Last week, I got to work with Smiths of Smithfield, at their Farringdon restaurant, shooting their steak menu and some interior shots for their Top Floor restaurant which has recently been restyled in time for summer. I've worked with Smiths for 3 years this year, and it seems with each year the quality of work we do together improves leaps and bounds.
Shooting food is hard.. Fun, but hard. I love working with food, and I don't do it enough. I think I've been lucky in that the food clients I have had, have always just made incredibly tantalising food.. For me, that's some of the work done straight away, I just heave to figure out how to capture it.
I shoot all of my food images using natural light. I find that the easiest light to work with for food assignments, especially on location at a restaurant with paying customers around you, and on a tight time scale. That being said, I would love to use artificial light for food.
Whilst at Smiths, I shot steak dishes from the 'Top Floor' restaurant, and also the 'Dining Room', with each floor serving different dishes & cuts. The Top Floor required the food be shot on a white tablecloth with silver cutlery (minus the steak knife), white plates or wooden board, red wine, water and any accompanying sides. The Dining Room required the food be shot on Smiths dark wood tables, with drinks, salt, pepper, water, napkins, but these spreads could be a little less refined than the Top Floor spreads.
For my first set up in the Top Floor restaurant, I moved a table halfway between the restaurant floor and the balcony (see above). The weather that day was really overcast, so I had no harsh sunlight to contend with on the balcony, just lovely soft light from the clouds. I moved the table to the balcony/restaurant threshold because if I had just shot the food on a table completely inside the room near the window, then I ran the risk of having a yellow cast on the food from the ceiling lights, as they contend too strongly with the window light.
The first item I shot was the Côte de boeuf, lovingly prepared by Chef Tony and his team. This is great food made well, everything you would expect from a restaurant like this. I shot the dish using the available natural light, and my 100cm silver reflector to help fill the shadows cast by the window light. At first, we used a white china plate with some SOS branding on it, but shortly moved to presenting the food on a wooden board with loads of texture (first image). I think this contrasts well with the otherwise clean cut table presentation.
I'm no expert when it comes to styling food, and a lot of the time I'm relying on my personal tastes and what feels right on the day. I know there are commercial food photographers out there who have all kinds tricks up their sleeves to help get the job done, but I'm just not that guy. I shoot what's in front of me, and most of the time it seems to work. I do love the idea of working with a food stylist though too, so if you're reading this and want to collaborate, let's talk.
Here are some shots from the top floor dining to whet your appetite:
Next on the agenda was the Dining Room, where I would be shooting the ribeye & sirloin steaks, and also a roast beef dinner. As this floor is not quite as airy and bright as the Top Floor, the images are naturally a little darker and more contrasty. This look lends itself to the overall feeling of Smiths, though, and contrasts nicely to the white whites of the restaurant upstairs.
We set up on the small dark wood tables, right next to the large, industrial windows to the side of the restaurant where the sun was. Again, I used just the natural light and my large reflector to light the food. By this time, the sun had started to peak through the clouds, and I was starting to get some hard light through the windows, reflecting off the glossy dark wood tables into my lens.
Overcoming the harsh light coming through the windows meant learning to work with it. I only had a small amount of kit with me, just a body, some lenses, and a reflector - not a diffusion panel or scrim in sight ! In the end I used Joe Nixon, one of the managers at Smiths, as my very own personal human-sized scrim to block a beam of sunlight firing across our dishes, this allowed the indirect sunlight to fill the scene more evenly.
Each scene follows a similar styling algorithm as the previous, we just change the table set up a little to make it feel fresh. In hindsight, there are things I would change - there always are - but I think this job was a success considering the tight time scale and small kit. Here are some of my favourite images from the day -