Behind the Scenes of a Personal Food Photography Shoot

Pie Intro

It was a pie safe that we purchased years ago. Rustic, beat up, full of character. I could never walk by it without thinking of what it would look like filled with pies. Over the years it’s housed prop glasses, plates, beautiful ceramics, but never pies.

Eight years later I decided to do something about that.

Whenever I have some free time I love to schedule personal shoots. I get to work with friends and lovely models, create a story of my own, and shoot it the way I see fit. One doesn’t always get that luxury when working for clients as there are a variety of requirements to meet. Not that I object! It’s just nice to do something for yourself now and then, right?

The idea for this story involved a couple making pies one late afternoon. I called my dear friend Ellen at Neat Productions to handle the casting, and before long we were looking at a dozen models. I must admit I really love this part!

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“Hold this. Turn this way. Use the rolling pin. Got it.”

 

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With the casting underway, I turned to my folder of sketches and drawings I stored just in case I ever got around to shooting this story. Swatches, colors, fabrics, and inspirational images go into it, and I soon started the task of turning ideas into actions. One thing I knew I wanted to use was an old stove. Luckily there’s a shop with a wonderful collection of vintage stoves right around the corner from our studio, so after asking if I could rent one I found a mover to drop it by. Those suckers are heavy!

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Once it was delivered, it met the pie safe and a lovely old farm table. I think they all got along perfectly and all I needed to do was build a shelf over the stove and start dressing the set. I pulled from our prop collection and went to town. So much fun!

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The lighting for this story would be a balance of very bright directional light and dark, contrasty shadows. I wanted to feel like you were in a kitchen one late afternoon when the sun has just peaked and is on its way down, high up in the sky. Not flooded with light, but still keeping the intensity. This was done by blocking quite a bit for shadows (all the black foamcore) and keeping the light high. The two wall flats were also painted a very dark shade of brown, a departure from the dark greys I prefer. It helped to cut down reflection and light. Shadows can be your best friends.

 

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The set was extremely minimal and only took 45 minutes to put together.

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I didn’t need a wardrobe stylist for this shoot, I wanted the models in their own clothes to keep it casual. However, I did have to hunt down aprons, and eventually decided on a beautiful blue apron from Madison And Muse for her as well as a few others for him.

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Shot over 2 days, we started with the skeleton crew for the food. Pies were baked (thanks, Adam!) while I photographed ingredients and process shots. Unfortunately they weren’t baked in the vintage stove, which is probably a good thing now that I think about it.

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On day 2 our models and crew arrived in the afternoon. Thanks to old Xscape, 702, Inoj, Blackstreet, Brownstone and Zhane for keeping the mood just right. After a quick visit to the hair and makeup department (a/k/a Candy Corner), the models were ready to hit the set and start making pies.

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Cal crimps and primps! Also, a few touch ups between takes with the amazing Aunny De La Rosa!

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After a few process shots it came time for the best part of the day: TO EAT PIES. Like everything we shoot, it’s completely edible and considering Adam made these pies, well, enough said. They are legendary.

I wanted to get some action shots with hands so I crawled up a ladder and made the models eat VERY slowly. Awkward yes, but it made for a great shot!

eating-pies!

Photographing the models went very quickly (they are professionals after all) so once we were done it came time for the editing process. I use Capture One to shoot tethered and to process my images, but I usually wait until I’m back at my home office with my calibrated monitors before working on edits or colors.  Most things can be done with Capture One so it was easy to finalize the shoot. If I have to use photoshop it’s for things like cloning or removing items within the frame (like a seam)

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With the shoot done, I can now add it to my portfolio and use it in promotional materials. Now let’s eat pie! Come back tomorrow where I’ll share the final images with ya! Thank you so much for reading!

Thanks to Adam for humoring me and making beautiful pies! To Ellen, Aunny, Byron, Aubrey and Calvin… a million thanks!

 

Jordan Vineyard & Winery

There’s nothing I look forward to more than my annual trips to Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Healdsburg, Sonoma, California. I’ve been traveling there and photographing all sorts of beautiful things for many years, and I get downright giddy when I get the email from my colleague and friend, Lisa Mattson, asking about dates.

Why do I love it so? Let me count the ways.

  • A beautiful property with exquisite food and wine
  • The Jordan team couldn’t be more talented and friendly if they tried
  • There’s wine
  • And more wine

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture at this point, right? I said wine, right?

This year I actually went back and forth over a few weekends, capturing magical moments at sunset and also quiet times as the sun rises in the garden. As a photographer we live for these beautiful moments, and you find it extremely difficult to put your camera down for even just a second lest you miss something.

Being at Jordan also works my photographic chops — I’m shooting people, food, vistas, details, drinks, wine, interiors, you name it. It keeps me busy but it’s a dream job, I ain’t gonna lie.

But enough about that, let’s look at some photos!

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Can you believe this view? I mean, really. Look at it. As far as the eye can see it’s beautiful. And apparently you can see three separate counties from the highest point in Jordan Winery.

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Chef Todd Knoll prepares exquisite and creative dishes, always a delight to visit with him. And the abundance of fresh ingredients makes for some fun photos.

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I could photograph Nitsa’s flowers all day long. Also, need some moss for some arrangements? Just step outside. Lucky!

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Jordan Winery, Sunset Supper Photo Shoot, Sunset SupperIt’s not Sonoma unless I leave with tons of grape shots!

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So many wonderful moments around the property and gardens. FIGS FOR DAYS!

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All hands on deck when it comes to blocking down some overly-dappled light. Shooting midday outdoors can be difficult, luckily the trees provide lots of coverage.

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Great food and wine, what more do you need?

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Oh yes, olive oil. Jordan olive oil, which is outstanding. Here’s a product shot I wanted to try on a beautiful piece of wood, and luckily leaves and fruit are only a hop skip and a jump away.

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A Star Wars selfie. I’ll have to tell you about this later. Thank you for helping me, Erin.

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I photographed a tour group before the lunch scene and my assistant played model. He always dresses well.

MattArmendarizJordanBlog_0048Me and Byron! I told you he’s sharp.

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Also, romantic fires burning during summer midday can leave you a bit spritzy. Can I get a glass of chilly wine?

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For a story we headed to another vineyard one morning, the light was fantastic!

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Also, THESE MOMENTS.  Can you believe that table? And that little sitting area? So beautiful.

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Thanks to all my friends at Jordan! Thank you Byron! See you soon!

A Spring Pizza

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There’s not much of a recipe here, just an idea for free form pizza ingredients that are currently rocking our world. We’re calling it a spring pizza, and it goes something like this: fresh peas, ricotta, pesto, maybe some burrata, , some fennel sausage, and maybe some sliced fresno and/or fresh jalapeños.

And yes, I will do a full pizza post soon now that we’re in outdoor mode.

Oh, and the dough? It’s Roberta’s recipe from the New York Times. It’s lovely.

P.S. We did this version on the grill, as a book I shot just recently hit the shelves. You may already know Pizza On The Grill, but there’s an update with new recipes photographed by yours truly. Check it out!

 

Workshops at Gulf Photo Plus 2014 in Dubai!

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My feeble attempts at putting words together will not convey the excitement bursting from inside me regarding this announcement. I am joining several world-class photographers and instructors this year at one of the most preeminent photography festivals ever offered. And folks, this makes me giddy!

Next month I’ll be leading a few food photography related workshops and talks at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai, and my activities also happen to coincide with the Dubai Food Festival. I’m doubly excited about this!

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On March 7th, I’ll be speaking about creating delicious images with your smartphone. This is going to be so much fun for me as I’m never without my iphone, and working within the limitations of this technology can actually extremely liberating.

On March 7th, I’ll be takin’ it back to my roots and discussing writing, food photography, and blogging in this talk titled “All About You: Great Writing and Food Photography For Bloggers”.

On March 9th and 10th, I’ll be leading an in-depth, 2 day food photography workshop that is limited to 12 participants only. This is going to be intense, packed with hands-on activity and information and we are gonna work. I mean that! The level of festival attendees blows my mind and I know I’ll get as much out of it as I put in.

Also — and I’m not gonna lie — I’m a bit starstruck when I check out the list of photographers teaching workshops at GPP 2014. Zack Arias, Gregory Heisler, David Hobby, Joe McNally, Steve Simon, just to name a few. I’m thrilled to meet everyone!

Visit Gulf Photo Plus’ Festival 2014 page for all the details and if you are planning on attending any of my workshops please do let me know! I can’t wait to meet you!

And check out Dubai Food Festival, too!

GPP2014 Dubai | A Week To Remember! from gulf photo plus on Vimeo.

About That Pizza Oven…

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If we are friends in real life, then you most likely know that I’m a rather easy-going guy (on most days, I mean). I prefer to roll with those punches, to let bygones be bygones, and accept what the universe presents to me most of the time. I’m fine with just about anything, really.

EXCEPT PIZZA.

No, really, except when it comes to pizza.

Far from being a snob, I feel as if I’ve put in my time when it comes to doughy, salty, greasy disks of fast food or chain pizza pies. After all, the typical oil-laden pepperoni pizza of my youth were certainly all I ever knew. That changed in early adulthood as I moved around the country, then years later upon traveling to Italy and making pizza there. I learned that it doesn’t take much to make me happy, and that a real Neapolitan-style pizza is my personal benchmark for how these things should be enjoyed.

Quality ingredients, simple methods, and a great oven. Done.

(And Sorry Deep Dishers, but I just can’t get down with that. I lived in Chicago for several years, I get it).

For the past decade or so,  I have welcomed the pizza renaissance in the US with open arms. There’s amazing pizza to be had from the East Coast to the West Coast, and even if LA was just a little bit behind the curve, the horizon sure looks good from here. And yet, no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t replicate my favorite pizzas at home. Sure they were good, and sure I’ve experimented with 20+ dough recipes, but nothing ever came close.

As we began to discuss remodeling our backyard, there was no way I wasn’t going to set aside the space and funds for a dream I’ve had for twenty years: to have my own pizza oven. As I  cooked and traveled, I realized that the only way to make the kind of pizza I wanted would involve a wood burning oven. Case closed, no discussion. But a lifetime of apartment renting doesn’t really allow for that, so when I saw my opportunity I jumped at it.

You might even say I bought a house just to have my own pizza oven. You wouldn’t be far off.

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After lots of research, I realized it was meant to be when I found Los Angeles Ovenworks, a company that specializes in outdoor wood-fired ovens. We discussed sizes, footprint, where it’d live, and a style we wanted before deciding on the oven of our dreams. The oven, handcrafted in Italy, arrived in pieces and sat for what seemed like an eternity, just waiting to be set up and installed.

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I can’t tell you how anxious and antsy I was as I waited for construction issues to pass.

But once they did and permits were pulled, it went up within a day. Consisting of a few pieces, the housing took a bit longer as it had to match the rest of the backyard design. Oh, and once it’s completed, I’ll be sure to share the entire backyard project with you, too. Promise!

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Once it was done, it took about a week of daily small fires to cure it and remove all residual moisture inside. It was fun to start fires, but frustrating knowing I wouldn’t be able to cook just yet. Patience, I told myself.

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AND THEN THAT FIRST TIME?

That absolute first time?

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I can’t even tell you the satisfaction and happiness I experienced that day. From arranging the wood to letting it burn out and moving embers, I realized a dream come true in that moment. The smell of smoke, the sensation of extreme heat, the pizzas that would be made in a matter of minutes, it is all that and more. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, hands down. And when I find myself with an evening or afternoon free, it’s pizza time. It’s restorative, meditative, relaxing and centering. Heck, it might as well be yoga for me. Except I finish with pizza. You can’t beat that.

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While I’m far from a pizzaiolo, I’ve learned that the secret to a great pizza is heat. Lots of it. And done the correct way. In fact, even my least favorite doughs seem to come out just fine when cooked in a wood-fired oven. It’s that heat, I’m tellin’ ya. It’s amazing.

 

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It takes about 90 minutes to get the oven where it needs to be for pizza, but waiting is a pure pleasure. It’s the only time I slow down and focus. One must always pay attention with fire.

 

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Brcocolini and mozzarella and sauce

 

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Caramelized onions, sage leaves, blue cheese and walnuts

 

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Shaved Brussels sprouts, bacon, egg, about to go back into the oven

 

Of course, it’s a real oven and I’ve had a wonderful time learning to cook other things in it. Not everything has been successful, but I’m making delicious mistakes.

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Shrimp, chorizo, lots of garlic, olive oil, and pimenton in small skillets then fired. OH MY GOD.

 

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Wood fires and smoke were made for roasting whole fish. It’s simple and perfect.

 

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These things were meant to go together.

 

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The new pizza oven even played a staring role in a photoshoot I did at home.

 

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Next to pizza, roasting a chicken is possibly the most amazing thing to do in a wood fired oven. This chicken will become part of the Zuni Chicken & Bread Salad recipe, something we make all the time now that we can. Heaven.

 

Once the rest of the outdoor kitchen is completed I’ll make sure to post more, including recipes for my favorite sauce and dough. In the meantime, if you’re ever in the mood for a pizza party, come over. You don’t have to ask me twice.

The First Pizza of 2014

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Maybe some day soon I’ll write an ode to my backyard pizza oven. It’s a very intense love affair, you know. But in the meantime, here’s the first pizza of 2014: bacon, brussels sprouts, and an egg cracked on top. I can’t think of a better way to start this year off.

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