Food Photography: Edible Exposure

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Recently, our photo-editor Heather Marcus and I took a break from our offices in Dublin to attend a Digital Photography Symposium called “Take a Shot” at the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE). It was a day spent with some of Boston’s best photographers with topics ranging from “Digital Photography 101,” “Professional Lighting Tips and Tricks,” and “Edible Exposure: Photographing Food.” The latter turned out to be my favorite class of the day. Not just because I’ve worked with Heath Robbins, the instructor, for almost 10 years now, but because after sharing with us his tips on how he goes about creating stellar photographs, he flipped the script on us (the students) making us plate and style the food, work the lighting, and frame the shot.

It’s no secret that photography is one of my greatest passions. If it weren’t for the fact that Moore College of Art and Design, my alma mater, dumped it as a major just as I entered my junior year, I probably would have become a full time photographer (you never know really). Be that as it may, all things happen for a reason and on this day, I was back at school with Heath as my teacher.

I’m not ashamed to say that it has been a challenge and a rather large learning curve for me to attempt to master the art of digital photography having learned on an old 35 mm camera my mother leant me. It took me quite some time just to understand that a digital camera is in essence a computer version of that old 35 mm I was shooting with in college some 20 years ago. I’ve signed up for a few classes here and there over the past several years but my biggest problem is finding the time to get out there and practice, practice, practice. The passion and the eye for good composition is there, I need to nurture it, which was exactly what I intended to do on this Saturday outing.

A lot of the tips that Heath had to share were things I already knew somewhere in my subconscious. It was refreshing to have the opportunity to relearn and recite. I remember him saying “examine your dish and put your focus on the exact bite you would want to take first.” That’s a great tip, I thought. I hadn’t ever really thought of it quite like that, but of course it makes total sense. We learned about lighting, metering, and cropping—more of the technical side of things so that we might be as skilled as Heath with our cameras. It was a full day and loads of fun. I enjoyed the challenge and came away with a new found respect for food stylists, prop stylists and photographers.

In October, the second edition of Best of New England Recipes: Homemade Favorites for Every Season will be available on newsstands. Back sometime in June, we set out to create another stunning issue in what would now be a series of bookazine’s for Yankee Magazine. Food Editor Amy Traverso hand-picked some 150+ recipes from our collection of past issues to feature in this book. Pulling together the team of Catrine Kelty; food stylist, Kelly McGuill; prop stylist, and Heath Robbins; photographer, we set out to create the most mouthwatering images we could. Trying to figure out a way to unify the book visually, I decided to base our visual inspiration on antique white Ironstone. The entire book would be propped and styled in shades of white, beige and creams, having the food be basically the only color on the page which would allow each of the seasons freshest ingredients to really pop.

Here are a few of my photographs from the four days we spent shooting.


Antique white Ironstone was our inspiration. Both Kelly and Catrine have a huge collection.


This is a shot of Catrine’s tools. Much like a painter, she uses her brushes in a variety of ways, most often to apply the final touches to the food like adding oil or vinaigrette to make the food look freshly dressed and appetizing. Catrine refers to it as “painting the foods.” The tool she most often uses is her tweezers for fine tuning the set.


This was our recipe for the mini apple pies with cranberry. Their turn in front of the camera was just moments away.


The mini apple pies with cranberry make their way on set. Catrine is perfecting the pies with her tweezers.


Catrine and Heath are taking a first look at their shot and discussing necessary adjustments.


Once Kelly has set up the props, Catrine has applied the food to the set, Heath has framed his shot and adjusted the lighting, they call me over for approval. Catrine applies the final touches like the syrup here on the pancakes. Syrups and other sauces are often applied at the last second before final frames are taken so as to capture them fresh and in the moment. The photographer may opt to put his camera settings on rapid shoot so they can capture frame by frame in seconds as the food stylist is applying the syrups and/or sauces. We can then go back and select the frame that is most attractive.


This is Heath and his baby. By baby I mean his old Hasselblad that he’s been shooting with for years.


Each time we produce a large book like this, we learn something new. It’s a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of stress. But after all was said and done and the final product hit the inner office mailboxes here at Yankee, we got a lot of positive feedback from our colleagues and peers. Such a nice feeling. I can only hope our readers will love it just as much. As for me and my continuing education in the world of photography, I will enjoy taking photos of my beautiful 10 month old son Emmett and leave the professional work to the real pros. Thanks again Catrine, Kelly and Heath for your unbelievable talent and hard work.

  • This comment is addressed I now to Heather ,Ian, and other Conval grads who work at Yankee
    I am glad to see all of you very successful in your chosen careers. I now
    Have the leisure time since I retired in Wolfeboro to pursue hobbies and look forward to your magazine each month.
    I especially enjoy the foliage issue, as it is my favorite season for photography
    Today we’re celebrating Rob Rossi’s 40th birthday!!!!
    Good luck to all of you


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