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Photographing the Perfect Plate with Scott Grummett

Photographing the Perfect Plate with Scott Grummett

My journey into food photography began when I left college with a love of still life, I loved the technical aspects and the control of it all. My early commissions involved blowing things up, starting fires and freezing items in ice. It was a feeling of controlled chaos. From there I started assisting food photographers and found myself loving the combination of control and realism involved.

An image which I feel really sums this up for me and I’m always drawn to is one I shot last year for a Christmas campaign for Lurpak. It’s definitely one of my favourite images and one I barrage prospective clients with. The idea was to make a baking scene a little bit larger than life, adding a Lurpak Epicness to a standard scene of rolling dough.

I shot using a medium format Phase One kit with a 120mm lens tethered to Capture One software. I always shoot digital and to a computer so myself and my clients can see what we are shooting as we go, it helps you see the minute details which is important when you are arranging orange peel within a large scene. Control is always key.

I shot using three Elinchrom D-lite RX 4 heads, one above and two from the left. One as a large fill light simulating daylight and another more punchy hard light to give the contrast I like in my imagery.

The shot was very much a collaboration. My assistant Sam was nudging and moving lighting on my instruction so I could see how it affected the scene. A props stylist Lisa had brought in a range of different kitchen items for the scene from a brief I had given her prior to the shoot. She was on hand to swap them in and out and arrange them to create a pleasant image to the eye. I was particularly keen to create contours in the height, a perspective drawing your eye to the centre and a rustic realness within the positioning. The items had to look believable in their arrangement. I looked through the camera and Lisa tweaked the items millimeters at a time until we felt they were in the right spot. The incredible Rosie Scott was my food stylist on the project. We started the food scene with some rough pizza style flour throwing and ended with some precision tweezer movements of orange peel. The small details are what makes the image for me, the small rind that’s lost from the orange, the natural scatter of flour up the wrists and the leaves on the fruit for example. Rosie sourced a selection of pears for the image and they are my favourite part. The rich colours have a painterly quality for me and take me back to another era, a hint at my still life beginnings and love of the dutch masters.

Having done work for restaurants like Honest Burger, burgers have become somewhat of a specialty for me. I’ve been introduced on more than one occasion as “The Burger Guy”.

I think food shots as a whole have to make you hungry and the key to that is moisture. If you want to make the customer salivate, they have to see that the burger is juicy or include a big drip of cheese or some oozing sauce. It is also key to be able to see all of the ingredients in the burger. They are about subtle flavours working together and seeing them all is key to the viewer understanding the product.

Food photography has to be tactile, particularly when photographing a burger. Does it look like I can dive in and end up with juices running down my wrists? Count me in. If however it looks like I’ll end up wearing more than I eat you’ve gone too far. It’s important to find a balance.

My Top Tips for Aspiring Food Photographers:

1) My main piece of advice to any aspiring food Photographers is take more pictures. You can research as much you like but nothing will make you a better photographer like taking pictures.

2) It’s very important to price yourself properly. If you want to have dreams of doing this as a job, then you have to see yourself as valuable. If you make yourself the cheap option early you will be the cheap option forever.

3) Stop worrying about your camera. As you start out, worry more about what you are doing with your subject and your light than the camera capturing it.

4) Have a controllable light source. When I first started out it was a bed sheet stapled to a painters canvas. I now have a more professional version called a Lastolite Skylite Rapid. Essentially it’s a large diffuser that acts like a window. It allows me to control the size of my light, make it softer or add gradients and slick highlights to my subjects. It’s not big or clever but it helps make things look beautiful.

Having flexibility on the day is really important, I’ve upgraded my lighting as I wanted the option of more power. I now use the Elinchrom 1200RX Pack and Zoom heads, these allow me to use large lighting modifiers with the aim of getting a softer light. The pack also has a short flash duration so liquids can be near frozen in frame, or explosions can be captured with really high detail.

I chose the Elinchrom kit as opposed to other brands as it offered to me similar features but for a fraction of the price.

5) Tell people you exist. Newsletters, social media, email, phone calls. Having a website and no one knowing it exists is like opening a shop down a side street at the edge of town and hoping word of mouth spreads. Very few people have just been discovered, you have to shout your name from the rooftops. No one else is going to do that for you.

One of the biggest challenges facing all photographers today is accessibility. Everyone is a photographer now, so it’s important to stand out from the crowd.

Camera phones mean everyone is taking pictures constantly, cameras are more automatic and post production is making it easier to save mistakes. That means that there are more people working in photography and lowering the price and often (though certainly not always) the quality.

The balance is that photography is needed more than ever before. It’s more relevant and there are more platforms for it to be used. So much of my work is used by brands on social media. 10 years ago that kind of work didn’t exist, you have to adapt and find the best of the situations.

That competition can only put pressure on you to raise the quality of the work too, that is certainly not a bad thing and as a result I think there is a huge amount of great work out there at the moment which is only going to get better!

Scott Grummett is not only a Photographer and Director specialising in Food and Drink but also a friend to The Flash Centre. Along with his team Scott has been at the forefront of the modern revolution in commercial food presentation, creating delicious looking stills and films for clients in the UK and internationally.

To see more of Scott’s work visit his website


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