Fill lights, rim lights, snoots, grids, flags, reflectors – just some of the factors food photographers need to think about when setting up their shots. Just like cooking, capturing dishes really is an intricate art.
But what if it wasn’t so complex? What if you stripped the images down to just one single light? And what if the circle of this single spotlight replaced the need to have a plate? This is the idea behind food photographer Pablo Gil’s latest project, captured using his trusty Sony α7R III and α7R IV cameras.
It all stemmed from me searching for new ways to illuminate and frame food, but in a minimalist style,” explains Pablo. “The journey led me to reduce the light sources to an absolute minimum, leaving behind the classic soft lighting and begin playing with hard directional lights. Dependingon where we place the light, we can see remarkably interesting textures and translucent effects. This reveals more of the properties of the subject, for example, the subtle char of a vegetable, or the texture of a perfectly cooked piece of meat, like in this image.
Stripped of complex lighting, the images become entirely about the food, placing it in a spotlight as a work of art, a sculpture that has been created by a chef. “We did not want any other elements to compete with the food in visual terms, not even the plate,” he says. “That was how the idea of using the actual light to form the plate came about, and I think this image is a perfect example of the food being so clearly centre stage.”
“We used a circular white light with slightly soft edges,” he continues, “projected like a theatre spotlight, created using a Profoto B10 flash and a Snoot with a honeycomb grid. Creations of this kind, often with Michelin-starred chefs, are, in themselves, works of art. The treatment is extremely exclusive and customised for each piece, by structure, composition and colours.”
Lighting is particularly important for capturing food photography. How Pablo lights his images can completely change the look and feel of the image. “Light provides the core theme of the narrative. It tells us about the mood, it reveals what we want to show and it hides secrets,” reveals Pablo. “It’s undoubtedly the most powerful weapon together with colour, and it enables us to tell stories in just one photograph.”
Pablo used his Sony α7R III and α7R IV cameras for the project, primarily because of their sensors. As he was photographing commercial work that requires as much detail as possible, the 42.2 and 61 megapixel resolution sensors provided him with all the resolution he needed, but it isn’t just about the pixel count. “I love definition and colour, and with the high-resolution BSI sensors, I can capture a greater dynamic range and sharpness. For example, the details in the highlights and shadows in this image is incredible.”
He pairs the cameras with a range of lenses, but Pablo has two particular favourites:
The Sony FE 100 mm f/2.8 G Master OSS has an almost magical smooth focus,” he enthuses, “and the Smooth Transition Focus (STF) creates blurred background bokeh that just melts backgrounds in such an organic and marvellous way, which almost no other lens achieves.” Then there is the Sony FE 90 mm f/2.8 G Macro lens: “It’s fantastic,” says Pablo, “as it allows me to do extreme closeups and create images that are sharper than many chefs’ knives!
With food photography incredibly popular thanks to the effects of social media, it can be difficult to create truly original images that stand out from the usual rustic flat-lay style image, that are increasingly common.
“The best advice I can give, and in general for all types of jobs, is to go beyond the limits and pre-established rules, which are often restrictive,” advises Pablo. “Just have fun playing with light, and your cameras. By exploring different set ups and playing with the frames and direction of light, we awaken our instincts and improve our intuition. And then,” he smiles, “we often come across very pleasant surprises.”
"An image never lies, mine may be"