The set-ups come from a very natural place. I'll usually start with the food, observing what's in season at the farmers market, considering what I've shot before. Or I think about iconic American foods, like Oreo cookies or Twinkies, and how an image of those things might tap into someone's early memory (or current closet addiction/supermarket guilty pleasure). I also consider how I can populate those images with figures with a context that makes sense. By now I have quite a little community of figures that I use, and I keep adding to the arsenal all the time. So that's a big factor: finding a clever match for what I want to shoot. These images look simple but can be tedious to set-up. I'll often try to do multiple set-ups over a few hours. Some go quickly. Others take longer. I'll work out lighting and depth-of-field.
There is a certain corner of my studio that I tend to use for this project. We have a lot of overcast days here in Seattle so it has marvelous, diffused light. I try to use available light as much as possible, though if I'm still working in winter as the evening approaches I'll very rarely set up a couple of off-camera slaves to add light. Sometimes a set-up just doesn't work the way I had hoped and I'll change the orientation of the background and/or the figures.
The figures in this work are all hand-painted and their meticulous detail is a big part of why the images work. On occasion I'll re-paint or modify figures to suit my purposes. They’re designed to be glued down so they don't stand on their own. The trick is getting them arranged. A lot of food is soft so I can use a toothpick to make a small hole into which I can insert one of the feet. Other times I use agave nectar or a proprietary putty to get the feet to stand on hard surfaces. Most of the process is enjoyable, from getting the idea, or seeing a food product – that would make a good backdrop – to actually setting it up in my studio and shooting it while I'm rocking out to music.
Other than some light and color adjustment, the images are not heavily manipulated with image processing software. The food I use is even totally real. Especially with commercial food photography there is a lot of cheating, for instance, using white glue in place of milk or glass cubes instead of ice. But I don't really need to cheat with the food either. It is not always something you'd want to eat at the end of the shoot. But it is real.