Once we finished sampling some new products at the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens, the bloggers from General Mill’s Eat n’ Greet event headed over to the General Mills photo studios. This was the part of the event that Cooking with Amy, Cookie Madness and I were all excited to get to. The photo studios are not only where General Mills shoots its cookbooks and web photos, it is also where the food packaging photos are taken. They probably take hundreds of thounsands of photos inside the studio, from everyday snaps of a new brownie recipe to the photo of a bowl full of Cheerios that adorns the box for the next decade. And how often do you get the chance to meet a bunch of professional food photographers?
It was difficult to tell exactly how large the studios were, but they were spacious to say the least. There were cameras set up in front of light boxes, near windows with adjustable screens and in full-sized kitchens. There were also computers and flat-screen displays everywhere because the studio is in the process of going paperless. All of the printing is done in-house, where the printers are calibrated to the colors seen on screen after each photo is taken. The overall process went something like this: make the food, take the photos, view photos, retake photos as many times as necessary, print photos or send out for publication. Did you notice the first step? They make all of the food inside the photography studio’s kitchens so that it is fresh and so that the photographers have a good sense of the ingredients and composition of the food.
Even though their cameras and computers were undoubtedly more high-tech than my personal set-up (a Nikon D60 and a Fujitsu laptop), the process wasn’t all that different than the process I go through for taking my own photos. I make my food, try to select a piece that is representative of what the recipe looks like, take the photos and view them on my computer. Their big advantage is in the space and lighting options available in the pro studio and in all the goodies in the prop room.
The prop room is an enormous room with rows and rows of shelves stretching nearly to the ceiling. All of the shelves are packed with fabrics, kitchen tools and, most importantly, many different types of plates, bowls and other dishes in every color you can think of. These dishes set the stage for every food photo taken. My collection is a tiny fraction of theirs, but perhaps when I have more space someday I’ll add a few more pieces to my own set.
The photo studios were a little more inspirational than the kitchen visit, simply because I’m always looking for ways to improve my food photography (what food blogger isn’t?) and it was nice to see some of the set-ups that they used. And it was reassuring that they actually shoot the food as it is made, exactly as the recipe is written, and that the photos turn out beautifully with minimal handling.