ATK at Home
A Day in the Life of Kevin White, Staff Photographer
When your home kitchen becomes a photography studio.
06-27-2020
Kevin White

After months of being closed, America’s Test Kitchen’s office in Boston is now open to a handful of employees at a time. So on any given day, the majority of the staff is still working from home, developing recipes, reviewing kitchen equipment, and creating magazines, cookbooks, photos, and videos that will help our community of home cooks excel in the kitchen. In this new series, we give you a look at a typical day—and in many cases, the home kitchens—of some of our staff.


 

Before COVID, a typical photo shoot at ATK consisted of five or six individuals with Test Cooks from the Photo team preparing all the food and shuttling it from the Test Kitchen to the studio where a stylist, art director, and photographer worked their magic in the ample, airy space with state-of-the-art equipment. Staging these photo shoots at photographers’ homes looks . . . a little different.

We staff photographers are now back in the office a couple times a week, but I’m still shooting at home most of the time. While I still have the benefit of photo team cooks who shop for ingredients and deliver partially prepared food to my apartment, it’s now more of a one-person show—except when my wife generously lends a hand (literally) to model for a shot. Here’s a typical day.

7:30 AM – Caffeine Fix

My typical day begins with coffee and plenty of it. As I see it the first cup doesn’t even count. Being a night owl of sorts, I like to ease into the morning, so I try to build in time to sit and caffeinate, scan the news and Instagram, or check emails before getting into the day. (And I also have to build in time to hit the snooze button a couple times. Just saying.)

8:30 AM – Grocery Delivery

Groceries delivered
Groceries delivered

Since working from home, Kevin has to cook a lot of the food he photographs. So his mornings usually start with a grocery delivery.

Some days I’m photographing for marketing or equipment reviews but on days where I’m photographing food, one of our Photo team cooks will arrive with groceries. A lot of the prep work is done at this point and ingredients are measured out and ready for cooking or assembly. This is a life-saver. Before we started this system, I was receiving groceries, then sorting and prepping them, cooking them from scratch, and styling and photographing everything myself. Not to mention the cleanup.

Once I’ve organized and put things away I can get set up to photograph. I generally have all my photo equipment already staged and it’s just a matter of getting the lighting dialed in for the shot.

9:00 AM – Daily Check-In

It’s time to stop for a minute and check in with the rest of the Photo team. Since the start of quarantine, we’ve been having a daily check-in over Zoom. It’s proven to be a nice way to keep in touch and feel connected. Since photographing remotely takes a lot of coordination, having a check-in is also way more efficient than trying to get everything across via an email thread.

10:00 AM – Time to Get Cooking (and Shooting)

With the group meeting wrapped up it’s time to get cooking. I’m usually getting the food ready in the kitchen and then bringing it to my workspace/studio area where the camera and lights are set up. Sometimes though, the shot calls for the action to happen on the stove or in an oven. For these shots I have to transform my kitchen into the studio. 

Kevin's kitchen-studio setup

It's not the Test Kitchen, but Kevin's home kitchen makes a pretty good stand-in.

I live in a semi-industrial space, so it’s a little rough around the edges, but with a little bit of polish, creative lighting, and some selective framing I can get some decent results. It also helps that I can pull the range away from the wall to be able to place the camera and lights in ways that would be impossible if it were butted up against a wall and immovable. 

Kevin prepping and shooting from home (with his wife-turned-hand-model, Melita).

12:00 PM – Organize As I Go

By this time we should be a couple of shots into the list for the day. Usually I have to change camera angles and lighting to suit the needs of each shot, but if I can group similar things together it makes everything go faster. Days like today, however, involve moving from the stove shots to the counter so while the editors take a break I’m resetting the lights and camera, gathering dirty kitchen equipment, and putting away any perishable items I won’t need right away. 

12:30 PM – Break Time

With everything ready to go, I now have a little time to spare while the art director I’m working with today (over Zoom) finishes up a meeting. I check on any packages that may have arrived for future photo shoots, and then I take a small trip to the nearby park adjacent to the water here in South Boston. Since I’m working from home, a little break in the afternoon to get some fresh air is a welcome treat. 

1:00 PM – The Final Push

Kevin working from home
One of the in-progress shots

Throughout the day, Kevin is sending photos over to members of the Photo team to give him feedback on the shots.

It’s time for the final push to get through the rest of the shots for the day. We go through the succession of steps for the remainder of the last recipe: I set up for the shot, do a test, shoot, send images to the editors for comments, and adjust until we get the perfect combination of technique, lighting, food appeal, and that special sauce that just can’t be explained. 

4:30 PM – Chasing the Sun

Dishes

Kevin gets to eat the food he cooks—but he also has to do the dishes.

After the last shot of the day, we finish off with virtual high-fives and the feeling of a good day’s work. I gather all the dishes and kitchen equipment for washing and set it aside (I’ll deal with that later) and head out to catch the tail end of the day. Cleaning, and resetting for the next day’s shoot will just have to wait.