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Dark chocolate with over 85% cocoa content, 40% of it solids. Seven different flavors of spicy molé sauce. Soft, creamy Brie. And free samples of all of it.

Add several hundred people over three days, and you have the recipe for the 35th Winter Fancy Food Show at San Francisco’s George Moscone Center last week. I went to discover new trends in food, and talk to vendors about my photographic services.

Marie Calender's booth, 35th Winter Fancy Food Show

Dark chocolate bars from Colorado and Ecuador, goat cheese, and many shapes of pasta were all popular favorites. I’d been warned about the samples – you’d be very tempted to break your diet just with chocolate. New products included Happygoat’s caramel made from free-range goat milk. It had a much smoother texture and better flavor than ordinary caramel made with cow’s milk. I was also impressed with the flavor of Popchips’ potato chips, made without frying or baking.

I started out looking at the vendor list for health food and organics, but ended up just stopping at booths where vendors’ badges showed California locations. I asked about the chocolate or cheese or sauce to discover a little about each product, then asked, “Do you use food photography?” That usually led to discussion of needs and an exchange of business cards. Mine show some of my food work on the front and back, along with contact information.

After tasting some molé that stood up very well against memories of fantastic molé at the Red Iguana in Salt Lake City, I wandered over to the organic and health food section of the show. I left my card with several cheese makers and a teryaki sauce specialist.

I don’t usually carry a cell phone, but I had mine with me on vibrate since I’d been expecting to hear from my wife. With about 20 minutes before the show closed for the day, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was a vendor I’d left a card with earlier in the afternoon. The vice president of marketing for Marie Calender’s needed booth photography, and how much would it be for me to do it on the spot?

Photography at the show wasn’t permitted. At one point, an usher told me to put my camera away. But that didn’t stop me from carrying one. I explained to the vice president what I could do with the equipment I had, and said I could come back next morning with lighting for a more professional shot – at a higher fee. He said doing the shot now was fine, and told me he wanted a picture of the entire booth. I had him clean up and hide what he didn’t want in the picture. Then I took the shot he requested, plus a few other compositions that looked good to me.

He liked what I showed him on the LCD of my camera, a Leica M8. After agreeing to show him proofs online in the next day or so, we shook hands and left.

Marie Calender's booth, 35th Winter Fancy Food Show


I post-processed to approach the light effect from strobes and light modifiers, darkened some distracting areas that competed with the subject, and cropped one shot slightly to eliminate the ceiling and its lights.

The VP liked the online proofs and requested high-res copies of two pictures, which I emailed the next day. He also said he’d be calling me for food photography for their next new product release.

I love it when I make a customer happy.

Shot Notes –
A 25mm lens on a Leica M8 gives coverage of a 33mm lens full-frame, and tons of depth of field at f/5.6 or f/8. I used ISO 1250, braced on tables and wall supports, and over-exposed slightly to reduce noise in shadow areas.