Good food speaks for itself, but when entering a new market, even the most established culinary brand can use a little extra help with reintroducing its story. Early this spring, Food & Beverage magazine was looking for a team to cover Italian charcuterie brand Rovagnati’s debut in the US market. MAL Collective NYC, a boutique Brooklyn agency, turned to WonderfulMachine.com to connect with Brooklyn-based food/drink photographer Trevor Baca, who, in addition to his experience as a photographer, studied culinary arts in France and has worked in kitchens in Paris, San Francisco, and New York. This skillset made him a dynamic asset and a key ingredient in framing Rovagnati’s Stateside launch.
In their reference images, the art directors specifically pulled images from my portfolio, which is always a good sign. I market myself as a food and product photographer and have references to styling on my website as well. My culinary background and years in photo studios makes me an ideal candidate for culinary-focused shoots. The Italian version of the Rovagnati website has a very softly lit, feathered light vibe, which was very on-brand with what they were looking for in a photographer.
Food & Beverage is a B2B magazine showcasing culinary industry trends. The Rovagnati feature was slated for the magazine’s May 2023 cover option. Trevor and MAL Collective NYC got to work planning the shoot.
Before the shoot, I had several calls with the Creative Director at MAL where we discussed budget, props, overall lighting style and logistics. The most important shot was the cover of the magazine, which featured all Rovagnati products, in addition to an abundance of adjoining cheeses and accoutrements. It was imperative that we stick with mostly Italian ingredients and champion the product as much as possible. We went into the shoot with this in-mind and selected modern but muted props that didn’t take away from the cured meats.
Rovagnati was founded in Milan in 1941 as a butter producer and cheese trader, and later, expanded its production in the 1960s to include traditional Italian charcuterie. Today, Rovagnati boasts “the number 1 prosciutto cotto in Italy.” This year, the brand will enter more than 3,000 stores in the US market. The goal of the images for Food & Beverage was to promote this launch.
It was our intention to show the product in an elegant, unpretentious setting, as if you could be casually enjoying the charcuterie board in Rome or Milan. I used soft lighting with a pop of a gobo to cast shadows on the surface. This added a warmness to the overall mood of the images.
The location chosen for the photoshoot was the MAL Creative Director’s home kitchen in Brooklyn, which was large enough to accommodate the small crew.
Due to budget constraints, it was decided that the kitchen would offer an ideal spot to stage props and set-up a simple overhead rigging system. We brought in slabs of marble and various linens to help tell the story, so we weren’t focused on the physical elements of the art director’s kitchen. I was on-site for roughly 9 hours, from load-in to load out.
The preplanning calls helped establish a friendly dynamic for Trevor and the MAL team beforehand.
I walked onto set feeling like I already knew the crew. Present on-set was the MAL team (creative director and graphic designer) – the client decided not to attend the shoot, which was part of the reason why we picked the CD’s kitchen as a location. We would send over selects to the Rovagnati team for approval via messenger.
On set, Trevor’s culinary experience came into play.
In conjunction with the creative director, I acted as stylist and included this extra service in my estimate. I expressed that if I was acting as stylist and photographer, the shoot wouldn’t move as fast. Knowing this, we set up the shots in advance using sketches and reference images.
We had plenty of product to work through – so we selected hero packages that we wouldn’t open and keep in the fridge until they were ready on set. We then opened various packages to select the best looking cuts of meat and styled them on set. The nice aspect of working with cured meat is that it doesn’t die on set as quickly as other ingredients.
But, quite similar to the brigade system in professional kitchens, working two stations at service can be a challenge.
I always err on the side of having a stylist on set as being a photographer and stylist isn’t ideal. That being said, I knew bidding with a stylist in my budget meant I might not be awarded the job. I was very adamant in my estimate on the number of shots we would be able to work through and the creative director understood this before signing. In an ideal world, we would have a prop stylist as well, but the MAL team had excellent taste and between my prop closet and her kitchen (which had gorgeous vintage glassware) we made it work!
I honestly don’t mind the smaller shoots that are more hands-on at times! Larger shoots can have way too many opinions on set and that can slow down the movement of the production.
For acquiring and managing props/food products, once again, Trevor’s sensitivity to understanding ingredients was on hand.
One of the most common challenges on any food shoot is the ingredient selection. There’s only so much color correction that can be done in post production to make a fresh ingredient look like it hasn’t been sitting in the market too long. For certain ingredients that I knew might die if unknowing eyes picked them, I made a point to pick them up the night before the shoot. This is just something I know I can’t necessarily bill my time for, but it will just make the assets look better!
The only other technical issue I had is what I like to call “Capture One’s Meltdown” which happens on every shoot. It involves restarting the computer and forcing the program to recognize my Canon R5. Not ideal in front of the client, but I just fix it and move on.
In terms of project takeaways, Trevor had this to say,
In our initial calls, the client mentioned wanting to “play it safe” in terms of lighting. This meant no high contrast shadows, nothing too “edgy” in terms of propping and I made it a point to bring equipment to achieve that style of lighting. I also brought my gobo and lens kits so that I could show them what I wanted to do for the cover. The shadows are subtle, but I think they help ground the image in a tangible kitchen space, encouraging this approachable narrative that anyone can make a gorgeous charcuterie board at home. I will continue to push clients into this realm of what I know is on brand for myself and for the product.
The dynamics of collaboration on set can be much like a dance—and like so many things, made better with music.
Once I found out that everyone on set spoke Spanish, I cranked up the cumbias. Music on set helps keep the energy up and brings me into a more creative zone. Oftentimes it’s a Spotify Hits list, but on the rare occasion we all like cumbias, I’m in my element.
See more of Trevor’s work on his website
Read more Food/Drink posts on our blog.