• Communication - OpenTable Shoot

    When I get a call for a job you might think I just show up the day of the shoot, right?  Well, I could do that, but the outcome probably won't reach it's best potential.  When one looks at an image they might not have any idea of the communication and planning it took to get the shot.  I'm going to talk about how I communicate by referencing a shoot I did recently for OpenTable's new website that took place at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco.  Here are my top tips:

    Meet with the ClientIt's part of taking pre-production to the next level and allows us to go more in-depth on many subjects.  Besides having phone conversations we had two meetings at OpenTable's offices before the shoot.  We were able to see and talk about details relating to the different aspect ratios necessary for the new site.  And that led to having the conversation about shooting tethered on-set so we could plug images into layout.  We also looked at different existing imagery and shared what we liked and didn't like about it.  

    Take Notes - Write down thoughts before calling or meeting with the client.  It's a great opportunity to ask questions and think of ideas.  Don't be afraid to write things down even if they sound obvious.  It helps the mind have a steady flow of ideas. When I do this it most often leads to a great phone conversation or meeting.  And when you're in a meeting take notes on your computer or iPad.  It makes it easier to copy and paste things onto your shot list, etc.

    Talk about Direction - Ask clients questions and get an idea of what direction they are going toward and what they want to say with the images.  Make up a mood board or ask them to make one.  In this case OpenTable wanted to show people having a good time, but also pull back a little and shoot it wide so as to make it less personal.  The food couldn't look overly styled or too unique because the image would be seen worldwide.

    As Detailed as Possible - On the shot list spell things out as much as possible.  In the case of shooting in a live restaurant it's crucial to know which tables you want to shoot at and have them reserved.  During the day of scouting decide on which food you want to shoot along with certain dishes and glassware.  Ask the restaurant to swap if necessary.  Make someone responsible for ordering the food and drinks 20-30 minutes before the actual time you're scheduled to shoot it on the shot list.   These things are easily overlooked, but crucial if you want to be prepared.  

  • Luck = Preparation + Opportunity

    I've always loved the saying "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity".  We surely had some great luck on a shoot last month at the Russian River thanks to some good preparation.  I collaborated with stylists James Whitney, Kelsey Furtado, and Whittany Robinson on an "Indian Summer Day at the River" shoot where our goal was to set our models up to have as much as fun as possible.

    James and I went up for a scouting day and discovered a great bridge in Forestville that would make a perfect backdrop for the shoot.  We did extensive mood boarding and planned to give the models as much to do as possible; take a walk across the bridge in Forestville and hang out underneath it, swimming, football, frisbee, food and beverages, guitar, an 80's style boom box, and canoeing.  Our models completely played the part and brought great enthusiasm and wit for many of the activities we had on hand.  Although they had just met, Georgia Smith and Conor Carroll did a great job of making me believe they were boyfriend and girlfriend in some scenes.  Another model, Marco Rodriguez, got so excited he randomly did a backflip during the picnic scene (see second to last image in series).  

    It wasn't all luck though.  I accidentally forgot a number of props and Kelsey had to backtrack in SF to pick them up, we weren't able to connect with one of the models because of terrible phone service, and we weren't able to shoot with canoes because we ran out of time.  Lessons learned.  But, challenges are inevitable.  I always say, "It's not about whether or not things happen to us, it's more about how we deal with things when they do."

  • The New Local Ingredients

    I loved the idea for the story I worked on for the July/August 7x7 magazine feature titled "Ground Swell" by Stacy Adimando.  It's about five different restaurants who have brought ingredients from other countries and started to grow them in the Bay Area.  Working with prop stylist James Whitney we sourced most of our props from Carol Hacker's prop rental studio.  Since we were shooting on-location at all five restaurants I wanted to make sure we had consistency with the lighting while also having a soft, attractive shadow for everything by using the same large softbox.  

    Here are the ingredients in order of appearance and the restaurants/chefs we worked with:

    - Lollipop Kale from Britain at 1760, Chef Adam Tortosa

    - Espelette Pepper from Basque at Rich Table, Chef Evan Rich

    - Sweet Woodruff from North Africa/West Asia at The Square, Chefs Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarty

    - Ice Lettuce from Europe at SPQR, Chef Matt Accarrino

    - Myrtle Leaf (not pictured) from Sardinia at Camino, Chef Russell Moore

  • Let Real Life Influence the Shoot

    I used to joke with my colleagues when I was a photojournalist, "How can you already know what the story is about when you haven't even started reporting on it?"  The angle of the story almost always changed once we got out into the field to interview and observe the story.  I apply the same approach to my commercial career.  

    Whenever I work with a client I make every effort to do some scouting before the shoot happens.  That way I can let what's happening in real life help guide the shoot.  Through observing the nature of the subject matter I can more offer a distinct approach to the shoot.  

    For my shoot at the newly remodeled Schroeder's in SF it was crucial to get a great hero shot of beer since it's been known as a beer hall for the past 120 years.  When I showed up for scouting I took my usual look at some of the dishes we would be shooting and also decided to observe the after-work happy hour crowd as they drank beers.  I immediately noticed the different sizes of beer glasses and the staggered nature of the beers lined up on their communal table (see last picture in series below). It was the inspiration for my beer shot (see first picture below).  

  • Options, Options, Options...

    I had the pleasure of shooting 4 different assignments for 7x7 magazine for June's "Best Of" issue. I thought I would share how I shot the "Best of Drink" shot for a story about the different bars who are adding colored ice cubes to their cocktails. We decided to stack cubes made of Campari, spiced wine, and strawberry juice from restaurants 1760The Coachman, and The Orbit Room.  

    Each cube we placed into the glass had a slightly different shape, texture, and reflection so it was like starting from scratch each time. Not only that, but the cubes started melting within 30 seconds of being placed.  After the 10th try we had some nice options. But, was that the mood we were looking for? After we took a break from looking at the image for a day would we change our mind on whether we liked the mood? Whether or not we would, I decided it would be good to try other options. So I chose to photograph each cube individually placed into the glass without touching the glass. That way I could composite each cube into the glass without the messiness we were getting. In the end, the slighty more messy shot ended up on the page, but I was glad to have tried the other option.  You never know what's going to work better until you try it.

    Here are links to the other stories I worked on:  - "Buzzed" on Sparkling Wine from Tosca Cafe, Bar Tartine, and Biondivino - "Secret Recipe" story on Beretta's Negroni - "Eat & Drink" on Terra Cotta Warrior's Qishan noodles.

  • How Casual?

    Poor me, I've been photographing a lot of wine, beer, and cocktails over the past couple of months.  Wait until you see the June issue of 7x7 magazine.  I shot four features for it, three of which were beverage related.  Or see my Facebook page where I share a drink image I did on the cover of Where magazine for the month of May.

    For May's 7x7 magazine I had the pleasure of photographing ICHI Sushi and NI Bar's ICHIBIER, which was specially made for them by Almanac Beer Co.  We wanted to juxtapose some skewers from their new izakaya concept with the beer while also including ICHI's 'how to eat sushi' mural in the background.  

    The main question asked was how casual we wanted the shot to be.  Did we want some beer dripping down the side of the glass?  No, too messy.  Did we want drips of beer and a beer stain ring on the table?  Yes, that works!  All the glasses full?  No, that’s too formal.  And after tinkering for a little while we came up with our main image as seen in the tearsheet down below.  There was a little time left so I kept experimenting and shifted my perspective so the beer was backlit by the natural window light and that's how we ended up with our image for the Table of Contents (vertical seen below).  Believe it or not I was sober the whole time!

  • APA Demo

    I had the opportunity to speak as part of the American Photographic Artists Creative Professionals series.  The presentation was a food photography demo titled Collaborating with Stylists held at The Producer's Loft in SF.  I teamed up with food stylist Abby Stolfo and prop stylist James Whitney to plan a shoot and then discuss the production process with the audience.  I talked about the importance of having inspiration for shoots and how that can help drive the content.  

    The first inspiration for the shot we created originated from a beautiful table built by woodworker, Aleksandra Zee.  I often like to use graphic elements in my shots and Aleksandra's table provided just that.  We then decided to fill the table with some inspiring and tasty brunch items including bacon, bruleed citrus, quiche with asparagus, coffee cake, and oysters with coffee and cocktails.  

    The stylists and I also discussed how we decided on a lot of the details for the table.   We went with ceramic, stone, and metal as our plate and platter surfaces to contrast with the wood table.  We also spent some time talking about how to arrange food and props to make for a balanced flow of elements.  All and all many topics came up including how to find food stylists to partner with and managing food and prop costs.  

    Thanks to the many volunteers who helped make the event happen!

  • New Website, New Work

    I'm excited to share with you my new website along with the many new images on it.  The past year was quite busy and I had a lot of images I needed to narrow down.  I turned to creative consultant Bobbi Wendt to help with that.   She has been in the business for over 30 years and gave me a fresh look at my work.  For instance, take a look at the Overview gallery where there is a much more fluid connection between the colors in each image.  

    Unexpectedly this process also gave me a reminder of how great it is to do what I do.  I feel so lucky to be photographing all of this healthy food and lifestyle imagery.  When it comes down to it my mission is to promote health and well-being.  When I look at my site, it's oozing with it.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  Below is a shot from a recent personal shoot I did.  Enjoy.