Behind the Scenes: The Photography of Modernist Cuisine

Arguably the best food photographers out there share their secrets

Thrown Food

Thrown Food

This cutaway of stir-fried pad thai illustrates the technique of dynamically varying cooking time and temperature by controlling the height at which ingredients are tossed or stirred. For stop-action food, Myhrvold and crew typically use high shutter speeds, short flash-duration strobes, and sometimes even shoe-mount flashes. The composite of multiple tosses above included one toss that resulted in a kitchen fire caused by oil spilling out of the cutaway wok.
Photo: Ryan Matthew Smith/Modernist Cuisine LLC
As It Cooks

As It Cooks

For this cutaway of steaming broccoli, Nathan Myhrvold and his team cut the pot, steamer, and lid each in half using an abrasive waterjet. He held the florets together with toothpicks, and later, in software, added multiple side-on shots of boiling water below.
Photo: Ryan Matthew Smith/Modernist Cuisine LLC
Focus Stacking

Focus Stacking

This super-macro image of a rambutan, a tropical fruit approximately two inches in diameter, is a digital composite of about 30 images that were focus-stacked to assure sharpness from front to back. Focus stacking is one of several advanced photographic techniques Myhrvold employed for Modernist Cuisine, and one rarely, if ever, used in conventional cookbooks. Each of the 30 frames captured a different "slice" of the fruit in sharp focus. They were then combined in software, which automatically eliminated the out-of-focus areas of each slice. One of the book's stacks comprised 1,700 slices.
Photo: Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine LLC
Thrown Food

Thrown Food

This cutaway of stir-fried pad thai illustrates the technique of dynamically varying cooking time and temperature by controlling the height at which ingredients are tossed or stirred. For stop-action food, Myhrvold and crew typically use high shutter speeds, short flash-duration strobes, and sometimes even shoe-mount flashes. The composite of multiple tosses above included one toss that resulted in a kitchen fire caused by oil spilling out of the cutaway wok.
Photo: Ryan Matthew Smith/Modernist Cuisine LLC
Levitating Food

Levitating Food

Taking his inspiration from exploded diagrams typically seen in mechanical drawings, Myhrvold and crew produced a number of levitating food shots for the cookbooks. The challenge in producing composites like this grilled cheese sandwich comes in having to shoot each layer from a slightly different angle, with only the central image (here the melting cheese) shot straight on. The image was the cover art for Modernist Cuisine at Home.
Photo: Melissa Lehuta/Modernist Cuisine LLC
Enzyme Peel

Enzyme Peel

To photograph the tender flesh of a grapefruit slice, Myhrvold and his crew had to remove the tough outer membrane that encapsulates each grapefruit section without disturbing the succulent inner sacs of grapefruit juice. To do it, they soaked the segments in a mixture of commercially available natural enzymes and then gently peeled away the outer membrane. As you learn in the book, "it sloughs away like old skin off a snake."
Photo: Chris Hoover/Modernist Cuisine LLC
The Photography of the Modernist Cuisine

The Photography of the Modernist Cuisine

Published by The Cooking Lab, this new book includes over 400 photos.