Small Kitchen Utensil Photography Reinvented

Just about any kitchen that you walk into is bound to have a drawer or two filled with odds and ends. Peelers and measuring spoons and can openers simply aren’t as glamorous as, say, a set of sharp knives. As a result, they’re often relegated to our kitchen’s deepest, darkest corners. Yet, those same tools can make all the difference during meal prep.

In a pinch, where would we be without our potato mashers or cheese graters?

Inspired by the power that each little tool possesses, I used my skills as a creative director to bring some attention to these unsung heroes. While kitchen utensil photography may seem dull, the challenge of breathing fresh life into them was one I was willing to take on.

Drafting a Concept

The objects that I wanted to focus on frankly sound pretty boring on the surface. That’s understandable. Peeling fruits and vegetables isn’t exactly the epitome of excitement. Yet, there’s  power and functionality packed into the smallest, most unsuspecting objects. Their efficient designs are often simple and geometric. They can come in identical sheens of stainless steel. And, while that might not make for much individually, those physical attributes have the potential to create dynamic, eye-catching compositions when placed together.  

My goal was to make photographs that would highlight and amplify the purpose of each kitchen utensil residing in my catch-all drawer. I sought out some inspiration for still life photography portraying my utensils in a way that stood out, but didn’t have much luck. On the off chance they were included in a photographic background, they never seemed to take the spotlight. If I wanted an exciting end product for this series, I soon realized that I’d have to discover how to do so on my own.

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Bringing in a Collaborator

At heart, I’m a purist. I gravitate towards clean simplicity more so than over-the-top presentation. Secretly, I’ll laugh to myself about over-intellectualized still life photography sets, complete with silky pleated drapery and unnecessary props. As a food photographer, I don’t like to put my subjects on an unrealistic pedestal (stylistically speaking). Instead, I stand by the philosophy that:

what belongs in the kitchen should stay in the kitchen

Getting a keen eye that aligns with your vision can sometimes feel downright impossible. I carefully looked around and eventually chosen to work on this project with a London-based, seasoned still life photographer Agata Pec. Agata’s work has attracted the eyes of many respectable publications and brands. Perfectly lit, minimalistic, and often dramatic, her photography is hones in on shape and texture.

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While our work certainly has some overlap, our individual styles differ. However, I was pleased to find that our artistic ideals were in sync – she was more than happy to work with me in creating some eye-catching kitchen utensil photography. With a similar goal and two separate creative minds in play, I felt confident that together we’d be able to produce something spectacular. 

Setting a Scene

Although I did want to celebrate objects like corers and graters through this particular series of images, both Agata and I wanted do so by highlighting their precision and purpose rather than adorning them with unnecessary props. We really didn’t want an environment that could drag attention away from the tools or confuse viewers of our intentions.

Ultimately, I opted for a plain white back drop and matching steel utensils that were virtually immune to clashing. That’s not to say that I wanted something entirely sterile. To add some balance we decided to use bold, contrasting shadows, which ultimately would create an interesting, almost abstract composition.

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Texture also ended up contributing quite a bit to this particular series. To compliment the colorless tools, we brought in a mix of bright, fresh produce. Easily sculpted, we strategically peeled and cut away at skin. The precise cuts and scores paired beautifully with the organic shapes of our fruits and vegetables. Juicy insides mirrored shiny metal blades, stark among the dull earthiness of patterned outer layers.

Technical Specs

From the start, I envisioned the images to be as sharp as a knife’s edge (pardon the pun). Ideally, we aimed for each and every pixel to provide detail and depth to the concept at hand.

How do you photograph sharp objects? You show sharpness. To achieve it, we decided to go “sharp” with both of our main tools: the light and the depth of field.
– Agata Pec

In order to bring our idea to life, Agata and I knew that we’d need to employ a harsh, direct light in order to separate and outline the subjects. Once I began to shoot, I became enamored with the looming shadows cast by my metallic tools.

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For this shoot, we went with a single bare head in order to achieve harsh, well defined shadows. I like working with this sort of setup to achieve a graphic look, as it is very high contrast lighting. Sometimes (like in the apple shot) we’d use a reflector to bounce some light back to the subject and fill in the shadows just a little bit.
– Agata Pec

Against bright whites and saturated colors, the shadows brought attention to each utensil’s form and added a sense of prominence to otherwise humble tools. Just as we had hoped, the stark contrast between lights and darks further enhanced the razor-sharp look we were after.

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Shooting small objects at an angle almost always result in some part of the image being a bit blurry. In order to avoid that, we used focus stacking. That way, we’d be sure that every element of the image would remain sharp.
– Agata Pec

As a food photographer, I usually focus the majority of my time on set fussing with food. Having to instead turn my attention toward oft-ignored kitchen accessories was certainly a challenge. But with a little bit innovative thinking and outside insight, I think that we managed to pull the task off. 

So, there you have it. As it turns out, even kitchen utensil photography can be fun when you have a positive, creative mindset (and, perhaps, a bit of help from a friend). Enjoy and feel free to share your opinions on this series in the comments!

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