Those of us of a certain vintage will remember Ermintrude as the pink cow from The Magic Roundabout. Although I was more of a Dylan fan, from a food perspective I reckon that Ermintrude and her bovine chums have given me rather more to work with. In a “roundabout” (sorry!) way, this is leading us to National Dairy Week.
Yes, it’s time to celebrate all those wonderful, warming, feel-good foods made with milk, cheese and cream. Just think about how many meals have their origins in a field of grass. From cheesy fish pies to creamy desserts to a refreshing glass of cold milk, dairy products are just so versatile (and so tasty).
From a photographic perspective, shooting dairy foods can be a real challenge. This is largely due to each product’s unique characteristics and the fact they don’t remain stable for long. Take pizza for example. Mozzarella cheese is probably the most important ingredient. Fresh out of the oven it will still be bubbling away and look great on the plate.
Yet within a few short minutes even the best-made pizza can look cold and insipid. So this means I have to work very quickly and make the best use of available light. Sometimes I’ll add a few pieces of fresh cheese and give them a blast with the blow torch to pep up an otherwise fading pizza. But if it doesn’t look right, it goes in the bin and we start again.
Fish pie will often contain cream and cheese (hopefully in copious quantities). But the resulting dish can look a bit washed out – that’s why it’s important to get up close and personal to highlight the strongest colours. Adding salmon and prawns can make for a visually very appealing image.
Then of course there’s ice cream! Try to shoot when it’s still frozen solid and all the camera will see are the unappetising ice crystals. Wait a minute too long and it’ll look like a gooey mess. Some people “cheat” by making “ice cream” from corn starch and dyeing it to suit. OK, that’s one way of doing it but it’s not for me. I’d rather rehearse the shot several times with an empty plate and then wait until the ice cream is at just the right temperature.
Custard and cream can pose challenges too. We all know what effect lumpy custard can have on an otherwise faultless dessert (apple pie?) whilst cream can dominate the overall appearance of a dish. Too much and a wonderful fruit salad will drown. Crockery colour is important too so that the overall image looks well balanced.
But probably the greatest challenge is making milk look like well, milk. Shooting it against a white background can be very tricky – does the milk suddenly look less white or has the background gone a funny blue colour? And how can I use it in a breakfast cereal shoot without it looking like wood glue?
For me, the answers have always been to keep things simple and to bounce around what available light there is.