What Happens Behind the Scenes at a Food Photo Shoot

As an editorial intern for Minnesota Monthly, I spent the summer learning the inner workings of a magazine and honing my writing skills. At the end of my term, I had the opportunity to go onset for two photo shoots at new restaurants in St. Paul. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but from my dedicated years of watching America’s Next Top Model, I had a hunch that a sassy director and a lot of wind-in-hair action would be involved. (Hint: my preconceived notions were a bit off base.)

On the day of the shoot, Mandy (the art director) and TJ (the photographer) departed the office with myself and two other interns in tow. Our first stop of the day, Saint Dinette, is a new St. Paul eatery that excels in shareable plates with a French influence. Open for dinner and weekend brunch only, we stopped in before opening time to avoid the dinner-rush madness. The chef began delivering dish after dish along with their prospective drink pairings. From ricotta dumplings to a mole enchilada, each plate fully surpassed my day-to-day college diet.


During the shoot, TJ had his camera linked up to a laptop so we could watch his photographs stream in real-time. The shutter of his camera never seemed to stop, seamlessly moving from one setup into another. He explained his choice of lens, lighting, exposure, and placement, while allowing us to ask questions. His confidence and ease behind the camera consistently resulted in gorgeous, mouthwatering shots.

Meanwhile, Mandy kept a keen eye for how things would come together with editorial content and developing into a final. She made tweaks like removing stray kernels of corn or readjusting chairs and silverware in the background. With an air of artistic sensibility, she and TJ worked cohesively together to create their vision.

Next on the list was Ox Cart Ale House, located just a few doors down. This new Lowertown spot offers pub fare perfect for after a Saints game. Already open for the day, we began setting up reflectors and backdrops at a corner table, getting a few curious glances from diners at nearby tables. The dark wood and dim lighting were fitting for the alehouse atmosphere, but called for additional lighting to get the perfect shots. While shooting the Coney dog—a house-made sausage garnished with beef chili, Fresno chili peppers, and potato crisps—it took three of us with hand-held spotlights to get the shadows just right. I don’t think a hot dog has ever felt so glamorous.

One hour later (and a table full of lamb burgers, sweetbreads, and enough fries to go around), we were ready to wrap. While I was set to head home, this was just the start for TJ and Mandy. After the shoot, their work entails a selection process, editing, and layout before the images are ready for the magazine.