Brooklyn Cookin’ (last of a three-part series)

Sunday morning we returned to the brownstone in Brooklyn with excitement for the final day in the Brooklyn Cookin’ workshop. Instructors Chris Marquardt, photographer, and Mark Tafoya, chef, greeted us with a surprise in mind. Later in the day the cooks would have an iron chef competition and the photographers would do something similar. (See the first post in the series here and the second post here.)

The previous day we worked entirely with available light. Today we applied studio lighting techniques to our food photography with Speedlites,  Elinchrom studio lights, and a range of light modifiers.

We began by reviewing our photos from the day before and talking about the finer points of food photography in the studio, while the cooks made a variety of sweet and savory canapes and desserts involving puff pastry. When the food was ready, the dishes were brought upstairs and we shot various arrangements with a single Speedlite in a softbox and a reflector. I wasn’t thrilled with the results of my photos, but it was a first try, and things got better as I shot more.

Next we went to the back yard to photograph some lunch items combining ambient sunlight with a very powerful studio light. The sun was so hot and bright, though, that we had to take turns holding a diffuser over the set to tone it down.

After lunch was the competition, and in modern American style, everyone was a winner. The Iron Chefs were challenged with six ingredients: oyster mushrooms, bacon, asparagus, chicken breast, potatoes, and heavy cream. The cooks used what they had learned so far to invent their own recipes, and the results were excellent. I regret now that I didn’t make any photos during dinner, but I was so exhausted from the workshop that I just wanted to be off duty and enjoy the food and friendship.

The “Iron Photographers” were challenged with three ingredients: color contrast, shadow, and time. Time felt like an obvious trick question. How do you represent that in a photo? We had only 45 minutes to make our photo and present our best one, so the photographers scattered quickly to conceive and execute their work. The results represented a broad range of creativity and technique. I learned a lot from the other photographers’ photos and from the challenge of making my own.

It’s always sad when such a great workshop with such great people ends. I can’t wait to apply what I learned to some more food photography and to all my photography in general. I now have a new way to look at the world and approach my assignments whether it’s products, events, or people. Our workshop instructors are always doing interesting things, so to keep up, follow them (and me!) on Twitter:
Chris Marquardt: @chrismarquardt
Mark Tafoya: @ChefMark
Alan Barnett: @alan_barnett

And to keep up with everything that is happening at Alan Barnett Design and Photography, “like” my Facebook page,

My first shot of the day. I think I could have done better, but it was a start and we had to move on. I’d have liked the background to be brighter and the shadows on the upper left of the peach tarts to be softer. You can see the improvement in my second shot, the one that introduces this post.

Mushroom risotto was one of the dishes served for lunch. In shooting this, I had to work with adjusting the angle of the two studio lights to achieve a satisfactory shadow and contrast on the individual grains of rice so they popped. I don’t know what the cooks did, but this was among the best risotto I’ve had (and I’ve eaten risotto at some really fine restaurants)!

Same set, different dish, different lighting challenge. The chocolate photographs dark and the cream needs to be bright. How to expose them both correctly? I think I did an okay job.

And finally, my submission to the Iron Photographer competition. The afternoon before I noticed the beautiful light from a skylight on the staircase and brick wall. I hoped we could use it for a set, but that wasn’t possible by the time the light changed. With great luck, the light was back at the time of the assignment. With only 45 minutes, I went with my first impulse of making a self portrait where I could move in some way to represent the time ingredient. I was inspired to borrow the lemons from the kitchen for a small tie-in to food photography. And I figured they would satisfy the color contrast ingredient with their bright yellow color against my black shirt (and I added a black apron to cover my khaki shorts). For the shadow ingredient I knew the overhead light from the skylight would work perfectly to throw a shadow from the falling lemon onto the step. I shot hundreds of photos in burst mode at 1/30 second, triggering the camera with a cable release held out of the frame in my extended left hand. The photo I selected comes relatively early in my effort. I’d like to say that no lemons were harmed in the making of this photo, but the one that kept bouncing down two flights of stairs didn’t survive so well.

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