Photo Shoot with Food Photographer Jon Edwards and Food Stylist Denise Vivaldo

by Lynne on June 11, 2010

Post image for Photo Shoot with Food Photographer Jon Edwards and Food Stylist Denise Vivaldo

Egg Salad Vegetable Plate

Recently I had the amazing good fortune to attend a food photo shoot for an international food market with the world-renowned food photographer Jon Edwards at his studio in Monrovia, CA. Also sharing the spotlight were preeminent food stylist Denise Vivaldo of FoodFanatics, her colleague Cindie Flannigan, with Jeff Parker assisting. I had never seen a professional photo shoot, so I was really excited, not only to see how it was done, but to learn some tips to improve my food photography. Be sure to check out Jon Edwards Photography website.

1 Jon Edwards - Denise Vivaldo - Cindie Flanigan - Jeff Parker

Here are the main characters in this story: (top) Jon Edwards , Denise Vivaldo, (below) Cindie Flannigan and Jeff Parker.

2 Studio before shoot

The studio is in a 4500 sq.ft., 2-story red brick building with a 20 ft. ceiling and a wall of industrial-style frosted glass windows that face south. When I arrived at 9:00 am every thing was pretty quiet, because the food packages and ingredients from the client’s commissary hadn’t arrived yet.

3 Studio Camera Macs

Here you can see how the camera and computers are set up. The digital camera is a Hasselblad H2 with a medium format and an attached Phase 1 Back (P45) digital sensor. That means it has a larger format and the sensor has a bigger file than a 35mm like my Canon T1i. The camera is tethered to the Mac computer (center), so the RAW photos can be seen immediately on the monitor.

To the left of Jon’s monitor is his assistant, Heather, who actually has three jobs, as Retoucher, Photo Assistant and Digital Tech. She is wired to Jon’s computer also, so she can do the post-production work on the photos. Heather has a BA in photography from Brooks Institute of Photography with an emphasis in advertising. Her work is amazing. More about her later.

4 Food Photo Props

The back quarter of the floor space is jam-packed with shelves of food photo props of every color and description.

5 Kitchen

The kitchen is adjacent to the photo studio area. Here it is, waiting in readiness for the food and ingredients to arrive. The food stylist’s equipment bags are on the floor in the corner. On the wall is the client-prepared list of what photos are to be shot, along with a description, such as if the shots are to be vertical or horizontal. They were crossed off one by one as the day progressed. In the middle of the work table was a foot-high stack of paper towels that had been ripped from a roll, with the sides neatly aligned. This food preparation area was meticulously neat and organized.

6 Egg Salad Mosiac

The client’s food finally arrived and Cindie and Jeff got to work preparing the first plates. While Jeff was working on cooking and beautifying some chicken legs, sausages and onion slices for the shoot later in the day, Cindie created this salad. She cut the stems off the spinach and arranged each one perfectly on the plate, then added the other ingredients. From there it went to the table in the studio in front of the camera. Behind the table is an 8-foot high piece of white cardboard used to reflect light, and a smaller piece clamped to a tripod. You can see Cindie painting the potatoes with oil to make them shiny. And Jon takes the shot with a remote. The clients looked at the photo on the monitor and gave their approval.

7 Vegetable Mosiac

Here the hero arrives covered with a wet paper towel to keep the veggies from drying out. Jon shoots the hero and looks at it on his monitor. The other two photos I took and you can see that they tried one with white boards under it and the other with a brown wood table. My photos aren’t exactly like Jon’s because I was shooting over, under and beside his camera. My photos also don’t look like Jon’s because my camera is a measly little thing compared to his and I’m no photographer. But mine will give you the idea, so no laughing.

8 Food Styling Tools

In the middle of the studio was a work table where the plates from the kitchen were placed until they were put in front of the camera. Also on the table was Denise’s styling tool bag, here a front and back view. The iron was used on napkins and placemats that needed a touchup.

9 Pasta Salad 1

Cindie prepares the pasta salad in the kitchen and in front of the camera Denise re-positions an olive with a long tweezers and brushes it with oil to give it highlights.

10 Pasta Salad 2

This was the moment of my epiphany for the day and where Heather re-enters the story. I took my shot of the pasta salad and was holding it up next to the photo on Jon’s monitor. His photo looked sunny and warm (on the right). My photo looked gray and lifeless (on the left). So I asked Heather to come and have a look and see if she could tell me why. “Oh sure, you have a problem with your color balance. Give me your camera.,” she said. So, she took my camera, pushed a couple of buttons, gave it back to me and told me to go back and take the photo again. So I did. Eureka!! It was golden and sunny (middle) just like Jon’s. I was just about jumping up and down. OMG! I asked her what she did, and she explained she changed the white balance from AWB to the “shade” setting. I never would have known to do this in a million years. Heather is brilliant.

11 Meatballs Pasta

The bowl of pasta and meatballs is sitting on the work table in the studio on a stack of possible placemats and napkins. They chose pokadots for the final shot.

12 Curly  Pasta

The hero comes to the work table in the studio along with a tray of the hero’s components, which will be used by Denise to add to the hero if it needs it. Here you can also see how I took one photo on AWB and one with the “shade” setting to see the difference. The square of carrot on the right was added by Denise after consultation with the Jon.

13 Butter Lettuce

Here you can see Denise’s tweezer repositioning the walnut half. The client was concerned that it was sticking up too far, so in the final photo it was lowered more into the salad. My photos are now very similar in color to the one on Jon’s monitor. Oh, I am soooo happy about that!

14 Pesto Pasta

You can see how the component parts of the curly pasta salad came from the commissary in plastic tubs and Cindie carefully placing each piece. This gives you an idea how far the camera is from the hero. And I am in awe of the beauty and simplicity of the bread crouton and little sprig of rosemary which are used to garnish this dish.

15 Burgers Chicken Sausage

The Chicken, Sausage and Burger photo was the grand finale for the day. This is very similar to the final money shot.

16 Torch Burgers Chicken

Cindie is using a hair dryer to soften the cheese on the burger patty. Earlier in the day Jeff was torching the barely cooked chicken thighs.

17 Kitchen Burgers

Cindie builds the burgers so they look perfect, with perfectly manicured bun tops.

18Chicken Sausage Burgers

The components for the last shot come out of the kitchen one by one and are assembled into an artistic array.

19 Denise vivaldo and Cindie Flannigan

At the end of the day I wanted to get a photo of Denise and Cindie together. During the day there was no time because they were working in different rooms and were really busy. Well, these are two people who have a lot of trouble standing still and smiling at the same time. They are really wiggly. So the photos are more like impressionistic paintings. Think of it that way.

Thank you Jon, Denise, Cindie, Jeff and Heather for letting me share your work day. I am in awe of what you do. Especially your meticulous care in making sure the final work for the client is as perfect as you can make it. I learned so much, its amazing! And I hope I didn’t bug you too much by running around and photographing every little move you made. Thank you again.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Monet June 11, 2010 at 7:23 am

What a wonderful and informative post. It is amazing to see the work that goes into make those photos look as crisp and stunning as they do. Thanks for giving me a behind the scenes view!

Carla Snyder June 11, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Great post! It was so fun to see Denise and Jeff, fellow foodie friends. Thanks to George Geary for sending me here. I’d love to hang out and watch these pros at work. Lucky you!

Pam Hadley June 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I too really enjoyed reading about what goes on behind the scenes of food photography.
CARLA, I’ve worked several times with George Geary many years ago at the Bristol Farms cookng school and he is a lot of fun to be around.
Thanks again, Lynne.

Liz Tagami June 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Thanks for another great post! I enjoy being a subscriber!

Patti at Worth The Whisk June 11, 2010 at 5:26 pm

WOW WOW WOW, Lynne this post is incredible! Holy cow, you are good at blogging, keep up the great work.

Adair @ Lentil Breakdown June 12, 2010 at 7:27 am

You’re no photographer? Bwaaaaaaaahaaaaaaaahaaaaaaahaaahaahaaa!

Patti June 12, 2010 at 12:57 pm

What a great day for you. Love the whole story! You learned a great trick as well. 🙂

polwig June 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

These photos are amazing and so is this post. Thank you for the information about how much goes into every food shot. It is so impressive to look at great shots like these.

Memoria June 12, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Your photos are FANTASTIC!! You are going to be a pro in no time. Ever since I learned about the white balance on my DSLR, my “world” has changed, too haha. Sometimes it can work against me, though. Just make sure you try out different settings when the light is iffy.

Grapefruit June 12, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Awesome post! I really enjoyed the read and the photos!

bunkycooks June 13, 2010 at 4:48 am

That was a great experience! Thank you for sharing the day and your photos.

zoom yummy June 13, 2010 at 7:59 am

Wow, that is one wonderful post. I really enjoyed it. But the part with the props, well… that one made me shed a tear and I started to tremble with jealousy. Because I WANT THEM ALL! Like really. 🙂 Petra

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks June 16, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Bravo. Thanks for documenting your experience. I learned a ton and will be back to re-read.

Fuji Mama June 25, 2010 at 2:20 pm

This is such a fabulous post Lynne! Love the behind the scenes peek and tidbits of wonderful knowledge that you picked up for us!

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