Francesco Tonelli Makes Food Pixellicious; A Delicious Dish Is Best Served In The Right Light Page 2

Tonelli stayed in touch with his photographer friends back in Italy, one in particular. That person told him that he should start simple and avoid expensive lighting gear. He recommended that he fabricate a simple softbox from cardboard with parchment paper as the diffuser, with a 60w incandescent bulb fixture (specifically a bedroom lamp sans lampshade) in the back. “And that was my first softbox light,” he recalls. It worked well on his earliest jobs, but he was soon eager to do more, and when he moved up to a D-SLR, he also saw the need for more serious lighting.

His choice of lighting reflects his shooting style, which is further reflected in his choice of camera. “I find the 35-style digital SLRs are more user-friendly. Plus I prefer to hand hold my camera for my food shots, which is easier with the smaller format.” He works with a Profoto Acute2R 2400 ws system because, while it operates off AC, it’s highly portable and he can still use the modeling lights. He normally carries two power packs and at least three heads. The various accessories include honeycomb grids and a 2-foot-square softbox.

To bring attention to the ingredients comprising this pesto dish, Francesco Tonelli used several strobe heads to highlight the individual components of this composite image: one on the background, another on the right as fill, and the main light, a softbox, from the back left. He noted that it’s important to constantly find new props to give the images a fresh look, which is reflected in this shot.

Most of the time Tonelli lights with the softbox, adding fill cards where necessary. However, for more dramatic lighting or to add highlights to some parts of the image, he’ll add lights with grids to focus the light on a smaller background area. He’ll also use small mirrors (some as small as an inch). “I may use three or four mirrors to reflect light from the grid spots and add to the dappled lighting effect.” Some mirrors come with a small stand; others he’ll prop up with a small wooden block or a tacky material (such as Funtac, available in photo stores).

A Unique Perspective On Food
Whereas many photographers will scrunch up some paper towels and drop that in a bowl or dish to use as a substitute while testing the lighting, Tonelli prefers to go with the real deal to give him a truer sense of texture, consistency, and color—and what would appeal to the palate. During the course of a shoot, he’ll prepare several identical dishes, using the first one or two as stand-ins. The final dish, known as the “hero” dish, is the one he prepares moments before shooting so that it’s fresh and will look on camera as it does sitting in front of you in your home or a fine restaurant. For delicate dishes, say ice cream, he turns the modeling lights all the way down (because of the heat) while eliminating ambient illumination to help him better visualize the shot. And once the food is ready, “I shoot as quickly as I can in order to catch the fragrance of the food. My challenge, having been a chef, is to capture that moment when the food is at its best. And sometimes that’s a matter
of seconds.”

What determines how he styles a shot? “Generally, it’s what we’re trying to say with the dish and the audience we’re appealing to,” Tonelli comments. He adds that you don’t want to overcomplicate the shot for a consumer magazine and make it look intimidating to the average reader. However, if you’re styling for a classy dining establishment, you bring your best game to the table.

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