Food Photography and Styling for 50 State Dishes

By: Roberto Ferdman
Pulled Pork

That photo above -- it's beautiful, isn't it? From the in-your-face mound of pulled pork with seeded bun to the out-of-focus iced drink and warm tones of the color scheme -- everything about it works together to create an irresistible image. In fact, our stomachs have been growling ever since we laid eyes on it and the rest of our state-favorite food beauties. By now, you’ve likely seen our list of 50 dishes that represent American cuisine. And if not, trust us: you'll want to click through to see many more delectable classics.

We sat down with photographer Tara Donne to walk us through all the gorgeous photography that now graces our Across the Country in 50 State Dishes experience. From the set up and organization behind the  pulled pork shot featured above, to the challenges, delights and highlights of photographing 50+ different recipes, each with a feel and theme inspired by a different state, Tara took us behind the scenes of her epic photo shoot.

Cooking Channel: Capturing a flattering food photograph takes a lot longer than one might think. Can you walk us through the nuts and bolts of a photograph like the pulled pork shot you captured above?
Behind The Scenes

Tara Donne: In this instance we had the lighting roughly in place. Santos, the food stylist put a stand-in sandwich on set and my assistant and I refined the lighting, paying attention to the shape of the food. Then Santos replaced the sandwich with the hero and spent some time perfecting the messiness. Its a fine line between good messy and that-looks-unappetizing messy.

Cooking Channel: You photographed a wide range of foods for this project. Can you speak to the challenges and joys of a shoot as varied as Across The Country?
Behind The Scenes

Tara Donne: The challenge was to make each state's photograph look unique and styled in a way that represented the state and dish without being over the top. Also with the idea that all of these images were to live together, so they needed to feel like they had an individual voice but were also cohesive. The fun in it was partly that I've traveled to many of these states for shoots and so I have a pretty good sense of the vibe of lots of those places. In many instances I'd eaten those dishes before so had a connection to them. The other joy of course is in getting to taste everything!

Cooking Channel: I couldn’t help but notice how many different angles you utilized in the photos. How do you decide on the perspective of your photographs? Can you walk us through why the pulled pork shot works so well?

Tara Donne: The food usually dictates the angle really obviously. In the case of shooting a gallery of 50 images the challenge was to make sure there was a nice variety of angles. The pulled pork really couldn't be shot from a different angle unless it was open faced. You want to be at eye level with the sandwich so that you can see lots of meat and its lovely texture. It brings you right in and makes you want to squish it and take a bite!

Cooking Channel: Photographing food isn’t always easy – liquids drip, proteins dry out, consistencies change. Was there a photo that proved particularly fussy?
Michigan Meat Pastys

Tara Donne: Oooh, the meat pies. Nebraska and Michigan! It's always hard to see into something that's filled without making it feel too forced.

Cooking Channel: Lastly, I imagine you got to try a handful of the dishes. Did you find yourself sneaking second bites of anything that was surprisingly addictive?
Vinegar French Fries

Tara Donne: Um, fries. Always fries. Thank you, Delaware!

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So Much Pretty Food Here