Fingers, don’t fail me now. I’m trying desperately to spell Paulette Phlipot’s last name right. It shouldn’t be that hard. After all, there are no accents requiring complex keystroke combinations. However, decades of typing have engrained certain patterns in my brain. My fingers struggle to put an “l” immediately after an “h,” especially when they know an “i” is coming up fast. My fingers want to buy a vowel. Sorry fingers. Slow down and spell it right.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Paulette Phlipot is the photographer behind the bold images found in Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables (beautifully written by my colleague and friend Cheryl Sternman Rule). Her last name is misspelled and mispronounced as much as my first name. To help pronounce Phlipot, Paulette shared a clever mnemonic. As a child she was a gymnast. “I flip, oh!” For those who own the book, her photos make you want to “flip-o” through the pages.
Now that we have that issue cleared up, let’s talk about the photography. With 150 photographs and 75 recipes, Ripe has one of the heaviest photo-to-recipe ratio I’ve seen outside a travelogue/reference book. Each ingredient has two photos — an “Art shot” and a “recipe shot.” As with all good food porn, the recipes shots make you want to grab a napkin. But the art shots? Like the spelling of her last name, Paulette’s photos aren’t what you’ve come to expect. And she’s been gracious enough to share her process with me.
Food photographers, read on. If you’re here for a recipe, I suggest whipping up a batch of Cheryl’s cornmeal shortcakes. They’re very good.
Even though the book is organized by colour, it’s not a simple ROYGBIV. For example, the purple section uses plum, royal, lavender, mauve, to reflect the almost endless tones found in food.
As an artist, Paulette was trained to use complimentary colours. Blue would be an obvious background choice to make a wan yellow banana stand out. But Ripe’s colour-centric theme required a monochromatic approach. While this challenged Paulette artistically, she says the tone-on-tone mandate pushed her to find and highlight subtleties within the subject matter.
I offer Exhibit A (cabbage) as proof. I never noticed the complex and beautiful spirals inside a cabbage before.
If you curse Foodgawker and TasteSpotting for forcing you to crop carefully composed portrait or landscape shots into boring boxes, take note. Ripe is square.
Instead of tearing her hair out, as I would have done, Paulette used this limited frame to explore the shapes of the food and rediscover the designs inside the items we eat every day. Her goal: To show the everyday in new and exciting ways. “I wanted it to be fresh, but not too abstract,” Paulette says. “I’m a simple person. I don’t like things to get complicated.”
Going against the current trend of elaborate staging, Paulette works without a stylist and takes a minimalist approach, or in her words, “almost a zen state of mind.” The fun, intriguing results prove it’s hip to be square.
As proof, I offer Exhibit B (zucchini). I think it’s doing The Plough.
Paulette’s photographs embrace contradictions. She simplifies food without dumbing it down and achieves zen-like pictures using vibrant, wake-me-up colours. No one-trick photographer, she does this with great variety. While she goes all “Georgia O’Keefe” with the come-hither leeks, she turns a single green bean into a show stopper.
For the bean shot, Paulette entered the studio with a handful of beans and no ideas. Working alone, with just some music and her subject matter, she played with the vegetable’s natural lines. To fit the long bean into the square frame she cut it in half. When she saw the layers inside, she knew she had her shot.
What’s in her camera bag? Not as much as you’d think.
- Nikon D3 camera
- 105mm f/2.8 prime lens
- 60mm f/2.8 macro lens
Paulette keeps it simple so she can concentrate on the food. She shoots in natural light as much as possible, and for studio shots uses simple lighting and standard reflectors. It’s not about equipment, gear and staging. It’s about seeing what others don’t, and figuring out how to make the most of this discovery.
After producing vats of butternut squash soup over a long, cold winter, or mountains of coleslaw for family picnics, you’d think you know these two vegetables.
Paulette’s Photography Tips
Want better shots without spending money? Here are some of Paulette’s photography tips.
- Use a smaller bowl or plate to help you focus on the food.
- Use a bowl with a low rim — or better yet, use a plate to show off the food.
- Make the food the hero. Plates and textured fabrics should be secondary.
- Gold reflectors add warmth and are good when you have strong light coming from one side.
- Can’t afford a reflector? Put foil over a piece of board.
- Place a small make-up mirror (the kind on a stand) next to the plate. Tilt the mirror to fill in areas big reflectors miss.
- Use manual mode when shooting stills.
- Use AV mode when shooting people moving about .
- Spend time with your camera. Play around with it. “Practice. Even if you just photograph a tissue box,” Paulette says.
- Use what you have. “Get used to what you have,” Paulette says. “It’s not about the camera or lens. It’s about the person, the eye behind the camera.”
Photography © 2012 by Paulette Phlipot.