I Am Not A Food Photographer and The Art Of Winging It

There are food photographers in the world who are genuine artists with food and light and know how to make food look like it would be right at home in your mouth.  I am not one of these people.  But sometimes as a freelance photographer (or any artist) when a potential client asks if you can do something, you confidently say yes and then you worry about learning how later.  Soooo, sometimes I’ll take a food job for a menu or a website or whatnot and more often than not, I will shoot on location at the restaurant so we have the shortest distance for the food to travel.  This can be great if the restaurant isn’t busy and you and the chef can communicate about what needs to happen.  But, as you would imagine, this is not always the case.  And working on location often lends itself to some real McGuyver situations.

(I am not a food photographer.)

I’ve always been a minimalist photographer.  In the beginning it was because I was too broke to afford all the gear so I just made things work because I had to.  Now, I own a lot of gear and try as hard as possible to never use it.  I’ve built that into my shooting aesthetic, so clients typically don’t expect me to show up with a grip truck, and everything is cool. However…sometimes you end up standing in a hallway not much wider than your shoulders, one leg in a trashcan, right next to a bathroom, dodging a leak in the ceiling, hunched over and jammed into a corner to get your shot.

Big Time Hollywood Photography Studio.

And that’s where I was.  Trust me, it looks bigger in the photo than it is in reality.  I’m complaining a little, but honestly, this is an awesome part of the job for me.  Making Shit Work.  Photography is most often about solving problems: Why does this lighting suck?  Why won’t my model read my mind?  Why are my strobes not firing?  How am I going to afford health insurance?  Why is my foot in this trashcan?  Why did I go into massive debt for a degree?  And so on and so forth.

I worked as one of three assistants on a shoot that was basically a two-strobe portrait.  Before the client arrived, we wheeled in the entire contents of a grip truck and set up everything from 4 banks of KinoFlo to HMIs to netting to mirrors and the like.  And for 12 HOURS we rearranged and rearranged and rearranged for what turned out to be a TWO STROBE PORTRAIT.  I know why photographers do this, I get it, but there’s a point where its overkill and you’re really just masturbating.  Do I want to shoot in a damp, poo-smelling hallway all the time?  Of course not, but surely there exists a middle ground between showing everyone all your toys and dodging ceiling drips.  Let me know if you find it.

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2 thoughts on “I Am Not A Food Photographer and The Art Of Winging It

  1. I like your line about solving problems, I tell my students (and parents of students) all the time that while their degree is in art, art school is really a complex series of exercises that build their ability to solve problems. “How do I get this camera/paint/charcoal/wood to do what I want it to do?” It’s a question that will challenge you your whole life, I’m never not challenged. Great post Chris.

    • Thanks, Hamlett. I think I’m really fascinated by the limitations, and how to turn those limitations, or the ability to thrive despite them, into a benefit. And when I think about limitations as more of a problem to solve, I’m way more intrigued.

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