spots and specks on plates often don’t show up until you have the final product in hand. And remember that food breaks down quickly. Manzoni suggests, for instance, that vegetables not be cooked all the way through before photographing. For a photograph of asparagus, for example, she notes that if the vegetable had been thoroughly cooked, the colour would have been dull and bland. Remember that fat on soup separates in five minutes and avocados turn brown in ten. And if you are photographing ice cream, be certain that everything is in place and ready to shoot, before you take the ice cream out of the freezer.
Manzoni says that she is lucky enough to have a food stylist on hand for about 25 percent of her photos. The food stylist will cook the food and place it on the plate. Working together, the stylist and photographer arrange the elements of the composition — the tablecloth, the dishes, the silverware — with an eye to balance, colour and harmony. Her final admonition, however: Don’t get all caught up in the props. What’s important to remember is that it is the food that you want people to see.
Michelle’s latest project is a kosher cookbook called “Gathered Around the Table“, a book of recipes compiled by a Jewish school called Netivot HaTorah, coming out in September.
And here is a recipe from “What’s up with Gluten”, along with Michelle’s beautiful photograph.
from Rhonda Barr’s “What’s up with Gluten? Against the Grain”
6 rice paper sheets
1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
1 cup grated carrot
12 cooked shrimp (approx. 500 grams) cut in half
1) Fill a bowl with water and have some damp cloths on hand.
2) Soak one piece of rice paper for about a minute and shake off excess water. Lay the rice paper flat on your work surface.
3) Stack an appropriate portion of ingredients along the center of the paper and roll it up, securing the ends.
4) Place the roll on a cookie sheet and cover with a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out. Repeat the above steps with the remaining rice paper.
5) For plating, cut rolls on the bias and arrange on a platter. Serve with Ponzu Sauce.
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 cup good quality tamari
1/4 cup mirin
1/2 tsp chili flakes
Blend well and refrigerate. May be made a few days in advance but it needs at least a couple of hours to properly develop its flavour.