Michael Schrom is the ultimate food guru, well known for his distinct high-speed camera techniques and ability to capturing foods’ most seductive qualities. As the king of tabletop productions, he turns the presentation of meals and products into an art form, visually cuing umami through a variety of camera, styling, and editing techniques. His skill in coordinating complex productions opens the door to new and more interesting ways of capturing the texture of a sizzling steak, the cool and creamy pour of a crackling ice coffee or the light, buttery meat of a Maine lobster.
In search of the visionary director and cinematographer behind most of today’s commercial food porn, we travelled to his rustic kitchen in Upstate New York to watch him at work. Joined by Zakary Pelaccio, legendary chef and owner of Hudson Valley’s ‘Fish & Game’ and ‘BackBar,’ and his devoted sous chef Stephen Hernandez, Schrom was crafting and shooting dishes rich in umami. With a mouth-watering spread to nab ingredients from, and an umami chart to guide the perfect pairing of those ingredients, they embarked on a quest to draw out umami through taste and photography. Having learned from their example, we at Resource are happy to share the best tips and tricks for the art of capturing umami.
Set The Mood– This step goes a long way when capturing the essence of a cuisines’ uniqueness, so be sure to draw it out creatively. First step is to dress the set to match the food’s best qualities and flavors: always use colors in the background that compliment one another. For this particular shoot, the food had an earthtone palette, so the table chosen for the production had rich greens and browns to match. It’s important to never bombard a dish with overbearing colors or tones in the backdrop; in the end we want to bring out the main subject, not have it lost in the sauce.Shoot Past The Dish- Let’s not forget the artist behind the art. When shooting motion for food, consider highlighting hands-on activity. Showcasing the toss of a salad, the grating of a block of cheese, or spices being sprinkled goes a long way (just ask Salt Daddy). This kind of footage helps the viewer understand all the steps that go into a finished dish. Keep in mind, chefs are silent teachers; their hands do most of the talking, so capturing their visual language is key.Light It Up- Make sure that under any and all circumstances the food is the most well-lit item in the frame. After all, food photography is all about… food. In cases where your subject is the chef, make sure to equally balance light on both them and the dish. If natural light is available, take advantage, for it portrays food the most organically and truthfully. For our umami shoot we were situated in a barn with open doors all around, which helped cast the perfect distribution of light for the mood we were aiming to attain. This allowed us to achieve a cozy, rainy day cast of illumination on the dishes, matching our comfort food theme.
Composition, Composition, Composition– Schrom explains that to capture the food’s texture and composition you must follow the movement, making sure to cornerstone the dish’s sizzle, steam, melt, gloss, and wetness. “We turn your eyeballs into the tastebuds,” Schrom confessed. This is the most important step in representing a food’s taste without consuming it. For example, in the dishes we worked with, we presented lots of swishing and pouring during the cooking process, hinting to our audience that the dishes were exceptionally juicy. Flowing movements were needed to seamlessly capture, visually, the experience of biting into the food.
Add Your Own Flare- “Everyone should come up with their own formula for a shoot,” Schrom shared, and we couldn’t agree more. Food is one of the most photographed things in the current day and age, so make sure to have a distinct style to separate you from the crowd. Come up with your own favorite texture triggers, and continually display them to cement your personalized approach. For our umami shoot, Schrom made it a point to take a naturalistic angle, with long lenses and depth of field. If shooting motion, try adding some music to resonate with the ambiance you’re going for.
Go For it– Last but not least, never take a seat when exploring new ideas to showcase food. Keep up the creativity during the whole process and never lose sight of the intent behind the shoot. If along the way you envision certain ways to enhance your shoot, incorporate them. Don’t be scared, change is good; besides nothing is set in stone when cooking and presenting dishes, so there’s always room for a complete 360 if need be.
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