In this article, I will share a behind-the-scenes look at how I created photos of fried chicken for one of the world’s most iconic brands: KFC.
My studio had already been shooting nearly all of KFC’s print work for more than a year when their in-house creative group first contacted us. Turns out they found us through a Google search, and didn’t even realize we had done work for KFC until they saw some of the images on our website.
KFC was looking for someone to create iconic images of their products, for use on the new KFC website. For us, this was an opportunity to approach the KFC brand from a totally different direction, to try something new with the photography.
After reviewing the details and agreeing on a budget, we got to work. The art director, Scott Howard, had already created a mood board, and obviously, since these images would be used on the web, they had to fit a very specific format. Scott’s vision for the photography was to have the food on a dark wood surface, with a nondescript background.
As it turned out, the next weekend I was at City Flea (an urban flea market here in Cincinnati) and saw some beautiful hand rubbed walnut cutting boards. It was just what I was looking for, but they were too small.
After discussing our needs with the artist, he agreed to make us a custom piece using our specs. We went back to the studio and created a few mock setups, to determine the optimal depth and width. The final board was 28″ deep, by 48″ wide.
We didn’t decide on a background until the day of the shoot. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to add the background in post, so I wasn’t concerned with figuring it out before hand. We have a collection of images, (both in focus and out of focus), that we use for backgrounds in situations like this. The image we chose for this project is actually a garage door with glass panels, but you can’t tell because of the focus and the way it is used.
The final composited image was delivered as a layered file, so that the client could easily move the background based on the final design.
The next step was hiring a food stylist. For this assignment we chose to collaborate with William Smith, who is based in Chicago. William does a lot of editorial work and that fit perfectly with the more natural look we wanted these images to have.
You might think that making fried chicken is easy, but it’s not – especially chicken that looks like what the Colonel would make. It requires a very specific process and the use of proprietary equipment. We actually hire cooks from KFC to come in and help prepare the chicken and run the fryers. Using the same fryers that KFC uses meant that we had to install additional fire suppression systems in our studio.
Once we were on set, I began working with the light. I often like to bounce light off of large surfaces, so to the right of the set I placed a 4×8′ sheet of foam-core, with a light pointed directly at it. To the left, and rear of the set, I placed another light with an 8″ reflector and a scrim to cut the intensity. (This light provided the edge light along the left side of the subject).
In front are two 2×3′ pieces of foam-core for fill light. Behind the set I hung a piece of black velvet, not to create an edge for outlining, (although it does do that), but I used it to help minimize reflections on the wood, making the color of the surface richer.
The images were captured on a Canon 1Ds Mark III, using a 50mm Zeiss lens set at f/8. The reason I shot with the lens nearly wide open, was because I believe that food photography is sometimes more about emotion than food, and by limiting the depth of field, I bring your attention to one specific area, and then let your mind fill in what your eyes cannot see.
Post production consisted of mostly minor fixes and adding the background.
In total, the project took about 5 days to complete, and we continue to create new work for the website as new products are introduced. Management was so pleased with the project that there is talk of using the images in other media too, not just the website.
About the author: Teri Campbell is a photographer and photography author based in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the owner and creative lead of Teri Studios. In 2012, Campbell published the book, Food Photography & Lighting: A Commercial Photographer’s Guide to Creating Irresistible Images. When not in the studio, Teri is a frequent speaker at photography and food industry related events around the country.