Food photography shoot: behind the scenes with Matt Armendariz

by on November 6, 2011

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Last year, we hired legendary food photographer Matt Armendariz to capture gorgeous food, wine and hospitality photographs for the 2011 edition of our annual newsletter, Estate Tales. We loved working with him and were so impressed with his photography skills (as expected) that we invited him back to help us develop the stories for our 2012 Estate Tales, which will debut next March.

Matt just published a blog post with his warm and witty account of our two-day photo shoot together in October. We also created the above video, which takes you behind the scenes to see Matt in action photographing the vineyards at sunrise, corralling the cows after two attempts and styling sets for four food scenes. You’ll also get a glimpse at some of his final photographs, which accompany stories that will appear in Estate Tales, including the art of dehydration in the kitchen, our philosophy of blending terroirs from different vineyard sites, the Jordan cattle project, our gourmet picnic and harvest luncheons (available to Jordan Estate Rewards members) and more.

We learn so much from Matt’s techniques–and get a real boost from his bottomless supply of optimism and energy. Whether it’s freezing cold outside or the models (in this case our new herd of cows) aren’t cooperating, nothing can hamper Matt’s cheery mood or awe-inspiring creativity.

A few tips and take-aways we learned from Matt’s visit:

  • Shooting video is a lot easier than shoot photographs. (We already knew this, but the reminder is always humbling.)
  • Back-lighting food shots with natural light is ideal. Watch Matt’s location in our hallway, how the French doors are open and where he places the food.
  • It’s always good to have a piece of white foam core boards or scrims on hand during a food photo shoot. The foam core we’d purchased in anticipation of the shoot was used throughout our photo sessions for Executive Chef Todd Knoll’s dehydrated fruits and vegetables, as well as his favorite exotic spices.
  • Matt says never leave home without a X-Rite Color Checker Passport. One of my 2012 resolutions will be learning more about color accuracy and white balance in photography, and the tools available to photographers to master the two, which are necessary to continue elevating our in-house photography for Chef Knoll’s seasonal recipes.
  • Canon 50mm or 100mm lens are great for shooting food photography. We originally purchased a Canon 85mm fixed lens; now I’m thinking a 100mm macro would have been a better choice.
  • Canon 5D Mark II users (like us) — Yes, the mantra is to always shoot in manual mode, but there’s nothing wrong with using auto mode when composing a shot to see what aperture, shutter speed and ISO the camera thinks it should be using. After seeing Matt check shots in auto before switching to manual, I used this technique for most of our harvest videos this year. And I realized it’s actually more effective for us to shoot harvest videos in auto mode. Last year, I spent way too much time readjusting my settings between shots while shooting night harvest or sunrise harvesting when the light (either from head lamps or the sun) is changing constantly. Tons of great moments weren’t captured in 2010 while I was tinkering with camera settings. This year, we believe we captured better harvest footage in auto mode.

Time lapse of gourmet picnic and harvest lunch shots (watch us trying to escape the direct sun):

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Behind the scenes photo slideshow from the entire shoot:

  • Anonymous

    Love this post and the video! Good tips for beginning photographers like me. The table Matt created is exquisite. Great work!

  • Lynn

    Just coming from a food photography workshop, enjoyed watching Matt in action and your comments about his work. I’m not familiar with the X-Rite Color Checker Passport but concur with you Lisa that learning more about color accuracy and white balance is high on my list! 

  • Lori M Green

    Loved the shoot.

  • Katherine Rochelle


    I would certainly hope that one of your “learnings” at
    this point in your career would be that a strong command of the English language
    is a vital professional skill. What are learnings? Do you mean lessons?

    And, it’s “good to have a pieces of white foam”…do you mean
    a piece?