Shooting in an instructional kitchen not the same as on TV

Chef Greg Schnorr talks with Walla Walla Community College culinary students.

Chef Greg Schnorr talks with Walla Walla Community College culinary students.


Have you ever noticed in the weekly television guide the promotion of culinary cooking shows featuring food and stern-looking chefs staring at each other? Why even PBS has its own instructional food program.

I have watched a few of these highly publicized culinary wonders like “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Guy’s Big Bite,” “30-minute Deals” and one of the food classics, “Iron Chef,” where colorful chefs duel each other in the kitchen, and wondered how real all of it is.

Now into my third month at the Walla Walla Community College Wine Country Culinary Institute I am finding out how things really happen with chefs in a real-world instructional kitchen.

The first thing newbies notice is everyone wears chef’s jackets and aprons and possess their own knife sets that they bring to class every day.

Once instruction begins around the kitchen tables there is no tolerance by the instructors for use of iPhones, texting or social media posting.

As a photographer in this new environment I quickly noticed the majority of the cutting and preparation tables are stainless steel, and there are a couple of tables where the pastry students work that are wooden.

These two surfaces offer the photographer challenges from extreme reflections to golden warm tones.

In this instructional kitchen there are no fancy video cameras, studio lights, or chefs explaining why they “just messed up a recipe.”

Food needs to look delicious and culinary photographs need to lead the viewer to food that looks as good as it tastes.

One of the challenges for the photographer is to identify the proper kitchen lighting to capture the natural food colors and textures with a good degree of accuracy.

In this case, indoor kitchen lighting is fluorescent throughout the culinary work area and Titus Creek Cafe.

I should point out that modern digital cameras have many lighting features, sometimes buried in the camera’s custom settings. For example, my Nikon D7000 offers seven white balance settings just for fluorescent lighting; sodium-vapor; high temperature mercury vapor; white fluorescent; cool white; dry white; daylight; and warm white.

Most culinary photographers have a food stylist who helps them prepare the final plating of food to capture the vivid colors and table decor for each setting.

However, in an instructional kitchen, as I have learned, there is no time to set up a tripod, adjust the lighting, hold the plate or style it, because the student chefs are continually moving around the kitchen and their workstations to meet instructional deadlines.

So any photos taken of the ingredients or final plates must be taken with existing light, with the camera hand-held (Nikon D7000 with a Nikon DX 18-200mm 1:3.5-5.6 lens), which in this kitchen means ISO 1250, aperture f 5.6, shutter 1/60.

This setting will produce a shallow depth of field (a clear image of the food closest to the camera and a blurred background).

For a good depth of field (all the plated food in focus and the background in focus) I use an ISO 1250, aperture f 10, shutter 1/60.

As I have now learned while working with student chefs, this kitchen does not resemble any of the television programs, but provides aspiring chefs a truly world-class instructional program right here in Walla Walla.

Don Fleming can be reached at


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