Up Close: The Photography of "Modernist Cuisine"

In addition to his many other talents, "Modernist Cuisine" author Nathan Myhrvold is an accomplished and adventurous photographer. The "Modernist Cuisine" books are defined by their amazing large-format images that give us a different view of our food. Nathan estimates his team has shot about 250,000 photographs so far. We asked him to share some of the images from his latest book, "The Photography of Modernist Cuisine."

EXPLOSIVE IMAGES

All the photographs for "Modernist Cuisine" are taken using digital equipment. This amazing picture of eggs exploding was caught using a special high-speed camera that can shoot 6,200 frames per second. This entire sequence of images was captured in less than one-thousandth of a second.

 

carrots

CUT IN TWO

One of "Modernist Cuisine"’s signature photographic styles is the cutaway, where half of a jar or pot or appliance is removed. Nathan says the cutaway images let “people see the magic view,” showing what is happening as something cooks or is processed. This image of carrots cooking in a pan of boiling water is one of the first cutaways that Nathan took. He and his team were determining if it was possible to photograph images like this: He photographed the carrots in the cut-in-half pan and then separately took photos of boiling water to capture how it refracted and reflected the light. Then a composite of these images was made to create the final image.

 

burgers

SLICED

Using the resources of their machine shop, the "Modernist Cuisine" team went on to cut everything from a jar to a blender to a Viking stove in half and photographed them. Almost all of their cutaways were the result of overlaying images from different photographs to produce a final image. This image of burgers cooking over glowing embers took more work than most; it required separate shots of the grill exterior, grill interior, coals, embers, flames, and the burgers. They then composited them to create this iconic image. The coals kept falling out of the grill, but as Nathan explains, “The image only needed to look good for one-thousandth of a second.”

 

blender

HOW IT'S DONE

Some cutaways were sealed with Pyrex glass, but this cutaway of a blender filled with tomatoes was open. Nathan explained the tomatoes inside it were carefully positioned and held in place using sewing needles.

 

orange

AFLAME

During their experiments, the "Modernist Cuisine" team has set various foods on fire; this image shows how the few drops of oil that are released when an orange is zested are flammable. Nathan described the ensuing fireball as “worthy of a 'Star Wars' movie.”

 

siphon

BEETIFUL

You’ll never think of beet juice the same way after looking at this beautiful cutaway image from a sequence showing beet juice mixed with various foaming agents. 

 

fish

PARROT FISH

“I love all of the images, but this is one of my favorites.” Nathan photographed this pair of parrot fish in a market in Manado, Indonesia. The incredibly colorful fish look like twins, but Nathan explains: “They’re not; that’s the visual tension of the image. They look like mirror images, but they are not quite.”

 

Buy "The Photography of Modernist Cuisine" and Nathan's other books.

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