A few weeks ago I went with a fellow photographer friend John to the largest annual photography show in the UK strangely enough called The Photography Show. It's held at the NEC and is a days worth of gear, services and tutorials to see. There is also a Super Stage where selected photographers will speak about their careers and how they got to where they are today. Last year I saw two of my photography heroes Joe McNally and Rankin. This year it was Martin Parr but that's a story for another blog post.
Whilst wandering around taking it all in we came across a chap lying on the floor of a stage taking photos of food. With his assistants help he'd set up a picnic tableau of lovely crusty bread, fine cheese and a nice glass of beer with accompanying knives and other props. It was interesting seeing how many bits of card in black and white were being used to control the light. White card to reflect back into the shadows and black card to control reflections. All very clever and painstakingly adjusted until the perfect image was captured. I think it's fair to say that hours more work can go into setting up this this kind of image than is spent in Photoshop.
The chaps name was William Reavell and as well as being a successful food photographer he also provides training for people who want to learn the skills. So I took a leaflet that was handed to me and popped it in my pocket. One of the photographs on the leaflet really caught my eye and since then I've been planning to have a go at replicating it myself. It was a simple photograph of a Creme Brûlée in the process of being brûlée'd with a gas flame. How hard could it be!!
Harder than I'd realised.
The first attempts really didn't work. I learned that it's not possible to get a good photograph of a flame with the lights on. The burning blue just disappears. That problem was eventually solved with a long exposure in a dark room to capture the flame and a little pop of flash to light up the ramekin. It meant holding the gas torch in a clamp so that it didn't move during the long exposure. The next problem couldn't be solved with lights and exposure. The flame was kind of getting stuck in the ramekin and wasn't producing nice glowing colours. It seemed I'd made the creme part of the brûlée too low in the ramekin. It took a while to sort out, but the solution was to eat the 4 brûlée's I'd made (terrible situation). and whip up a new batch with the creme almost to the top of the ramekin. I also took advantage of the break in production to buy a new gas torch. The one I was using didn't have the prettiest cleanest nozzle having been used for several plumbing jobs around the house.
Brûlée filled to a good height. Check.
Darkened room. Check
Long exposure 2 seconds. Check
Pop of flash. Check
New gas torch with clean nozzle and nice flame. Check
Now this is working. It's possible to get 3-4 shots before the sugar gets too blackened and bursts in to flame. A bonus was that once cooled it was possible to carefully lift the solidified melted sugar off the creme and sprinkle a fresh coating of granulated sugar for another burst of photos. The show stopped when the clamp for the gas torch broke and it was no longer possible to hold it in the correct position. Still, I had the shot in the bag. A touch of photoshop to clean up some errant sugar granules and a bit of tweaking to emphasise the glowing flames and what you see below is the result. A couple of hours setting up and tweaking to get the shot as good as possible in the camera and minimise the time spent fixing in the computer. Done.
p.s. Eating the second round of brûlée was just as onerous as the first round ;)