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Food Photography Workshop by Scott Heimendinger, Edible: The Taste of Things to Come, Dublin Science Gallery

This is not a food blog, but like my passion for photography, I also have a deep love of food.  I blog about photography, my wife blogs about food, we enjoy our love of food together and have had the pleasure of sharing many a beautiful meal at restaurants across the world.

Adrienne, through her social media food blogging friends, learned of a new exhibition called Edible: The Taste of Things to Come running at the Science Gallery, Dublin.   The event which caught Adrienne’s eye and thought would be perfect for me was a Food Photography Workshop run by Seattle Food Geek AKA Scott Heimendinger.

Scott Heimendinger is the author of SeattleFoodGeek.com, a blog exploring modernist techniques  and molecular gastronomy made famous by such Chefs as Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck and aiming to bring these techniques into the home kitchen.   He is also a great modern food photographer and now Business Development Manager with Modernist Cuisine.

Modernist Cuisine is a six volume 2,400-page behemoth of a cook book covering all aspects of modern cuisine from the history, techniques, ingredients and recipes albeit at a modern cost of 450 euro! The book, described by Ferran Adrià of El Buli as “this book will change the way we understand the kitchen” through to the now infamous quote by our presenter Scott Heimendinger that “Escoffier would crap his pants…”.   I thumbed through the display copy at the exhibition for 15 mins and was almost drooling on the waterproof and tear proof recipe volume.  The photography in this book is on another level and this is where Scott started the workshop.

The photos in the book were produced and shot by Ryan Matthew Smith whom Scott describes as his mentor.  The photos, symbolic of the subject matter, used modern industrial techniques to allow the reader to see inside the science and techniques being explained using cutaway versions of cookware including barbecues, skillets and pressure cookers.   The barbecue photo , illustrating irradiation, was complete with flaming coals, meat patties and smoke.

From here, Scott moved on to some of his own photos highlighting techniques or photos we would be recreating later in the practical session or covering in the Photoshop.  The material was pitched correctly and had enough to keep beginners through to the more advanced level photographer.

A quick light lunch followed by the good stuff – practicals.

Fist up for my group was the Strawberry Splash.  A simple two light set-up with one studio strobe backlighting the subject through a softbox acting as the backdrop and a second strobe with a grid at roughly 10 o clock and level with the subject.  The subject was simply a glass of water sitting on a sheet of white acrylic into which a strawberry would be dropped by a willing assistant.  The aim of shot – capture the strawberry as it hit the water surface.  No fancy triggers here.  A mixture of timing and a bit of good luck required.

Next up was the mushrooms on black acrylic with two red onions to the mix.  Another two light set-up.  One light with a grid was positioned as a back light at 12 o clock roughly 45 degrees from above with the second light with a snoot positioned at 7 o clock and roughly level with the subject.  The vegetables were sitting on black acrylic with what I presume was a black velvet backdrop.

This set-up required a bit more tweaking to get right.  A mix of slight adjustments to the position of the light with the snoot and bit of balancing  of the power settings between front and back  to keep the highlights on the onions from clipping and to achieve a nice fall-off of light across the veg.

A fired off a few shots then we added a diffuser panel held above the veg which softened the highlights on the the onions and reduced the intensity of the reflection of the acrylic.

After this it was back to the class for Photoshop  editing.  Scott started the section with Ryan Matthew Smith’s Barbeque photo. It was interesting to see the process from original shot to final composite and how few tools/ processes was used to achieve the result.

The post processing section started with Scott opening up to two photos which he had shown in the morning session – one from Ryan Matthew Smith and the other one from his own portfolio.  The purpose this was to demonstrate the use of layers and the tools that were used to polish the original image to its final state.  In the case of Ryan’s image, this also demonstrated compositing techniques where the final image is a blend of multiple exposures with the best light/ features selected from each frame.  For the shot in question, the cut-away barbeque, the compositing technique was used on the flames and the smoke.  I should add that these were not from a library of smoke and flames, but from individual exposures captured at the time of the main shot.  The other techniques used were the every day tools such as curves, spot healing brushes, masks etc.

For me, the main learning point from the post-processing section was blending multiple exposures using a single light source to create the look of a multiple light set up.  As I currently only have a single speedlite, this is a technique I can see myself utilising where I have a tabletop set-up where the camera and subject is locked into position and can not move.  The technique uses multiple exposures which are then brought into the main image as layers.  The clever part here is the use of blend mode ‘lighten’ to bring in the various highlights   This blend mode will allow only the pixels brighter than the pixels of the layers below show through and therefore only the brighter areas of the additional exposures will show through on the main image.  This can then be combined with the opacity slider and a layer mask to fine tune the image to achieve the look you require.

The other post-processing tip I picked up was the use of the gradient tool to fine tune the reflections such as in my shot of the mushrooms.  I used this technique on the photo to lessen the intensity of the reflection of the mushroom in the acrylic.

I definitely think I benefited from this workshop and picked up some useful tips on the day.  Hopefully the Science Gallery my chose to run some more workshops in the future.