Harlem Tavern

Photographing any kind of still life was always beyond me, but I had the opportunity to shoot some food with a buddy who acted as the producer/art director for these shots. So of course, why not?

When we strolled into the newly established beer garden, it was almost 10pm on a Wednesday. The place was packed, and I was told it’s been like that for the last couple of days. All I could think of is that this place had an amazing location. 

After acclimating ourselves with one of the owners, I set out to take some shots of the place itself.. the bar, outside, inside, people having a good time. There was a nice buzz filling the air and nice decor to go with everything else. For a camera, this was place was just dark.

So this is not that big of a problem. I have a monopod.. bump the iso.. shutter speed of about 1/30s, shoot wide. Small amount of motion blur is forgiveable with a huge crowd. But the main Harlem Tavern sign was really, really bright compared to everything else. Okay, switch to spot metering and take a photo of the sign. You’ll switch’em out later I tell myself. 

As the crowd thins a bit, we start working on the drinks. My buddy, Jerone, wants some shots as they’re being made. Cool, it’s something different. I’m down. It’s super dark. Let’s light it. A strobe is way too much, so I busted out the LED lights. Continuous lights are great, way easier to keep focus. Just keep your finger down on the shutter and it clicks away.

Okay let’s move on to the staged shots.

I pictured a white background beforehand, but this is definitely not the place for it. It’s a little more carefree than that. So we set up in a booth. The dark wood of the table looks great. Boom a bare flash almost directly overhead. Set camera to 1/250s, f8 as Jerone sets the scene. Click. I like it, but way too dramatic. Light falls off quickly from the subject. Throw an umbrella on the light. I’m getting thirsty, and that mojito is looking good. Shoot the rest of the drinks. I love detail.

Food starts to come out, and it’s looking ridiculously delicious. Hardly need to do any extra plating at all. Keep the same settings. Click away. I love oysters. Need more light. Move light source closer. 

There was a bunch of moving around of the food combined with different angles, but the perspective from the patron seemed to work best. 

Usually, the food is messed around with a lot for photos. Pins here, pins there. Throw some smoke on the food. Use greasy, reflective oils to make it shine more. Prop it up with sponges Etc. The food looked pretty immaculate as it was, so we didn’t add anything to it.

And of course there was the beer. Pouring a draft from behind the bar. 

All in all, it was a fun night. Took a bazillion shots (photos). I, myself, can say that all of that food was absolutely delicious. Couldn’t let it go to waste.. nor the drinks. 

Did very minimal editing. Brightened it up a touch. Made the whites look white. Cloned out any distractions. 

Frederick Douglass and 116th.