How long have you spent crafting the perfect burger? An hour? An afternoon? Maybe a weekend of obsession at most? Well photographer Steve Giralt spent three months putting together his perfect burger—a deconstructed view of a bun, meat, and veggies that floated in midair before crashing down into a glorious pile of glistening, saturated fats.
"I wanted the beginning to create some mystery as you see the ingredients one at a time, then slowly start telling the story of what is coming together in front of your eyes," says Giralt. "I had seen some of the ‘burger drops’ Carl’s Jr. had done and felt I could push them further."
And so in a self-funded project to woo more clients, spotted by Core77, Giralt constructed a sandwich-photographing dream machine. At its heart is a homemade Arduino controller, which is basically a bunch of circuitry that allows for split second timing over mechanical parts of the shoot—imagine a machine that can automate 20 pairs of hands working together. The controller connects to the tower, which suspended layers of the burger on precarious rubber bands. With millisecond timing, the controller cut the bands, while a third component—a robot arm—flew by fast enough to capture the meat in midair, and arrive in time to show the whole burger landing at the bottom. (The ketchup and mustard blasts were technically done in another shot—thanks to a 3D printed dual catapult that looks like it made a terrific mess.)
This Rube Goldberg contraption allowed Giralt to capture his shot with minimal compositing, and zero CGI. "I personally try to shoot as much as I can in camera for myself and clients," says Giralt. "I feel with food, there are so many small nuances that are hard to carry over into CGI . . . It’s organic, and changing constantly in front of the camera."
Due to months of preparation, the final shot took only a handful of tries before the burger landed just as Giralt wanted. Even still, Giralt has plans to improve his Arduino controller, making an overall more capable version, while also creating a smaller unit with greater portability. As for that rubber-band tower? It "can be used again in any other sort of stack drop type shoot," says Giralt. "Think pancakes, sandwiches, donuts, chocolate bars, and cookies."