Nivi Shaham Cooks Up Dynamic Food Scenes
A love for vibrant color, motion and cultural connections flavors the UC Davis student’s food-based imagery in both the studio and the kitchen.
“In my still life images I include food in almost everything,” says Nivi Shaham, “just because I think food is so dynamic, and you get so many incredible colors from it.” When she created this vibrant still life, she already had the plumcot and colorful background out on her shooting table from an earlier image, and she was toying with ways to photograph the blue geometrical glasses. Tossing a handful of blueberries into the scene made the image gel. “I just dropped them on the table and let them go where they went,” she says. “Then I wanted some movement with it, so I started playing around with dropping blueberries into the cup to see what kind of splashes I could get. And then I got that final splash.”
As one of Fujifilm’s 2020 Students of Storytelling, Shaham was shooting with an X-T3 mirrorless camera and FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R lens. She used the camera to explore food photography both in the studio and in kitchens where she photographed chefs at work. The compact system she chose allowed her to adapt easily to the demands of each setting. “In the chef series, I was moving around with the chefs and I needed something light that I could move quickly with,” she says.
Back in her studio, Shaham shot still lifes with the camera tethered on a tripod or C-stand. “I had shot tethered on my DSLR and had a lot of issues with it, but the X-T3 tethered to Capture One has worked spectacularly,” she says. “With a DSLR it always felt like such a hassle to pull it out because it was so heavy.” The lightweight X-T3 removed that barrier. “Because of its weight and because of the Fujifilm colors and the film simulations, the whole package inspired me to shoot more than I ever have,” says Shaham. “Actually, from the get-go, I was surprised at how much less time I was spending on editing because the colors out of the camera were already so good.”
Spending less time on technical touchups has helped Shaham give her full attention to expanding her creative repertoire. She first got into photographing food after her freshman year at UC Davis, when a dietary change pushed her into the kitchen. “I fell in love with cooking and baking for myself and just experimenting with recipes,” she says. “Once I discovered how much I loved doing that, I thought, ‘Okay, here’s one creative outlet. What if I bring my other creative outlet into this?’” She dusted off the camera she’d been neglecting and started shooting everything from raw ingredients to finished dishes.
Now as she finishes a degree in political science, Shaham is once again thinking about creative ways to bring her various interests together. “Something I’m really interested in and passionate about is the connection between culture and food,” she says. She’s exploring that theme with both documentary and studio work, and honing her skills to produce commercial food photography. “Now I’m going toward food and still life images and bringing a little more artistry into it,” she says. “So it’s not just taking pictures of a burger on a plate, but creating a story with the image.”
“I had shot tethered on my DSLR and had a lot of issues with it, but the X-T3 tethered to Capture One has
As a Fujifilm Student of Storytelling, Nivi Shaham got advice from a team of mentors including photographer Caroline Tran, Fujifilm experts Michael Bulbenko and Victor Ha, and Muse Storytelling pro Varina Hart Shaughnessy while working on her project. Here are some of the tips she found helpful.
Improve your lighting by studying lighting in other photographers’ images. Try to surmise what the lighting setup was for each photo. Think about how you could improve it.
Don’t try to do everything yourself! Especially with elaborate still life and food images, working with a food or prop stylist can help you give your full attention to composition and lighting.
Use shadows and highlights to shape items in a still life. Accent the highlight to achieve specularity, and to make sure that the product is the star in product photography involving food.
Go into your shoot with a word in mind. Frame each shot with that word at the forefront. Shaham used the word chaos with one of the chefs she photographed.
Anticipate what your subject will do next. When Shaham photographed chefs at work, she discussed their menus ahead of time and talked with them about their process so that she could be ready to capture each step.
Fujifilm’s X-T3 mirrorless camera
and FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R lens.
ABOUT: Fujifilm created the Students of Storytelling contest to identify the next generation of U.S. storytellers, and to provide them with Fujifilm X Series or GFX System gear to bring their vision to life. Visit the official Fujifilm Students of Storytelling site for more information about the complete program.
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