BTS: Kitchen Heat for an Art Museum

A while back, while on a shoot for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art here in Northwest Arkansas, I was asked to get a shot of the museum’s executive chef and the Director of Culinary for their members magazine. Time was short, the kitchen was starting to prep for dinner service, and every second I was there I was inconveniencing someone. I had to get in and out quickly and create a dynamic image in the process. Here’s how it happened.

Whenever I’m in a commercial kitchen shooting, there are a few things that are almost always guaranteed: tight spaces, stainless steel everywhere, potential reflections off of said steel, and poor lighting. Check.

I wanted the chef (Bill Lyle) to be cooking. I wanted the Director of Culinary Services (Case Dighero) doing something interesting — we settled on mixing a drink — and I wanted it showing motion with lighting that was at least a little bit dramatic. 

The quarters were tight. I turned off a grill in the corner and, after it had cooled a bit, moved it out. Sliding in between the grill and the stove, my built-in backup sensors were warning me that I was about get a little too cozy with a grease-splattered wall, and I didn’t have much wiggle room. 

I put on my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens so I could zoom in and out a little from where I was standing, since I couldn’t use my feet to adjust the composition at all. I brought in three lights: Two Paul C. Buff Einstein E640s and a speedlight. The speed light was placed in the rear of the room behind the subjects to give some back-lighting and some light for the background. The Einsteins (with Vagabond Mini battery packs) were placed camera right, one on each subject. A stripbox with grid was used to light Case. Easy. I had to get a little creative with the other one, though. My 47” octabox was just too big to fit in the space. Luckily, one of the museum’s graphic designers was there and agreed to hold the octabox and light for me — partially collapsed — and point it at Chef Bill. 

Here's my beautiful lighting diagram:

If you'd like to buy a print of this work of art, let me know.

And some BTS shots, courtesy of the Creative Director.

Look how bossy I'm being!

Cue the lights, the emphatic pouring, the fire. It worked, and only a couple of 'takes' were needed. 

Nikon D810, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G @ 24mm, 1/200sec, f/3.5, ISO250

Oddly enough, in the final version of the magazine, two different images were combined for the spread, and unfortunately the fire went missing. It was probably just to make room for text (poor planning on my part ), but if there were other reasons, I wasn’t told. In any case, it was a fun shoot, and I always look forward to working with the museum. It's always something different, always interesting, and usually a bit challenging.

Have you ever had to solve problems on the spot during a commercial shoot? 

(If you say no, you’re probably lying.)

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Lenzy Ruffin's picture

You forgot to draw the ominous-looking guy in the background. His expression and him lurking in the shadows, framed by the flames reminds me of Samuel Jackson's character in Unbreakable. He just looks like he knows something bad is about to happen to those two unsuspecting guys because he's about to make it happen.

This is a great shot, man. I love environmental portraits and this is excellent work.

Stephen Ironside's picture

I really considered it but I was tired of drawing terrible stick figures. I couldn't believe I had to 'shop him out. So silly.

Chas Chas's picture

Beautiful work! Too bad they lost the fire in the print edition, it's definitely a better pic with it in there.

Mark Bowers's picture

Great article Stephen! Love the BTS writes, need to do more myself. Just curious, how do you market yourself to pick up jobs like this?

Stephen Ironside's picture

Thanks! My only marketing is word of mouth, really. Someone recommended me to the museum shortly after they opened in 2011, and I've been doing work for them ever since.

Cathy Kaech's picture

I love this...shows the reality of hard stressful work, and the craziness that surrounds the life of a chef.