I graduating from college in the midwest with my BFA major in fine arts and a minor in marketing & entrepreneurial studies. As I started my journey after graduating, I moved to NYC! This is where I spent my first few years learning as much as I possibly could. I worked for a photography rental studio, I worked as a digital tech, a producer, a lighting tech, and more. This was my path towards full-time as a professional food and drink photographer. This journey was not an easy 4 years, but the process of getting there was what made me who I am today. Food Photography requires a lot of passion to keep at it — you have to show up every day and continually practice your trade. As a photographer, you are always learning or testing out new ways of doing things. By doing this it keeps you on your game. I want to share 5 tips and challenges that I learned along the way, and that continue to help me assist me in my culinary journey today.
KNOW YOUR LIGHTING
This is one of those things that I never realized until after I was already about 3-4 years into my career. Understanding the lighting and how to make it what you want is key to creating great content. As most food photographers will tell you they love natural light. But sometimes it is just too sunny or the shoot is taking too long and my lighting is changing. Or even worse there is weather and a thunderstorm is rolling in, now what? This is where I found the need to understand how to manipulate strobes, speedlights, and reflectors to either add to a naturally light scene or to light something complete with artificial lighting. As a professional photographer, you must know how to make whatever you are shooting look great in any lighting situation. My suggestion for anyone starting out is to get your hands on an off-camera speedlight and start learning about it. Figure out how to take it into manual mode for just that extra pop that is needed. There are plenty of video tutorials out there to learn more. My challenge to you is to take a photo completely with natural light. Then attempt to re-create that same lighting setup or better, only with strobes.
KNOW THE SUBJECT
For any professional food or drink photographer or director, you must have a passion for food and drinks. For a food photographer, it means diving into the kitchen and don’t be afraid to learn about the food. Or go behind the bar and shake the drink yourself. Not all food photographers have a food stylist available to them 24/7, especially in the beginning. I worked outside of the box when I was starting off and worked directly with chefs to capture their food. Since, in the beginning, I had no clue about how to cook or create it myself. It took me several years to find a great group of specialists in the food styling world. I do not claim to be a food stylist by any means, but learning as much as I could about the food and cocktails has made my style what it is today. Having the knowledge of how food cooks, sits, wilts, crumbles, and drips; allows me to have more ideas on what to shoots and better estimate what needs to happen next. The more you know about the food and the drinks the more appetite appeal you can bring to the table. My challenge here is to cook something new at least once a month.
TO TRIPOD OR NOT
This might be the most conflicting idea yet. The composition is everything when it comes to your food and drinks but at the same time diversity is also a great thing. I am a big fan of not using a tripod when I have to move quickly or don’t have a pre-determined composition we are aiming for. I feel, moving around my subject and finding its perfect angle is done best without a tripod. Then once you have found that angle and you want to refine it then you can tripod up. When you have the luxury of planning out your shoot in advance think about the composition and the angles. What will work best for a burger vs a pasta shot, these might be two different angles? Think about the lighting and how the light will look at different angles. And finally, always think about the time sensitivity of the food or drinks you are photographing. My challenge here is to set up a scenario, put your food down and take 10 different angles of the same plate. This will help you understand what works best and why for each subject you shoot. With enough practice, you will start to naturally know what works.
DO MORE THAN BELIEVE: PRACTICE
Photography is a constant learning game and you have to practice. Practice different lighting techniques, understand your camera and its settings as well as know the subject and how the food will act. Throwdown some ingredients and just simply test out something new or refine something you want to do better. You can’t just believe that you can do it, you need to practice and know that you can. No matter what your photography focus is, find the inspiration that fuels you. The more inspired you are, the more you’ll practice, and the more you practice, the better you’ll become.
“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything your do will rise.” – Michael Jordan
FOLLOW THE PASSION OF BEING A FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER
For me, food and cocktail photography was not presented to me as a path until I started to shoot much more. I actually thought I wanted to photograph fashion. It wasn’t until a friend had asked me to shoot his catering menu, that I discovered food as a way forward. Finding what you are good at will help you be truly in! My Challenge here is for everyone to be self-critical and ask themselves is this what you want to be shooting. Or are you passionate about something else?