SNAPPED UP Naomi Sher­man

Tas­ma­nian pho­tog­ra­pher and cook Naomi Sher­man’s highly suc­cess­ful busi­ness proves beyond doubt that we eat with our eyes


knows full well that we eat with our eyes. That’s why her gourmet pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness is boom­ing.

On her birth­day this year Naomi Sher­man was paid to make her own birth­day cake. It was a stun­ning choco­late and hazel­nut stack lay­ered with whipped ganache and fin­ished with a drip­ping of ganache frost­ing and a decadent moun­tain of side truf­fle. She re­ceived the brief from her Es­sex client in the UK, tweaked the recipe in her Huon Val­ley home stu­dio, baked the cake, lit the sparklers, took the pics, ate it, then emailed the pho­tos with her $500 bill. She says she’s never been hap­pier. “You can send me your recipe from the other side of the world,” Sher­man says. “I will cook it, beau­ti­fully style it and pho­to­graph it and give you ex­actly what you want. Ev­ery dish has got some­thing that makes you want to eat it.”

Sher­man says her recipe book col­lec­tion is about 200-strong and fills an en­tire book­case. She’s cre­at­ing her own, which she hopes to self pub­lish next year. It’s called Edi­ble Heir­looms and is filled with sim­ple recipes that evoke spe­cial mem­o­ries.

Right now she’s dream­ing of cre­at­ing a new meringue she’s seen, just be­cause she’s des­per­ate to cap­ture its caramelised swirl. She’s all about cre­at­ing pho­tos that evoke feel­ings around food. “Food has a very im­por­tant con­nec­tion with a whole range of mo­ments in our life,” she says. “An image of some­thing scrump­tious is like the be­gin­ning of a story. Each viewer fills in the rest with their own ex­pe­ri­ences, and their own mean­ing. Ev­ery­one of us has a story around food.”

Over the past year, her recipe devel­op­ment has rock­eted and she’s been busy hand­writ­ing them all into a Kmart note­book. The ones that worked. The ones that flopped. And the steps she’s taken to turn fail­ures into tri­umphs. But de­spite her skills in the kitchen, she iden­ti­fies more as a pho­tog­ra­pher.

The food pho­tog­ra­phy phe­nom­e­non is a grow­ing global move­ment thanks to so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as In­sta­gram. It’s mas­sive and is also an ex­ten­sion of the pop­u­lar­ity of tele­vi­sion food shows, cook books and our global fas­ci­na­tion with food. In­sta­gram users have so far hash-tagged food more than 300 mil­lion times. More and more of us are turn­ing to pro­fes­sional food pho­tog­ra­phy on both restau­rant web­sites and their so­cial me­dia plat­forms to snoop for new places to eat and dine out be­cause we can al­most try be­fore we buy.

Sher­man uses her In­sta­gram ac­count as her fo­lio and says that’s how her clients find her. “I think peo­ple think that Tas­ma­nia is such an iso­lated place and if you live here then you can’t com­pete with peo­ple in say Syd­ney or Mel­bourne for this sort of work, but I’m telling you that you can,” she says.

She loves the look of burnt cut­lery in her pho­tos so she has an oil drum burn­ing bin, which she throws pieces into for her unique look. She’s been told by some, her posts lit­er­ally make them stop scrolling, so they can linger on her photo and tor­ture them­selves with how de­li­cious that must taste. “I love look­ing at some­thing and know­ing how to turn that into a spec­tac­u­lar photo that will make peo­ple drool,” Sher­man says. “I’m just a food tease. I could wake up ev­ery day and take pho­tos of food.”

Sher­man’s pho­tos are used by in­ter­na­tional food blog­gers with im­pres­sive num­bers of fol­low­ers as well as in books and mag­a­zines but she’s also got a strong list of Tas­ma­nian clients. Many lo­cal clients are small pro­duc­ers who, she says, are slowly un­der­stand­ing the value of pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy for their own busi­nesses.

She’s col­lected more than a dozen in­ter­na­tional food pho­tog­ra­phy awards through Food­elia, one of the world’s best food pho­tog­ra­phy web­sites. She is its top-ranked Aus­tralian food pho­tog­ra­pher. Her big­gest cus­tomers are US and UK keto clients. Keto, or ke­to­genic, is a pop­u­lar low-carb, high-fat diet.

Af­ter a walk with the dogs in the morn­ing, and a quick clean of the house, Sher­man starts on her recipes, then bakes or makes it and what­ever she’s cre­ated of­ten ends up as her lunch or din­ner. “I of­ten sit down at the din­ner ta­ble at night and say ‘well it might look like a lit­tle bit of a strange com­bi­na­tion tonight but this just earned me $600’,” she says. “I ba­si­cally get paid to cook my fam­ily din­ner and I can claim a lot of the in­gre­di­ents. It just tick­les me pink.”

Sher­man is able to look at some­thing as sim­ple as a tray filled with chunks of roasted beet­root sit­ting on a kitchen bench and ap­pre­ci­ate the el­e­ments of de­sign hid­ing in the veg­etable . “You eat with your eyes,” she says. “There are beau­ti­ful colours and pat­terns in beet­root, you can see the light shin­ing through the wedge and it looks just like stained glass.”

Food con­tains all the de­sign el­e­ments that make pic­tures look good: colour, tex­ture, pat­tern, line, shape and form, but the real trick in this pro­fes­sion is to cre­ate an image that makes us want to eat it. To do that well, you need great skill and a flair for styling. Sher­man learnt styling and pho­tog­ra­phy through an on­line course. She thought her in­struc­tor was Amer­i­can but half way through, she dis­cov­ered she was ac­tu­ally Tas­ma­nian.

West Ho­bart food pho­tog­ra­pher and food blog­ger Dearna Bond doesn’t have a home stu­dio but works in the kitchen, liv­ing room, and laun­dry with bits and pieces all over the place. She says the trick is to un­der­stand how your cam­era works and the el­e­ments of light and com­po­si­tion. She finds it eas­ier to tell a food photo story us­ing dark and moody im­agery. “It helps put peo­ple into the pic­ture, helps them taste what you’ve pho­tographed, and makes it eas­ier to cre­ate a food mood,” Bond says.

She works as a busi­ness an­a­lyst at the univer­sity four days a week, but on Fri­days she’s a food pho­tog­ra­pher who also runs master classes in Ho­bart. In a good week, she’s made $7000 from her food pho­tog­ra­phy. Some­times clients come via pho­tog­ra­phers in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne who are happy to share their work. Re­cently Bond went to the launch of a Tas­ma­nian tomato cook­book she’d pho­tographed many of the recipes for. One of her lo­cal clients told her a few months ago that the $500 they pay her sev­eral times a year, is the best money they spend an­nu­ally be­cause the pho­tos she pro­duces bring in such a wave of new cus­tomers. She says she still gets a buzz when she sees her work in print. “I was in a wait­ing room, and picked up a mag­a­zine to flick through and saw one of my pic­tures,” Bond says. “I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the lit­tle in­ter­nal squeal I feel when I see some of my im­ages in print.”

Sher­man and Bond try to catch up once ev­ery few months for a work­ing day of cook­ing and snap-tak­ing and long con­ver­sa­tions and of­ten as­sist each other on big­ger jobs. “When we work to­gether we end up with bet­ter shots so that’s good,” Bond says. “You learn how to do every­thing your­self, but it makes all the dif­fer­ence when you work with an­other food pho­tog­ra­pher be­cause they un­der­stand ex­actly what you are af­ter and they are usu­ally 10 steps ahead of you.”

Re­cently they cap­tured Sher­man’s favourite shot, a pho­to­graph of her great-grand­mother’s Christ­mas pud­ding with an im­pres­sive blue flame flar­ing from its top (pic­tured left). They had to douse the cake in al­most an en­tire bot­tle of brandy to get the pic­ture just right, and Sher­man says, nearly passed out from the fumes.

Beau­ti­fully cap­tured food pho­to­graphs don’t mag­i­cally ap­pear. The process usu­ally in­volves a lot of trial and er­ror. Bond says you don’t need a lot of ex­pen­sive gear to take great food pho­tos. She shoots a lot of her pic­tures on vinyl and $3 MDF sheets she paints her­self. She’s a sucker for soft linens and hand­made Tassie ceram­ics be­cause their im­per­fec­tions show up re­ally well. “I al­ways do the back­drop first, and then select the ceram­ics,” she says. “You want to cre­ate bal­ance so styling by num­ber is im­por­tant: odd looks bet­ter than even. Then there’s the rule of thirds so hav­ing your food off cen­tre and hav­ing smaller de­tails off to the side like herbs or a soft linen breaks up neg­a­tive space. If you have a few types of el­e­ments, it can add flow to the dish.”

De­spite only usu­ally post­ing the ones that turn out, there’s usu­ally a few flops along the way. Says Sher­man: “You know how you look at all those food ac­counts and you think they know what’s what. For all the per­fect im­ages you see, there are also tears and doubts and in­se­cu­ri­ties. But I’ve learnt if you just push through that, then amaz­ing things can hap­pen. What if it all doesn’t go wrong? What if, it all goes right?”

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