Buchanan Studios Blog

news and events from Buchanan Studios

Archive for January 2009

new photo from Treaty of Paris Restaurant in Annapolis

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rockfish from Treaty of Paris restaurant in Annapolis,MD


I’ve shot a lot of rockfish over the years, this one was one of the best looking straight out of the kitchen.

Written by stevebuchanan

January 30, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Anatomy of a food shoot

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Work on a shoot begins long before we take the camera out of it’s case. A successful shoot starts with good planning. We’ll sit down with you (and your client) and talk about what you want to accomplish with the images, how you expect to use them and what you would like the images to look like. We’ll go over the shot list, talk about props, locations and timing. Often one of the most difficult questions to answer for clients is one of visual style. We like to say there two schools of thought on food photography, both relate to magazines. The first is the ‘Real Simple’ school – minimal propping and accessorizing, broad soft light. The second is the ‘Southern Living’ ideal – heavy propping, dramatic lighting. And of course there’s the whole spectrum between. Often it’s helpful for clients to show us examples of things that they like. They can print samples off the internet or tear sheets out of a magazine. With the information we gather during pre-production we can start planning the day(s) of the shoot and make sure everything is in place. 

With the big questions answered in pre-production, the shoot is a snap. Ok, well maybe not a snap but it’s easy. Ok, well maybe not easy, but the point is, we’ve developed a plan during pre-production and now we’re ready to put that plan into action. In addition to the client and the photographer there can be a handful of other people on site during a shoot. They include –

  • Food Stylist. 
    The food stylist is the person responsible for making the food physically look appealing. The photographer handles the lighting, the composition and the final technical details but the food stylist handles the food. Most food stylists are multi-talented and have a whole kit of tricks and tools to make the food look it’s best.
  • Food Styling Assistant. 
    Usually on the crew for larger productions. My food stylist is great but he can only be in one place at a time.
  • Prop Stylist.
    A prop stylist is responsible for acquiring the props and other decorative items and placing them onto the set as needed.
  • Photographers Assistant. 
    The photo assistant helps me adjust lighting, moves items onto and off of the set, and if there’s no digital technician on the job will help operate the computer.
  • Digital Technician. 
    On larger jobs we will bring in a digital technician to operate the computer during the shoot. Since everything we shoot is digital, a trained tech is invaluable in running the software and managing the huge amounts of data that can accumulate during the course of the day.
  • Photo Intern. 
    During the summer months and sometimes year round we like to have an intern in house. Interns here are like interns everywhere. They basically get to hang around, watch the world go by and learn from the experience of everyone on the team.

Of course not every job needs the full crew. Sometimes it’s just the photographer, food stylist and the assistant. Whatever the needs, we’ll have it covered.

Typically the food stylist will prepare what’s called a dummy. This is simply a stand-in plate of food that closely represents what the final or ‘hero’ item will look like. We’ll use the dummy to set composition, lighting and accessories on the set while the stylist is hard at work preparing the hero. After we’re happy with the light and the shot and the stylist is happy with the hero we’ll swap them out and begin final tweaks. Another reason we use a stand-in is that food often has a very small window in which you must shoot before it begins to look dull and well, old. We’ll make sure were almost there with the stand-in, that way once the hero comes out we can make final adjustments and then capture the winner.

Each winning shot takes time and patience to pull together. We will generally shoot test shots throughout the process in order to check lighting, composition and styling. (To see a frame by frame breakdown of a recent shoot click here.) As a result there is often a lot of down time for the client during a shoot. If we’re on location or in the studio it’s often a good idea to bring your cell phone and laptop with you as there can be a lot of down-time for the clients while we work on the technical details of the image. Generally at the end of the day the client can leave with low resolution raw images. With those in hand the graphic design process can get started.

Every recipe needs that last little item to finish it off. Every outfit needs that accessory to tie it all together. Every image needs a little tweak to bring it to it’s best. Most jobs require some help after the shoot to make everything come together. Sometimes it’s simple adjustments. Other times it’s a team collaboration between digital artists, the photographer and the clients. It’s here that we’ll also prepare the file for final output. More on that topic in our File Type and Color Management Tutorial.

We hope that this little primer has helped you understand our process a bit better. As we’ve said, every job is different. Your job may pan our differently than what’s been described here but rest assured, we will make it work.

Written by stevebuchanan

January 27, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Blog Entries

How do usage rights work?

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We don’t sell photography, we license it.

Photography is copyrighted intellectual property, just like books, music and software. Like musicians, authors and software publishers, photographers are paid a fee for creating the work and then residuals or royalties for the subsequent use of those works.

Our fees are based on two main factors. The first being the time, effort and expense of creating the work. These are commonly referred to as production charges. In addition to the actual shooting time there is also pre-production time (set building, prop hunting, location scouting, etc.) and post production.

The second factor involved is usage. Many clients new to the field don’t fully understand the usage concept and often have the idea that “I paid for it, it’s mine.” This is understandable as most of what we pay for is stuff, tangible items(ie commodities.) Intellectual property isn’t a commodity so many of the rules are different. Our usage fee is based on how the client will use the images created. Images created for a national ad campaign that will run in 10 major consumer magazines will have a higher usage fee than those created for a local campaign because they’ll have a greater impact. When you go to the gas station the amount you pay depends on the quality of gas(regular vs. premium) and how many gallons you buy. When you license photography your total depends on the quality of the work(production costs) and how much impact the images will make.

Often clients simply don’t know how they intend to use the images created, or for how long. If that’s the case then we can grant an unlimited license, but it’s always better to plan out the usage so we can craft a license that gets you what you need, but doesn’t have you paying more than necessary. If you don’t need to put the image on a billoard in Buenos Aries then you probably don’t need an unlimited license. Many times clients are also concerned that at the end of the license period that they will not be able to use the images any more. Not so, we’ll be happy to re-license the images at the same rate as they were originally licensed.

At the end of the day usage saves the client money by allowing the client to pay for only what they need.

Written by stevebuchanan

January 23, 2009 at 11:06 am

Why use a food stylist?

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sandwich, photograph, food, photo, maryland, maryland food photographer, md, dagwood, mid atlantic, commercial

The short answer is it makes the work better.  I know lighting.  I know composition. I know lenses and file types and filters.  I don’t know cooking, I don’t know food chemistry.  That’s where the food stylist comes in.  It’s the stylists forté to know how to cook the food (or not) in the manner that will produce the look you’re aiming for.  It’s a combination of experience, talent and education that makes this possible.  Food stylists are a great combination of chef and visual artist. Most stylists have degrees in culinary arts and years of experience in the food service industry.  They’ve learned the craft of food styling from apprenticeships as well as the occasional workshop or class at school.  A few come at it from the other direction and were artists, film makers or photographers who got into food styling from that side.

Often we’re approached by a restaurateur or small chain restaurant that’s looking to do some photography for marketing purposes.  Maybe they need shots for their menu, their website or other such uses.  Invariably the talk turns to pricing and after finding out what they need I’ll send over an estimate.  Since I like to keep my clients in the loop on exactly how they’re spending their money I itemize my estimates.  This will occasionally lead to the questioning of line items on the estimate and I’m happy to answer any questions.  Many clients will question the need for the food stylist stating, “Our chef can prepare the food, we don’t need a stylist.”  Sometimes they’re right.  Usually not.  The chef’s job is to prepare food that tastes out of this world.  Our job is to prepare food that looks out of this world.  How food is prepared for photography is nothing like how food is prepared for customers.

Above image styled by Harry McMann

Written by stevebuchanan

January 22, 2009 at 10:32 am

What’s the point of a copyright?

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The short answer is a copyright is the legal tool that allows an artist to control their creations and therefore profit from them.  Creators of intellectual property (photos, books, music, movies, etc) have a constitutional right to profit from their creations. Otherwise why create them in the first place? Ego? You can’t pay the mortgage with ego. 

Many purchasers of intellectual property rights are confused by the seemingly arbitrary pricing that creators charge. How can the same photo cost one buyer $200 and the same photo cost another buyer $2000?  The answer is impact. Intellectual property is basically free to duplicate, so the traditional economic model of supply and demand doesn’t apply. There’s a limitless supply of copies available so there needs to be a different model for determining pricing.  That $200 photo might end up being viewed by a couple thousand people whereas the $2000 photo might be viewed by 100,000. More impact, more money.  

There are other factors involved with pricing such as time and expense associated with the actual production, level of competition in the market and yes, there is a bit of arbitrary x factor in many pricing schedules, but there is a rhyme and reason to the process.

Written by stevebuchanan

January 5, 2009 at 11:04 am

new interiors photography

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interiors, photography, decorating, design, maryland, annapolis, show house, decorator

maryland architectural photography

Annapolis interior decorator photos


interiors photography in maryland, washington, virginia and delaware

New images from the SpringHill Center Christmas showhouse.  Nursery by Gifted Notions and den by Julie Bass of Decorating Dens