Have you seen the classic movie Jaws? It is pretty terrible, and if you have seen it recently, you’ll probably agree that it didn’t age well at all. Back in the day though, it was super scary and groundbreaking. And for those of us who are budding food photographers I think there is a lesson to learn from it.
Don’t worry, I also am going to be sharing this yumtastic sesame dressing recipe. It get’s its sesame flavor from toasted sesame oil, and has a bit of fun texture from whole sesame seeds which are added in at the end. I have extended it with orange juice so that the oil makes up less than 50% of the overall volume which helps keep calories in check. More on that here. So if you aren’t interested in photography tips, scroll right on down to the recipe. I don’t mind 🙂
Okay, so back to Jaws for a minute. You know how in the movie, there is a ton of build up and excitement and fear of the shark, but you really don’t even see the shark for like the whole movie? Not until the end really. The music alone is enough, right?! I think this was really intentional on the part of the director to allow the viewers imaginations to run a little wild. The shark in our imagination becomes bigger and scarier that they could have made it look with what by today’s standards are considered rudimentary special effects. The end result is so much more effective than if they had spelled the shark out in detail from the beginning. Hold that thought and I want to show you something.
Mmm, salad dressing. Lets call the above photo my select shall we? I took 37 images to get two favorites of this sesame dressing. This is the first one I was happy with before I went on to get the stop-action shot (in case you’re curious this was the 8th shot.)
And here is how I set up my camera and the “set” behind the scenes to get that select of the sesame dressing. (You can click on it to make it bigger if you want.)
Not very high tech either. Jaws looks advanced at this point right? But this shot shows a lot of cool little things that you might find helpful too. First of all, my table is set at a slight angle to give the salad and dressing a slight back light. I call this a ¾ back-light. I find that it is really easy to look through the lens and find the highlights coming across the surfaces of the food when I use this kind of light. (By the way, ignore the stand light in the pic, I wasn’t using it.) When I am shooting, I am always looking for those highlights. Without light there is no life in a photo. Period. Because I wanted a moodier shot, I also have the rest of the room dark, and I did not use a bounce card to light up the right side of the bowl.
I have my black foam core set up to block the direct light from hitting the background. See that? It is leaning against my background (which is a wine box with a piece of wood against it.) I talked more about that black foam core trick here in my post about household items to improve your food photography. The reason I do this is to make the background die away.
Below is another frame (about 5 exposures before I got to the select) where I had more light on the background. I was also fiddling around with the place mats and the composition. My aperture was 5.6. It is not terrible, but I think the select is more effective at drawing your eye right to the dressing. In this outtake my eye keeps popping back to the salad in the background and then to the strong horizontal line of the white background.
If you look at my set up one more time you’ll also notice how far my salad and the dressing are from the background. Having the background pulled back away from the subject changes where the horizon line falls in relation to the camera. It also makes it so that it goes out of focus.
Another contributing factor to that background blur is the lens I am using. I have a 100 mm macro on here. I use this lens more than any other. I shot the vast majority of the photos for my upcoming cookbook with it. It is a great portrait lens. And when you think about it, when you photograph food you are taking its portrait. (Or as Mike said you are taking a foodfie.) What I mean to say is that this longer lens makes the background fuzz out. IMO, a lot of times this is good.
I also have my camera set at f 3.2 which means that I get a shallow depth of field (only a small part is in focus.) All of these factors I am talking about are about trying to make the background less important. Like Jaws I’m leaving more up to the imagination. I think the select becomes more evocative of whatever your imagination wants the story to be.
Have you seen the movie Jaws?
Do you prefer when the details are left to the imagination?
Have you tried 3/4-back lighting?
Do you block light from the background of your set?
Do you like a short depth of field?
A 5-minute Asian inspired Sesame salad dressing made with orange juice to extend it and keep the amount of oil below 50 % of the volume. That keeps the calories low.
- ¼ cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed
- 3 tablespoons organic canola oil or peanut oil
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons reduced sodium tamari sauce
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 tablespoonspure maple syrup, dark or amber
- 1 small clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- Combine orange juice, canola oil (or peanut oil), sesame oil, tamari, vinegar, maple syrup and garlic in a blender or mini prep. Puree until completely combined and smooth. (Alternatively use an immersion blender in blending jar.) Stir in sesame seeds.
You may also like to read this post about photography: