White on white photographs have a unique challenge. Every piece in the photo is white or close to it and yet the subject should be differentiated from props and the background.
Do you see the cheese?
And the flower?
And the spoon?
In this post, Valeria Necchio shares how created this white on white photo. Learn about her food photography process, how she came up with this idea and all the decisions she made to get to this image.
About the Photographer
I opened my blog in 2009, but didn’t actually start to publish any content until the spring of 2010. At the time, I had recently graduated in foreign languages and cultural studies with a dissertation of food sociology.
I realized that food was what I was truly passionate about, from many different perspectives, and photography and visual was a very important side of it. Food has always been a crucial factor in my life, and a major interest –it is my privileged medium to get in touch with a culture, and with the time and place I find myself in.
I love talking about food, writing about it, and photographing it. I love sharing my stories around the table with others, through words and images, as I believed a photo could be a very powerful medium to covey my message.
I started blogging only when I started to be satisfied enough with the content I was able to produce, so, only after I bought a DSLR camera and leant how to master it. I followed a basic photography course promoted by the university, and then I went solo.
Her Food Photography Process
I always start from the story that inspired me to cook and share a specific recipe: depending on the tone of the story and the type of dish, I set the mood I want to give to my image – darker and moodier for hearty fall/winter dishes that go along more insightful words; bright settings and lots of whites for spring and summer, when spirits and cooking become lighter and there is a bounty of cheerfully colored produce that stands out beautifully against a neutral background.
To me, it is important to set this beforehand, as it enables me to choose the right props.
I like creating mood boards that give me instant inspiration on how to style a specific dish – and I find things like Pinterest (my Pinterest account) extremely useful in this sense. It is where I go back to before a shooting to collect ideas from great photographers.
With all these thoughts in mind, I start preparing the set.
I only shoot with natural light, so the first thing is deciding if the light coming from the window is right or if it needs screened – If it does, I hang a white linen sheet over it to make the light softer.
I then lay down a background, being it a white tablecloth, some burlap, wood or a piece of marble. Then, I pull out the tripod and my camera and start to play with different angles and frames.
Finally, I pile the props that think might work well on the side of my set, and start distributing them around, always checking if the framing is correct in my camera.
Only after I found two or three good angles and compositions, I start tackling the food. This enables me to know beforehand where things will go and to move faster once to food is ready to be shot. It is especially important for dishes like pasta, risotto, ice cream and popsicles.
As for the styling, I don’t like over-styled dishes – I try to give them always the most natural look, as they would look in real life on my table. The most I would do is wipe up any spilling and reposition some elements that might have fallen over on the edge of a dish.
Food Photography Camera, Lenses and Other Gear
I own a level entry digital SRL camera, a Nikon D5000, which I bought in 2010 and has stayed with me since.
I will upgrade to full-frame at one point, when my piggy banking will allow me to. I will choose between a Nikon D600 and a Nikon D800. I chose Nikon for not particular reason at the time, as I wasn’t an expert in brands and lenses. It just felt good in my hands when I went to buy it, and I am still happy with my choice.
As for the lens, I shot with the 18-55mm f3.5-5-6 that comes with the camera for a while, but became aware pretty soon of its limitations in terms of sharpness and aperture, so I purchased a Nikkor AF-S 50mm f1.4 as soon as I could, and this is now the lens with which I shoot all my photos.
I absolutely love it – it is sharp, bright and fast.
Most of all, being a fixed focal length, it enabled me to learn a good deal in terms of framing. I think it is a great lens to get started and learn food photography, and a good one to go back to often even when other lenses come into play. Tripod – I have a basic Manfrotto with incorporated head. It is steady enough for my camera and lens, and very light to carry around.
I already know, though, that I will have to change it as soon as I go for heavier camera bodies and lenses, but for now it is doing great for me. I carry it around using its own case, whereas for my camera, lenses and chords etc. I have an Emera camera bag that is really cute and functional.
Besides this, I have a polarizer which also protects my lens, a little Nikon command for shooting remote (although I don’t use it as much as I should, and sometimes I forget I have it), lots of memory cards, three batteries, and wires for shooting tethered.
On the prop sides, I like to collect pieces from thrift stores and vintage markets, and to mix them with more modern pieces that I purchase on Anthropology or Etsy.I particularly like old cutlery – it can really improve the appearance of a scene and make your food look amazing. I prefer neutral colors and plain design, to let the food shine in the scene.
First Decisions – Deciding the Concept
The origin and purpose of this photograph is very specific: it was part of a post that was meant to celebrate the famous event taking place in Paris called “Dinner in White”.
Of course, like it happens in the real event, everything in all photos had to be white.
Food Styling and Prop Styling Decisions
I wanted everything to look as pure and simple as possible, to create an effect of white on white where the food was still the focus of the scene. The background is a white tablecloth, which is reminiscent of the table setting one would expect at the Parisian event.
The plate is also plain white and basic, to avoid distraction from the main focus of the scene – the food. I chose that little spoon for the white handle, and for the perfect proportions with the cheese and plate.
The ricotta was the main ingredient of the dish and recipe in the post; therefore I wanted a shot where it was celebrated for its beauty and simplicity, as the ‘hero’ of the feast.
Finally, I wanted to include a white flower, as it would have created an interesting play in terms of depth of field as well as an elegant, light and fresh addition to the scene. I am lucky enough to live near a park with beautiful climbing white roses all along – I just went to pick one for the picture.
I have big windows in my living room, facing east, and they provide plenty of (often) beautiful, soft natural light, especially in the afternoon. I wanted the scene to be fully lit and bright, in line with the ‘total white’ theme. So, I filled the shadows with a simple foam reflector that bounced back the light in a nice and neutral way.
Advice for New Food Bloggers and Photographers
As someone famous said, ‘your first 10,000 photographs will be your worse’. We have the great luck of digital photography where trying until we get it right is not as problematic as it was.
My suggestion is to not give up only because your photos don’t look like those you see in books. It takes time, constancy, and patience – and some studying, as well. Shoot as much as you can, learn from your mistakes and keep proof of them. In time, going back to your first pictures will show you tangible proof of how much you achieved, improved and learnt. It works for me.
I kept my blog, www.mylifelovefood.com as it was since its origins, and although some old photos make me shiver, I want to keep them as a precious reminder of my path in teaching myself photography.
Eventually, I got to collect enough good photos to open a small personal portfolio, www.valerianecchio.com. It was a big achievement that happened earlier this year. Yet, I am already thinking I don’t like most of it – and I am ready for an improvement.
One Question for You
I hope you learned about how to create a photo of Buffalo Ricotta and Lemon Linguine from this post. In the comments below, in one line (or more), tell us what was the inspiring thing that you learned from the post.