Let me tell you a little about the “usual” food photography team that I assemble. I say usual, because the team may very due to the particular job. Some jobs require additional, or fewer members, depending of the complexity of the project. Here are the typical team members and their functions, the day of the shoot.
Food Stylist – The food Stylist is responsible for making the food look more photogenic. They prepare the food and do what it takes to make sure that is food looks its best for the camera. They know all the tricks and techniques to accomplish their goals. I have seen stylists do things to food that I can’t even mention here. It’s amazing what a good food stylist can do, that a chef would not think of doing. Many clients select to eliminate this team member for economic reasons. Most of the time, I feel that this is a mistake. A food stylist, while being expensive, is usually an invaluable part of the Food Photography team. A chef makes food to taste good AND to look good. A food stylist only makes it to look good. There’s a big difference when it comes to Food photography and its time requirements.
Food Stylist Assistant – This person’s job is to assist the food stylist in whatever he or she may need. That may mean sifting through a thousand peas, to find the best seven. She may need to run to the store to get something the client said that they were going to bring, but forgot.
Prop Stylist – If there is going to be props in the shot, you probably want to have a prop stylist involved. The prop stylist that I work with most often, keeps his prop inventory stashed here at the studio so it’s always close by and ready if we need to access it. Besides having props on hand, the prop stylist will also shop and find specific props requested by the client or Art Director. In many photographs, if you look hard enough and if you’re honest to yourself, you have to admit that the props often times MAKE the shot.
The Technical Guy – This is usually someone from the client’s company familiar with how things are done at the restaurant. Sometimes this is the “client” and sometimes it’s a person in the “operations” department. We can make some beautiful pictures, but if the product doesn’t look like what you make at the restaurant, someone’s going to be in trouble… I’ve had clients here actually count the number of beans in a bean salad, to make sure that things weren’t being exaggerated, especially for packaging projects.
You, the client - The rest of the team is here to make you a happy camper. We will give you pretty much anything you want. Even if we may disagree with you about some of your decisions, we’ll offer you advice, but ultimately, the final decision is yours. It’s your nickel. Your job at the shoot is to make the big decisions. Do you like this, will be a question you hear quite a bit. We all understand that some of these decisions are tough to make, but you are the fearless leader and the rest of us can’t make you happy, if we don’t know that it is that makes you happy. In other words, we’re going to be counting on you to make those decisions. If you don’t do your job efficiently, the project may end up floundering, wasting time and your money.
Art Director – If you haven’t hired a designer or Art Director to be at the shoot, then his responsibilities end up being your responsibilities. The Art Director is in charge of making those decisions related to the photo as it relates to the eventual uses in the marketing pieces. Art Directors are good with choosing colors, angles and such. To be honest with you, the rest of the team sometimes prefers not to have an Art Director present. This gives the team more freedom to create “pretty” pictures and the need to please less people. If you’re a strong leader and can make decisions well, you won’t necessarily need an Art Director at the shoot.
Food Photographer – That’s me! My job is to make sure that everything happens, even though sometimes I prefer to have the stylist take on the majority of the scheduling and logistical responsibilities. My main responsibilities during the shoot are to manipulate the camera in selecting the angle, lens, focus, and also to create lighting for the shot. Many people don’t realize that the lighting is what most often makes a photograph appealing or unappealing, bland or dramatic. As a wise writer (Harvey) once said, It’s all in the lighting!
Photo Assistant – The Photo assistant’s job is to manage the studio and to do whatever needs to be done to keep the studio functioning properly, and to assist the photographer in his duties. He (or she) answers phones, gets lunch, moves equipment, relays communications between team members, and a whole bunch of other things.