What Can you Learn from Cheap Chocolate?

March 10, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I recently bought a book simply titled "Chocolate".  I am not a chocaholic. I am an aspiring food photographer and I bought the book because I was blown away by the stunning photography.  The book was a collaboration between Pierre Hermé and Sergio Coimbra.  For those of you who don't know, Pierre Hermé is one of the world's best pastry chef's and Sergio Coimbra is one of the world's best food photographers.  If you have seen photographs taken for Marks and Spencer it is likely that you have seen some of Sergio Coimbra's work (you can read more about him here). He is one of my sources of inspiration.  He has photographed dishes from many of the worlds top chefs. He has even built a chef's experimental kitchen at his photo studio so that he can observe the culinary masters at work right inside his studio.

To understand how Sergio took some of his photographs I set about trying to emulate one or two.  I bought some cheap chocolate bars, set up my camera and lighting and took some photos.  Straight away I noticed key differences in the chocolate.  The shine of the chocolate was just not there.  There was a number of defects in the surface, air bubbles, surface discolourations, pockmarks, tiny bumps, scratches  and blemishes.  

Chocolate close up Chocolate squareClose up of a square of chocolate in a chocolate bar

My first lesson was a reminder that the choice of ingredients is critical.  Any chef could have told me that.  Provenance and quality of ingredients has direct affect on the quality of the finished product. 

Having discovered these defects I was intrigued what had caused them.  I started to research the chocolate making process, blending, conching and tempering. Many of these processes were familiar to me as I studied metallurgy at university and they are all used in metal processing.  My distant memories of fluid mechanics lectures helped me understand the effects of viscosity on bubble formation. A dusty appearance can be caused by humidity being too high and this excess moisture might also be the cause of a gritty appearance. Get the tempering right, control the temperature properly and you get a beautiful sheen and the chocolate to hold fine detail.   All this made me realise that having an understanding of the subject would help me to take a better photograph.

My final lesson was to embrace what I had. I knew and more importantly understood what was bad about the chocolate I had bought.  I knew I couldn't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, but could I make something ugly appear beautiful? Realising that there would be defects throughout the chocolate I decided to highlight them. I set up a light with a yellow gel and shone this onto a broken piece of the bar. The white sugar crystal defects that were littered through the chocolate bar gave contrasting lines and spots of yellow against the dark chocolate. The yellow light gave warmth and vibrance to the picture.

Close up of chocolateBroken piece of chocolateClose up of a broken piece of a chocolate bar showing sugar crystal defects

My main lesson from this experience - it doesn't matter what you are photographing: a person, a building, food or a product if you take the time to get to know the subject and understand what is important to them, then you will get a better photograph.

If you would like to work together photographing your products, business or people please give me a call on 07557 780336 or email richard@rgillphotography.co.uk



No comments posted.