Friday, February 22, 2008

Behind the scenes of a food photography shoot with Judd Pilossof

above photo: Judd Pilossof
I had the great fortune to sit in on a food photography shoot of one of my favorite photographers, Judd Pilossof. How did I fall into such a windfall? Judd is teaches a one-week still life photography class at the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine that I have signed up for this summer. It is so rare to find a class taught by someone whose work and aesthetic one admires. I couldn’t believe my luck stumbling upon his listing (well, I didn’t exactly stumble, I’ve been looking and looking for just the right class for a long time)! I emailed Judd to ask some questions about the class, and in the course of our emails asked if he wouldn’t mind if I watched one of his shoots. Coincidentally, Judd’s studio is about 10 blocks from my apartment. About a week later, he emailed to say he had a three-day shoot scheduled for a food product company’s publication, and I was welcome to come and observe one of the days.

above photos: Judd Pilossof
It was a terrific experience to be a fly on the wall during a shoot. There were about 15 people bustling around his studio: five clients helping to guide and approve the shots, ~5 people on the photography team working on lighting, backdrops, shooting and manning the tethered computers, ~2 food stylists preparing and prepping the food, and ~2 stylists dealing with props. Each shot was perfectly planned out. The ultimate publication was storyboarded and posted on a wall in the studio. The areas for copy both within and around an image were mapped out and each individual shot was sketched in its appropriate place. The photography and styling team had a list of products, food items and props for each shot. Some of the props came from the client, some from prop rental companies. As sets were broken down, the styling team swooped in with the next batch of props and set up the next shot. There were three simultaneous camera/sets at any one time and an unimaginable 15 shots were scheduled for each day.
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Scenes from the Shoot
1) Storyboard for the lobster shot
2) The mighty Hasselblad

3) The very beginning of the lobster shot
4) A blue sky backdrop is tried
5) The backdrop is switched to a plain white cloth (later covered with a solid blue cloth, and back-lit). The food “stand-ins” arrive.
6) Scene from behind the camera


7) The real stars arrive and are prepped: lobster, grilled corn, potato salad and lobster bisque
8) The final shot on the computer

__________
Some of the shots were product silhouettes and were accomplished reasonably quickly. Others were environmental shots with more elaborate sets and tricky lighting schemes and were worked on for several hours. During this time, food “stand ins” were put on set until the actual food was dropped in closer to the final shots. The entire operation was amazingly efficient. Everyone knew his/her role and buzzed around executing the shots like a perfectly choreographed silent ballet. The food arrived perfectly prepared for the shot and the team tweaked and garnished it on set. Lighting was adjusted, backdrops were experimented with and props were shifted but it all happened very quietly and decisively. The kitchen was a mad scene of cooking but was very serious and calm – so serious, in fact, it was clear an interloper would not be welcome, so I only occasionally dropped in to check out the proceedings. Everything that came out of the kitchen looked beautiful, and it fascinated me to watch the lighting and set changes that ultimately created incredible, production-ready images (never heard a single “we’ll fix that in post-production”: everything was perfected in camera). I wish I could share more of the images from the day.

above photos: Judd Pilossof
All of this only made me more excited for the summer class. Judd was extremely generous, taking time to talk and explain things throughout the day. There was tons of equipment on set that I have no idea how to use, and would love to know more about. There were also many techniques that I know about but don’t currently do: namely studio lighting (a major one), strategic use of black cards to absorb light and more scientific use of white cards to bounce light. I picked up all sorts of neat little tricks that I can’t wait to experiment with. Judd has an incredible talent for making even studio-lit shots look natural and soft. His shots look so luscious, rich and tactile – if I can just pick up a little fairy dust this summer, I will be delighted.

For more information on the Maine Media Workshops and Judd’s class, see here. To see Judd’s portfolio, see here.

above photo: Judd Pilossof

27 comments:

Peter G said...

What an informative post Sabra! I will be looking into this course...hope it hasn't sold out.

Tim Broyer said...

Your visit sounds like a dream come true! Judd is where I want to be one day. This helps me see how far I have to go.

Melanie said...

Wow, what a cool experience. My sister lives near where the class will be held - it's tempting to take a trip! The pictures are breathtaking.

linda said...

Very cool! Wish I could have been there :)

Katia said...

Wow- the photos are amazing! I can't wait to see the rsults of your newly gained knowledge. Very exciting- good luck with the class!

amy said...

Very interesting description of what was going on behind the scenes. I also liked the way you shot and numbered your photos. Beautifully relayed experience- reading your post was the next best thing to being there.

Simply...Gluten-free said...

Great post, what an exciting opportunity. I alreadt thibk your photos are stunning.

Gigi said...

I really loved this post! I really learned a lot and the link to the photographers work was amazing. Thank You.

Madam Chow said...

What a fascinating and informative post!

Andreea said...

such a great experience (and opportunity). looking forward to the tricks your picked up. doubt he'll be offering any courses in europe anytime soon :)

jen maiser said...

What an amazing opportunity! Thanks for sharing.

catchall fan in brooklyn said...

Great post. I've always wondered how this works! I love the layout of the post, fascinating!

Annemarie said...

You lucky, lucky person. The course promises to be nothing short of inspirational - congrats on getting this experience under your belt as well.

skrockodile said...

Thank you for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this post! I do feel lucky for such a great experience. Can't wait for the class.
Thanks for visiting, Tim and Jen!
Peter/Melanie (or anyone else) - let me know if you sign up. :)
Simply gluten free: thank you - I appreciate it!

Dayna said...

This looks like it was an unbelievably great day.
Thanks for the inspirational and insightful post.

Kate / Kajal said...

sabra , i loved this post , its like i got a chance to be there for the photo shoot myself. I would do anything to get an opportunity like yours. I'm sure this was a gr8 learning experience for you. Thanks for sharing it with us. I now totally envy you :D

Bea said...

Lovely informative write-up! I have always been a fan of Judd's work. This Maine class sounds wonderful too, I hope to investigate about it! thank you.

Tartelette said...

Great post! We have a Hasselblad, not digital though from when B. had his photo studio. I love shooting with it but he won't let me doing so without his supervision as I have a tendency to break things just by looking at them! The pictures are perfect.

skrockodile said...

Thanks Dayna, Kate, Bea!
Tartelette: you are so lucky - you must wrangle this camera from him and buy a digital back! What an opportunity!

Japanese Ice Cream said...

Great post and very interesting although I think these types of photos are a little too posed for my liking.

vegeyum said...

What a precious opportunity. Your post of it was wonderful to read. There is no better class than watching someone actually on the job. I really liked your comment about no post processing. Sometimes I think we have forgotten how to TAKE good photos - we only know how to fix bad ones. :-)

chou said...

Wow, thanks for letting us peak in with you. What an interesting post. :)

Rumela said...

Wow!! You must have had an amazing experience. The food photographs are cool too. Thanks for sharing so much information with us.

Julia @ Mélanger said...

Hi, I just came across your site, and this post. This is so informative - thank you. I am lucky to have a DSLR (my partner's) but I don't know what I'm doing with it! Hopefully this will help me. :)

abby jenkins said...

What delicious shots!

I am working, propping, a cookbook this week. My favorite freelance gig ever!

clippingimages said...

very cool :)

thejunglefever said...

Wonderful post! I know from working on other photo sets how much work a seemingly simple photograph can take, but it's always nice to see the behind the scenes process. Thanks!

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