Reinventing the Cooking Show for Driscoll’s Berries

Art Adams covers his approach to lighting for a cooking show in his lighting blog for ProVideo Coalition.

I don’t watch a lot of cooking shows, but the ones I see are not lit the way I would light them. An idea for a lighting setup has been kicking around in my head for a while and I finally had a chance to try it out on a shoot for Driscoll’s Berries. It worked! Here’s why…

Years ago I operated a camera on a cooking show and I remember that the lighting director, a DP who shot a lot of sitcoms, lit the kitchen as if it were a small sitcom set. He used small lights without diffusion, which resulted in shadows everywhere. It didn’t look very “natural” to me. Maybe that’s the wrong word: rather, it didn’t feel “believable.” The set looked exactly like what it was: a fake kitchen ringed with lights, lit big and bright.

A lot of cooking shows seem to take this route. They may use softer light but nothing about many of these lighting setups speaks to me and says “good taste” or “believable.” Friends who work regularly on cooking shows tell me that producers often opt for big and bright over subtle and complex, and much of this has to do with budget and dealing with cable networks that don’t really want artistry so much as inexpensive content.

I felt I could light a cooking show set in a way that reflected my background shooting commercials while also keeping in mind the demands of a fast-paced TV show. (I worked in episodic television as a camera assistant and operator earlier in my career and those shows move FAST. Cooking shows aren’t quite as complex as you don’t change sets much, but there’s still a lot to get through in a day.) Fortunately the production company, Compass Rose Media, appreciates high quality work and was willing to let me push the look a bit provided we stayed on schedule. (And we did!)

The problem I faced was threefold:

(1) Food doesn’t want to be lit the same way people are lit;

(2) People don’t want to be lit the same way food is lit;

(3) The two are in the frame at the same time.

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