The day I found Calicutts Spice Co. will be a day that goes down in history as a day that made my life more flavorful… pun intended. Since that fabled meeting at the beginning of 2015, the owner of Calicutts, Robert Orth, and I have been on a mission to bring our craftsmanship into your home. He delivers the bold taste of a great spice blend and I get to make you hungry with beautiful photography.
The best part of working with Robert is that we believe the same thing: if you are going to do something, do it well. Because I can’t hand you the amazing taste of slow roasted cherry tomatoes dripped in olive oil and sprinkled with a Mediterranean style spice blend through the internet, here’s the next best thing: a photo!
This article is for the foodie and the food photographer. It talks about the process of making the images and gives you a quick look into the making of the food.
Setting up the hero photo
When I set out to make this photo, I knew that I wanted a natural light look that was very contrasty. This reminded me of Southern Italy where things are very sunny, rustic, and earthy — like a good red wine. I chose a beautiful and weathered wooden background as my base for the photo and allowed the window light to play across it from the afternoon sun. I found a tray that has some character from use and that became my food base. I wanted the final image to feel like it could be made by you at home, but still look clean and put together.
Keeping with the Mediterranean theme, I reached for a red wine, bottle, and some wine glasses to add to my image. I think they brings out character and depth of the image, not to mention they are fantastically illuminated by the sun.
As I built and prepared my set for the shoot, I was having issues with too much sun coming in the window and did decide to block out part of the set with a transparent reflector to bring some midtones into the foreground — the transparent nature allowed me to cast shadow, but not lose all the light. This also helped to create and centralize the splash of light across the tomatoes.
When I had the foreground the way I liked it, I started to address a couple other problems. The spoon (left to me from my late grandmother — not Italian, but she still loved to cook!) was reflecting a glare right into the lens. I’ve heard that you can get a matte hairspray and spray it on things like this to keep the glare down but I chose to improvise and placed an extra wine glass in between the sun and the spoon to help diffuse the light and take down the glare. I think it worked nicely
Finally the background was a bit hot so I brought in an extra mason jar for the sun to pass through, creating those dreamy plays of light you see in the background. At Robert’s request, I kept the spice mix in the photo and worked focus to keep the jar sharp. With my set ready for food I could get cooking.
Roasting the tomatoes
I love to cook and sometimes I get to be the chef for my own food shoots — this was one of those times! With the recipe in hand, I set out to make the food. This dish is pretty easy, calling for only tomatoes, olive oil, salt, and Mediterranean Spice Blend from Calicutts Spice Co.
Tumble the tomatoes with olive oil, toss on your spice blend, and disperse them on a roasting dish. Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes on 450F. For the food photographers reading this, make sure you use a separate pan from the one you’re plating on — I did so knowing that the olive oil and tomato juices will begin to burn to the pan after 15 minutes in the oven.
Checking on the tomatoes regularly, I removed them from the oven after just about 22 minutes. A splash of salt and they are ready to be plated.
Crafting the final image
I transported the tomatoes in a bowl to my set location and then began to somewhat purposefully place the tomatoes on the tray. You want to work with forced, intentional spontaneity, and make sure you have enough natural looking elements without weird tangents. Food begins to die so you need to get through this process with some quickness.
I’ve got my initial placement of the food and started by snapping a photo. I tether my camera to my computer and am able to view it large right away. Then I get to work, fussing with the positioning of the tomatoes and spoon to bring your eye to the jar with out forcing it there. We want the line elements to move your eye there naturally and not to overlap haphazardly.
Checking my focus along the way I made 15 – 20 photos before I was happy with my final image of the roasted tomatoes. Then I brought in a plate of pasta to add the tomatoes to as a secondary image for Robert & my own book.
For you food photographers, I would love to take your questions and feedback on my work! It’s definitely a process and I welcome all critiques and commentary. Give me a shout.
If you’d like to give the spices a taste you can head over Calicutts Spice Co. to learn more and get cooking!