On My Radar: Don’t Play With Your Food (Unless You’re Shooting It)
April 26, 2016
Every month, we ask industry tastemakers to talk about a photographer and trend that’s caught their eye. This month, Billy Murray, the editor-in-chief of Resource Magazine chose Natalie Brasinton’s Messy Food series.
“After working as a commercial food stylist, I’m jaded by the days spent sifting through potato chips to find the perfect morsel to photograph,” Murray says. “Instead, I’m drawn to food shots that are unkempt yet calculated; not quite sloppy, but certainly not clean. This is what Natalie Brasington brings to life in her Messy Food series, a personal project that combines her specialty in bright, fashion-inspired portraiture with sexy food photography. It’s a breath of fresh air among the latest craze in Shake Shack-themed food blogs, and it reminds us that although we all like to eat, everyone loves to make a mess.”
We caught up with Brasington to get her side of the story on this photo, plus how she began shooting commercial and entertainment portraits.
Tell us a bit about how you got your start in photography.
I’m a graduate from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and while I was still a student there I began assisting photographers, really just trying to log as much time on professional sets as I could. I was absolutely enchanted the first time I stepped onto a professional set. I was hooked. I made a living assisting for about four years, then moved into producing, and all the while I was shooting tests and building my book. I always had a website and new work to put on it. My first commercial job ever happened to be with Amy Schumer. She was hosting a show on MySpace TV and I was hired to shoot the web ads for the program. That jumping off point led me to Comedy Central, and years later much of my work revolves around comedic portraiture. Regardless of subject, I like to inject a sense of quirkiness or unease into much of my portrait work.
So did you shoot this photo on assignment or was it for your personal portfolio?
The Messy Food series was a personal project. I’m a big believer in giving yourself personal assignments.
How did you come up with the concept for this shoot?
I love food and I love to eat. My own observation of the acrobatics required to eat messy foods was the creative catalysts for this project. Then, after doing a little research I quickly learned how rare it is to see images of fashion models with food, especially images of models eating voraciously. This dynamic interested me. I thought of this project in purely visual terms, and I liked the idea of seeing softly lit, beautifully styled models aggressively eating gooey, sticky, messy food.
So tell us more about this particular shot—where was it taken?
The wonderful food stylist who collaborated on this project, Eugene Jho, has a beautiful loft in Bushwick he sometimes uses as a shoot space. I was introduced to him by Heather Newberger, the fashion stylist who created the looks for this project and who at the time was the head of the Styling Division at the agency that represents me, Anyway Reps. The space was ideal in that Eugene had access to his professional kitchen and there was plenty of room to set up a seamless and all the lighting in the big, airy loft space with high ceilings. That being said, it was also a walk-up and I rented a bunch of heavy equipment. Michael Granacki, a great photo assistant and great photographer in his own right that I have worked with for years, very generously volunteered his time to help me out on this project.
How did you light it?
I rented Profoto 8A packs and heads. I wanted to light this shot with large, soft sources. There is a 12 x 12-inch 1-stop silk behind the camera filling in the shot, with an Elinchrom Octabank as the key. And one thing I do a fair amount of when I want to light something soft but still get a specular highlight, is mix in a ring flash with other sources, so there was a ring flash on the camera as well. I think one of the hardest things about shooting a studio set up on location is not being able to travel with V-flats. For this shoot I experimented with blackout shades, painting one side of them matte black and leaving one side white, and hanging them with a C knuckle. The tension shades stay in place while shooting and make a 4 x 8-inch panel, but roll back up to fit nicely in a roller bag.
What gear settings did you wind up using?
I typically shoot portraits around f/11 at 1/125th of a second when I’m lighting with all strobes. The silk fill was about 1.5 stops below the Octabank, and the ring flash was a half stop over the Octa. There were two black V-flats on each side of the subject.
Did anything come up during this shoot that you didn’t expect?
This was one of my first times engaging a model booker for a personal project. My friend and the immensely talented hair and makeup artist who worked on this shoot, Alex LaMarsh, had worked with Donia Khalifa who was a booker with Major Models at the time. I put together a creative brief about the project and a PDF of some of my portfolio images and Alex facilitated the connection. I was grateful to learn about what goes into building a relationship with a model booker and the process of working with the talent they represent. Professional models, like everyone else involved here, are interested in getting unique images into their portfolios, and, if they view your shoot as beneficial to their book, they will work with you on test shoots.
This in no way means that professionals like to work for free, and never on commercial projects, but this is a city of ambitious artists looking to collaborate and stretch their creative muscles, and that includes models. Donia also outlined to me what each model she represented needed and asked me to shoot some “clean” images of everyone before they were covered in food. I was more than happy to do so and so grateful that all these wonderful people trekked out to Brooklyn to stuff their faces on camera. Paola Rodriguez, Ania Charlot, Khrystyna Kazakova, Rachel Zimmerman, Julia Kravets, Elizabeth Cunningham and Nicholas La France were the awesome models who worked on this project.
Like all photo shoots this was a team effort. I was lucky to work with an amazing team that elevated this project: Alex LaMarsh styled the hair and makeup and introduced me to Donia, Heather Newberger styled the wardrobe (this could have looked like a Tide commercial and not an art project if not for Heather beautifully creating on-trend looks in the monochromatic pallet I was envisioning), Eugene Jho was the food stylist and Courtney De Wet was the wonderful prop stylist who worked on this shoot. I have a minor anxiety attack before pretty much every personal project I shoot. I lay in bed thinking, “Maybe this was a bad idea! This could be really dumb! Maybe no one will like it!” and I talk myself off the ledge by realizing that I’m not alone here—other professionals are lending their creative voices to shoots like this and collectively we will make it great.
Model: Khrystyna Kazakova
Hair and Makeup Styling: Alex LaMarsh
Wardrobe Stylist: Heather Newberger
Food Styling: Eugene Jho
Prop Stylist: Courtney De Wet
Photo Assistant: Michael Granacki