My goal is always to take sexy pictures that are still real and authentic.
Think this fits the bill?
Yeah, me too. This eye-popping shot, courtesy of Arlington, MA-based photographer Michael Piazza, whisks the viewer right to a farm on Kauai, one of the most well-known Hawaiian Islands.
We were there at sunrise for that, which is about the only time I’ll shoot landscapes. You can do the same thing at sunset, but I’ve always liked morning light better. The juxtaposition of a farm and the ‘postcard’ ocean was surreal. The only way to get high enough, obviously, was to use the drone.
Amazingly, this shoot for vitamin company MegaFood represented the first time that Michael had used a drone, which was an absolute necessity for shooting places like, say, an enormous cranberry bog.
I’m not all that wrapped up in gear for its own sake, so it’s not a tool I felt I had to have or a toy I needed to play with. But I shoot overhead a lot when I’m doing food, and I like how you can use that frame in terms of graphics and balance.
Being overhead is the best way to communicate the absolute scale and madness of a cranberry harvest. And the weather was just horrible, so it was great not to have the see the sky in a lot of the images.
Freelance art director Joanne Reeves, an “untiring fan” of Michael’s, tapped the versatile photographer to travel the country and collect an array of shots.
We went to California on three separate occasions, [as well as] New Hampshire, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Oregon. And, for good measure, we spent a week on Kauai shooting turmeric and ginger harvests. All told we visited eight farms. “Farm-to-Bottle” was the shorthand we all used when discussing the shoots.
I think one of things that drew her to my work was the fact that I do still-life, portraiture, and landscape and get can knead the whole thing into one coherent look. I’ve [also] done a ton of shooting on farms and local/sustainable agriculture is a big thing for me, so I think my preexisting work was [another thing] that sold them on me.
MegaFood has been around since 1973 and was in the market for a rebrand, as is the case every few years. The company asked Michael to do what he does best: keep it real.
I think the main objective for them was highlighting how organic and real their ingredients are and telling that story — that they get [everything] directly from farmers with whom they have long-standing relationships.
I don’t [do] much post-production. We clean things up a little, but more just to make them less distracting than trying to make things perfect. I think my whole thing is ‘stuff is real and imperfect.’
Michael’s inspiration for these close-up shots draws on “old botanical prints and lithographs.” With the help of some basic pieces of equipment, his team went right to work capturing the minute details that abound in these ingredients.
You have access to raw materials when you’re on the farm that you’ll never see in a store — leaves, dirt, roots etc. — so we traveled with a light and the surfaces we wanted and just set up shop somewhere on the farm to shoot everything that seemed beautiful.
I love doing those shots because I’m so drawn to botanical prints in the first place, and it’s a little world I can control and push around to find the perfect balance. It’s fascinating to focus so closely on something that you wouldn’t otherwise notice that intently or see small things so large that you have to give them their due.
Of course, MegaFood being a supplement company, Michael still needed to get some assembly-line production shots. In a drastic departure from the fruit shoots, Michael was at the mercy of the machines that make the merchandise.
The factory is kind of a crazy place. It was the hardest for me to control because it’s all giant equipment and kind of a runaway freight train.
We did our usual trick with shooting on white when we could. The motion in the bottling line is really kind of mesmerizing, and I definitely wanted the pictures to have the feel of that movement.
Still, these hurdles paled in comparison to the ones Michael dealt with on some of the farms. MegaFood wanted shots of the field workers — all immigrants — harvesting the crops, which were difficult to obtain. You’ll notice that Michael’s images afford the field hands a modicum of anonymity, not fully exposing their faces.
At farm after farm, they just refused to be photographed. Nobody wanted their faces in pictures, so [the best] I could do is crop them at the neck. The truth is that migrant workers pick all of our fruits and vegetables.
In the end, Michael delivered the high-quality shots MegaFood was looking for and completed the project successfully. Michael’s passion for his work is obvious, and it bursts through his images like the bright colors he captures.
I get a real charge when a picture turns out well. It can be a still-life or a portrait or whatever. I just love that feeling more than anything.
See more of Michael’s work at michaelpiazzaphotography.com.