Alpha Imaging Collective member Jessica Hirsch (@CheatDayEats and @YourRoomService) is a New York-based photographer whose dynamic food photos and videos garner a lot of attention on Instagram. With over 435K followers on the platform, it’s obvious that what she creates is eye-catching. So what is it that makes hers stand out from the rest? We talked with her to learn more about the cameras and lenses she uses (she’s a Sony Alpha shooter), her go-to camera setup and her overall workflow process from start to finish for creating those mouthwatering food photos and videos that her followers crave.
Before: Gear Prep, Shot List & Timing
“In terms of lenses, I have the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master as my go-to. Then I have the Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro and the Sony 85mm f/1.8. When I’m photographing the food, I’m probably using the 24-70mm 70-80% of the time and the rest I’m using the 90mm Macro. I bring the 85mm with me for any shots of me with the food, which I don’t tend to take as many of when I’m doing work with a client. For my camera, I rely on the α7 III.” (Learn more about what’s in her bag for food shoots.)
Before packing her camera and lenses she uses her air blaster and cleaning cloth to ensure her gear is ready to go. She also packs those items to take with her in case the lenses need cleaned during the shoot. She makes sure all of her batteries are fully charged and clears and formats her memory cards so she doesn’t have any issues when she arrives at the shoot. In addition to having her gear prepared, she also knows what she’s going to shoot because of the pre-planning meeting she has with the client.
“One of the most important things when shooting at a restaurant,” says Hirsch, “is having that pre-planning conversation with either the chef or the owner, whoever is bringing me in. We'll talk about the shot list and the vision. Every restaurant is different and I'll usually get a good idea about the aesthetic from what's in the restaurant. I'll do a lot of research beforehand or maybe I'll have been there already and that's why they've hired me for the job. I like to know what kind of content they’re looking for – photos, videos, or both – and then I like to navigate the order in which I’ll be doing it and where I will be.”
By knowing what she’ll be doing and whether or not she’ll be in the kitchen or somewhere else in the restaurant, she can have them prep whatever she needs so that the shoot runs smoothly. She really tries to break the shoot down into dishes and thinks about the process of how she will be capturing each dish.
“I try to get the chef into the mindset of thinking about where the camera is and realizing that they might have to take a few steps back, slow down and think about their hand placement. They’re used to creating the dish in a certain way and it’s very possible their hand will be blocking the camera. I have to break it down to get them to see it from my point of view instead of them just making the dishes as they normally would.”
For the most part, she shoots in natural light unless if she’s in the kitchen. She will reserve a few tables near a window so the time of day when the shoot takes place is really important to think about in advance. It’s just as important if she’s shooting in the kitchen because she needs to determine a time when there isn’t a big rush. She wants things to go smoothly and if orders are coming in and out and people are pushing around, it’s not an ideal way to work.
During: Working The Angles
“During the shoot,” explains Hirsch, “I usually have the 24-70mm on my α7 III – especially if I’m in the kitchen. I love the fact that I can zoom in and out and be a little bit further from where the action is to make sure my lenses are safe. When I’m taking photos where I have a little more time to get different shots, I’ll switch to the 90mm Macro.”
Hirsch takes advantage of the dual memory card slot and shoots fully in RAW. While shooting she doesn’t worry about deleting as she goes, she tries to move things along as much as possible and be efficient with her time there.
“I always shoot manual for my photos. And then for my videos, I have my memory recall, one is for 60 frames per second and two is for 30 frames per second 4K. This way when I'm in the kitchen, if I want to go get a shot and then I want to go switch to video or even between videos, those different modes are super important for me. In the kitchen you have to go with the flow and make things happen right away, so having those options are key for me.”
She talks through the shots again with the chef and explains how she might want to redo a shot to get a different angle. At first it can be difficult for them to see how it will come together, so she tries to walk through it with them to help them visualize it. Once they see the final product they tend to realize how the different lenses and angles showcase the dish.
After: Editing & Sharing
Once the shoot is over, Hirsch goes home and transfers all of her files from the memory card onto her computer where she organizes them by photos and videos. She moves all of her photos into either Adobe Bridge or Capture One and batch edits them right off the bat, with her final edit taking place in Photoshop. When it comes to videos, she edits in Premiere Pro.
“When I open Premiere Pro, it automatically opens to like my Instagram settings just to make things quick. I think it's all about having these automations to make sure your workflow is as efficient as possible. I do a lot of my videos in 60 frames per second. The first thing I'll do is slow down that footage, going into the 4K to make sure I don’t make the mistake of slowing down everything.”
Hirsch says she does a bit of an auto edit and a white balance edit. Then she likes to make her photos and videos more saturated to really pop on social media. If she’s sending to a client, she will load to a central drive folder. If it’s just for her, she backs up her photos in Google Drive. Choosing which pieces of her work to post on social media is another step she has to take once the photos and videos are completed.
“For the selection process, I can be a little indecisive,” says Hirsch. “I love that Instagram now has the carousel feature so I can pick a few that stand out to me. Sometimes I’ll make some final tweaks in Lightroom and post a few different ones. For me, it’s all about thinking what showcases the dish the best and will catch people’s eyes. If I’m posting a photo of a sandwich, I want a side shot that shows you all of the layers and elements versus something overhead where you miss the good part of it.”
“I’m just always thinking about what I would want to see. I want my photos and videos to make people feel almost like they’re there, like they can taste it. I think people are really looking for something eye catching with some type of motion and action. That's why I like to try to switch my lenses and get that second shot – so the viewer can feel like they’re almost there in that drip of hot fudge.”