In the summer of 2019, Brooklyn-based food photographer Cayla Zahoran began working with RealEats, a farm-to-table weekly subscription meal kit service. The company’s creative director had selected Cayla to help them rebrand their aesthetic and differentiate RealEats from other meal prep services.
RealEats’ design was very similar to other food delivery services using photographs that are overhead with similar lighting, backgrounds, and props. This new look gives each menu item a spotlight to itself.
The client had a clear vision in mind when approaching the photographer. They wanted photos taken at a three-quarters angle to portray how the food would look if the viewer were sitting down to eat it. RealEats also wanted to emphasize key differences between each product to keep them from blending together on the menu.
The client wanted the colors from all the fresh ingredients to make the image stand out, which is what drew them to my portfolio. Each product is different in shape, depth, and texture, so that is what my lighting and propping accentuate.
Originally, Cayla had been working with food stylist Amelia Rampe in New York City for the RealEats shoots, but then the stay-at-home orders hit. The photographer left Brooklyn for Nashville with all of her equipment, a few backgrounds, and a couple containers of props.
Luckily, I had everything I needed to start shooting. Slowly over time, I wanted more options, so I ordered props from local pottery stores and picked up additional backgrounds from woodshops in the area.
Though Cayla has worked in food photography for over a decade, this assignment has her in a much more hands-on role. Every Tuesday for the past three months of quarantine, Cayla has received a box with pre-made food and a few raw ingredients. Depending on the week, the box will contain food for one to five dishes for her to prep, style, and shoot.
I have experience working with chefs where they will prepare the dish and then I will do on-set grooming to make sure it looks its best. Typically, I would not plate the food, which is something this assignment has been teaching me.
Cayla prepares each of the meals with remote assistance from RealEats’ head chef, Aliya Leekong. Fortunately, each dish arrives with all of the ingredients just as they would for a purchasing customer, so Cayla doesn’t have to cook anything from scratch. Then, with the chef’s guidance via video call, the photographer spends anywhere from one to eight hours shooting the week’s dishes.
I share my screen with the client, and she provides feedback on how much should be on the plate, how the items should look, and how to maybe cook something a bit more to give it more color.
Working with RealEats has helped Cayla grow her own skillset and express her creativity with new techniques in food styling. Plus, the client has loved her shots. Cayla’s images can be found throughout RealEats’ website, promotional materials, and packaging.
Head Chef/Recipe Creator: Aliya Leekong
Creative Direction/Design/Illustration: Mike Nash, SoreThumbStudio
Food Stylist (Pre-COVID shoots): Amelia Rampe
Photographer Assistants: Cole Witter, Danielle Turcotte
See more of Cayla’s work at caylazahoran.com.
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