Gulf Photo Plus’s expert shares his tips
How does being a food photographer affect your daily routine?
I used to be a night owl years ago, but these days I get up at 4am. I shoot in natural light, so I need that extra time to get to the studio, get set up and take advantage of every minute of sunlight. I love this time of day – it’s so quiet, no one’s awake, I get to read, I have a good hour or two before going to the gym. I’m a lot more productive getting up early than staying up late. You can get so much done before the world starts.
Can you tell us a bit about what to expect at your workshop with GPP this year?
It’s going to be a lot of fun. Food is a topic that brings everyone together, eating is something we all do, so it’s a more intimate a topic than shooting a product or a fancy car. What draws people to food and food photography is a love of it, an interest and a curiosity. The workshops will be a great opportunity to see what it takes to get food from the kitchen to the plate to the camera. There’ll be a food stylist there and a chef plating things up for the camera, so the students will learn about what goes on behind the scenes, as well as the technical side of things. Food has its own properties, time limits and specifics of how it needs to be shot, and we’re going to cover it all.
Are your workshops aimed at anyone in particular?
It’s for everyone with an interest in food photography, for example, food bloggers. I started a food blog myself in 2005 to showcase my work, and I always like to meet other bloggers. What I’ve noticed in workshops is that I’m also meeting a lot of recipe writers who want to learn how to photograph and submit images along with the recipes they write. I also work with a lot of chefs from smaller restaurants who might not have a big marketing department and need to do their own photography, and I’ve taught bartenders and general managers too – basically anyone who needs to capture their own food and drink imagery.
Do you need a certain level of experience or is the class suitable for beginners?
It’s a bit of both – you never have an equal level of knowledge in any workshop. The principles of shooting food are more about the theory than the practice sometimes, so I can be as basic or as in depth as needed. My main focus will be on camera photography, but I’ll teach a few things on smartphone photography too.
What are the biggest mistakes that people make when it comes to food photography?
I blame Instagram for this – a big mistake with food photography is always using that overhead, top down, bird’s eye view for shots. Now every single person does that, but the mistake happens when people don’t get out of that comfort zone. I encourage people to think outside the box, move around with angles and not always shoot the same thing. It’s become a style on Instagram and I get it, but if people are really serious about food photography, they need to try new things.
What is your favourite thing to shoot in the food photography world?
I love working on cookbooks, because you get a chance to slow down and be in one world, on one project. When you’re shooting an ad campaign it’s just a couple of days, and the pressure’s on, but with a cookbook it’s a more creative interpretation of food, and you can tell a story with your photos. There are longer shoots, it’s open to interpretation, it’s less exact, and so I really enjoy those.
What do you think of the modern phenomenon in restaurants of everyone taking a photo of their meals before they start eating?
It’s a part of the world we live in, for better or for worse. Even when I have people over for dinner, I allow a buffer time to let people stand on the tables and chairs to get a good photo. Whatever it takes to get the shot, I do it, so I understand that and have to extend that opportunity to other people.
What are three food photography tips that you would give for someone with a DSLR camera?
Firstly, get a tripod. Taking food photographs without a tripod is like trying to work with one hand tied behind your back. When it comes to food on a plate, sometimes it needs to be adjusted, and you can’t do that when you have your camera in one hand. Never use your on-camera flash. It looks like a crime scene photo of food – it brings out all the worst qualities of food. Experiment and move around – walk around the table, try to incorporate some of the environment. Remember that you’re telling a story with photography, and the same is true for food photography. Who made it? Where did it come from? Where was it grown? If you can incorporate that into the main frame, you’ll have a much stronger story.
What about with camera phones?
The number one complaint people make is that restaurants are too dark to take good pictures. If you’re going to a restaurant where you know you’ll want to photograph the food, get there early! Get a spot by the window. And ask if you can move your plate to well lit areas to take the photo. Another tip – if you’re not going to get the shot, don’t fight it. You’re annoying everyone in the restaurant if you keep pushing it. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get that shot for your blog. And finally, do not use your camera flash. It annoys people and you won’t get a good shot at all.