If you haven’t seen this yet – you really need to add this to your list. I’m talking about the massive cooking encyclopedia called The Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. It’s a whopping 2,438 pages in a 5 volume set.
The author is Dr. Nathan Myhrvold. That’s right, I said Doctor. Photography is just one facet of this man’s amazing resume. He has a myriad of master’s degrees in various sciences (mathematical physics, geophysics, and space physics), a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, another master’s degree in economics from Princeton, oh, and don’t forget his doctorate in theoretical and mathematical physics, also from Princeton.
OK, so you get the idea. The man is a scientist and takes this approach to his food photography, like no one else I’ve ever seen before.
Nathan and his crew created THE encyclopedia of cooking. The 5 volume set has 1000’s of beautiful photos. The photos range from simple how-to images for recipes, to huge, beautiful one of a kind images showing something in the process of cooking that has never been photographed in this way before.
The level of complexity with these shots is incredible and it would take a scientist to figure something like this out.
Nathan created the The Cooking Lab, which is where this volume of work was created with his crew of other mad scientists and chefs. In the image above, they literally cut the pan in half, then glued a heat proof piece of Pyrex with heat proof sealer around all the edges, boiled the water, and photographed it. Now, of course they retouched the Pyrex out of the shot so all you see is the food being cooked.
They did the same thing to the jars inside the pot on the left and right – glued the cut edges to Pyrex and sealed it.
Above in the middle, you can see a cut away pot with the Pyrex glued to it with the red sealer around it.
They even took a $5000 oven and cut it in half. Yeah, they own a laser cutter. That’s how you do that.
Here is The Cooking Lab. This is like no other test kitchen I’ve ever seen. This facility is also where their photo studio is.
In order to pull this shot off, you have to be using high speed strobes (flash), not just regular strobes. You see, in order to not get ANY blurred food or liquid in this shot, the strobes have to be firing extremely fast in order to stop the movement of the food. They had to do this shot several times and then in editing, put the best parts flying around in the air together by compositing in Photoshop.
Here’s another fun cutaway of a pressure cooker. This page is explaining exactly what happens inside the pressure cooker and how it works. Clearly this is not under pressure yet as the liquid is not boiling and there’s no steam in the top portion of the pot. However, in order to give you the effect of the pressure cooker cooking, they have what looks to be some beautiful steam above the pot on the outside.
Here’s a very fun cutaway of a burger. See the splattering sauce under the burger patty? There’s those high speed strobes again. It’s a great effect.
To the left above, you can see how they shot each element and then composited each layer together in one image.
This technique is called an exploded view. One of my favorite techniques for shooting many different subjects. The dripping white sauce on the top really makes this shot, I think.
They were smart to devote the photography of this cook book encyclopedia into one book. It’s called The Photography of Modernist Cuisine.
They even show us some diagrams of their shots.
The large soft box on the left is giving a nice back-lit look, while the light that is tilted up to the ceiling would be adding some nice fill light overall. That little gadget on top of the camera is called a Pocket Wizard and is used to radio slave the strobes to fire when taking a picture. The lights are from Broncolor. These are the Rolls Royce of strobe lights. They’ve been around a long time, are amazing lights, and have a big fat price tag to go with that. They are also the high speed strobes I mentioned earlier.
Here is a great TED video with Nathan talking about the making of this book and some great stories about the process.
The complete set of books:
All images are published here with permission. This is not a paid endorsement.
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