Food Photo 101 – Lesson 6

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Food Photo 101 is back! Here is Nika’s next lesson, near and dear to my stomach…

Another view of BBQ pork butt

(Dark and delicious BBQ’d and smoked pork butt)

I am sorry that the next class in this series has taken so long to produce.Today I am going to step away form technical and aesthetic foci and be a bit less formal and try to tackle some of the challenges of shooting BBQ’d foods and scenes for your blog.Some of you, like Curt, may have a preference (or obsession) for BBQ so many of your images are going to have similar BBQ related needs.

Whole trout with asparagus, key limes, and grapefruit

(Whole trout with asparagus, key limes, and grapefruit)

When I think of BBQ I think of my backyard and mostly grilling, which is not BBQing at all.
Charcoal for grilled fish

(Charcoal for grilled fish)

Grilling is, I think, much easier to shoot because the grill can be better lit and you are not trying to capture the unctuous depths of a pit smoker.Compare:Grilling

Mozzarella stuffed blue cheese and basil hamburgers

(Mozzarella stuffed blue cheese and basil hamburgers)

Whole trout on the grill with asparagus

(Whole trout on the grill with asparagus)

Pit Smoker
B.T.'s BBQ: Boston Butt Pork Slow roasted pit BBQ

(B.T.’s BBQ: Boston Butt Pork Slow roasted pit BBQ)

Both cooking methods can give you similar problems – mainly dark, lumpy chunks of delicious meat that is mostly not photogenic or not nearly photogenic enough to equal the beauty of it’s flavor.
BBQ pork butt

(BBQ pork butt)

It is also hard to “food style” away the essential darkness of a perfectly smoked BBQ’d pork butt because that, in person, is what is so arresting in its beauty. In a photo, the pork butt looks like it has been burned and dried to inedibility (when, in fact, its smoked and moist).
BBQ Pork Ribs

(BBQ Pork Ribs)

Another problem with BBQ and grilling is that its a shame to lose the context by focusing too closely. If you show just the BBQ’d rib you miss the dramatic smoky grill, pit, or smoker. This means you might want to shoot outside and then lighting becomes less predictable (but exciting too). To do any sort of ambient outdoor shooting you need to master your manual settings, shoot lots of shots from many angles, and be patient!
BBQ beef ribs

B.T.’s Smokehouse: Slow roasted pit BBQ beef ribs

Go for detail, interesting point of view, drama, and emphasize context whenever possible.
B.T.'s Smokehouse: Slow roasted pit BBQ beef brisket, pork butt, chicken

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: Slow roasted pit BBQ beef brisket, pork butt, chicken)

Did I mention that you should be patient? Be patient with yourself mostly because you need to take the time to capture many alternative shots but you need to also take the time to go through all of those shots and asses which ones work, how they happened and also identify those that didn’t work. Those that didn’t work can be helpful teaching tools for you so that the next time you will know what to avoid (not that you would take any fewer shots, just that the ones you do take will likely not repeat too many of the previous mistakes).
Slow roasted pork butt

(Slow roasted pork butt)

I have been including various shots above from my own grilling and BBQ. Next I am going to show some images from a shoot a couple of weeks ago that I did at Brian Trietman’s B.T.’s Smokehouse (see these two blog posts: An improbable meat nirvana in a BBQ wasteland, Criminally Good Smoked Salmon and Bacon – B.T.’s Smokehouse). I was shooting inside of his mini-restaurant and I had no special plates because I wanted the location and the non-fussy nature of the BBQ to show through.I took a flash head but did not end up using it. Below you can see a shot of the set up – a table by some windows and a fluorescent light overhead. The light coming in from the windows was super-bright bluish light bouncing off of the snow outside. By far, the most dominant light was from the windows.
B.T.'s Smokehouse: insanely delicious smoked salmon - setting


When I got in close to shoot that side of salmon, I got this (with a bit of white balance correction after shooting in RAW)
B.T.'s Smokehouse: insanely delicious smoked salmon

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: insanely delicious smoked salmon)

I wasn’t that happy with the light in that location and my attempts to bounce didn’t give me much sparkle as you can see below.
B.T.'s Smokehouse: insane smoked bacon

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: insane smoked bacon)
I did some other shooting in the mini-restaurant/service window but didn’t do much outside because the snow was just too much for getting much of a shot. I used my Canon 30D kit lens for the general shots below.
B.T.'s Smokehouse: smoked beef jerky

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: smoked beef jerky)

B.T.'s Smokehouse: bacon for smoking - seasoning

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: bacon for smoking – seasoning)

B.T.'s Smokehouse: ribs for smoking - seasoning

(B.T.’s Smokehouse: ribs for smoking – seasoning)

Your TaskUsing everything you have learned in the past Food Photo 101 classes, go out and either shoot your own BBQ (I am sure Curt will because he has quite the set up and I am looking forward to seeing it!) or perhaps find an event where some real pit BBQers are doing their thing.Post it to your blog and send us your link or post it to the Food Photo 101 group on Flickr.

Thats it! I am looking forward to seeing what you all submit.

Class Resources

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About Curt McAdams

I guess I'm a bit of a foodie, learning to cook from my mom, then getting obsessed with outdoor cooking, competition barbecue, bread baking and just about all things food. Lately, I've been trying to upgrade my photography skills a bit, though I still have a long way to go.
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