The Foodie Bugle is just launching, and so we asked a number of artisans and professionals from within the food industry to tell us about how they launched their career, from the very beginning. Dario Milano is an award winning food photographer and food stylist of Italian origin but living in Sydney. Here he shares with us the benefit of his experience in a very tough and competitive industry, so as to inform and inspire anyone wishing to follow in his footsteps.
How I started my food photography career – by Dario Milano
As magniloquent as it might sound, I am a food photographer, a food stylist, and a chef. Well, actually, I am a qualified chef who is no longer working in the hospitality industry and who is a self-proclaimed food stylist and food photographer. I have achieved this through hard work and diligent practice.
Two years ago, exactly to the day my first daughter was born, I resigned from my last full-time chef’s position. Since then I have pursued the dream of doing my dream job: eating and taking photographs; experimenting with different ingredients; being creative, not just with the food, but also with the camera; the lighting, the styling, the props and the post-production part.
The dream is slowly becoming a reality and I am beginning to see a tiny light at the end of a very dark tunnel. I am still keeping my fingers crossed and the bank is constantly after me. I am sure that freelancers reading this article will know exactly what I mean by this.
To be honest with you, getting started as a food photographer is difficult. It takes a lot of time and money just to put yourself “out there” and you will need very good connections. I do not wish to raise anyone’s alarm bells, but consider fully the total amount of money required for all of the following:
– Training: camera courses, books, DVDs, workshops.
– Camera equipment, lenses, tripod, lights, light modifiers.
– Portfolio creation (printed or digital).
– Web site (and Search Engine Optimisation features)
– Food ingredients.
– Props and accessories.
– Studio costs- even if you work from home, you will still need considerable space to work.
– Computer, laptop, iPad.
– Softwares: PhotoShop, Lightroom.
And the list just keeps growing. There is more I could add, but I just wanted to give you the bigger, realistic overview.
So, how do you start, what do you need and how do you budget for those needs? Here is my advice to you, in seven stages.
• Here come the good news; anybody and everybody can be a food photographer or food stylist. Any profession can be learned in this world, but the passion, the persistence and the sense of commitment must come from the heart. You do need to be familiar with food and having knife skills is a definite bonus, but those can be learned, in time. In my personal case, coming from a culinary background was a distinct advantage. As a chef I have always had an eye for presenting good food and for creating beautiful compositions.
• Secure yourself a job as an assistant to an established professional food photographer. This is when you start to realize the importance of having connections. I was completely self-taught, as I did not know anyone who could help me when I started at the very beginning.
• If you are going to teach yourself food photography, then you will need a great deal of time to experiment and practice, and resigning from your day job is probably not a good idea at this early stage. Take all the time you need and be an amateur for as long as you can. You will never have so much freedom to explore things as a full-time, working professional in later life.
• Budgeting for and understanding the priorities are very important considerations. Invest as much time and money in acquiring knowledge and learning the craft to its fullest extent. You will never regret a single part of that initial investment.
• Invest in building a unique photographic portfolio of your very own. You do not need 100 images as 35-45 images may well be sufficient to begin with, but they have to be really special and personal. Your food photographs should highlight quite clearly your own style and your own distinct vision and talent.
• Invest in promoting yourself, and do not be afraid to show your portfolio to others, even to competitors. These days you can really take full advantage of social media networking and have your images viewed in every corner of the planet. You could think about setting up a food photography Blog. There are literally thousands of food and photography Blogs in cyberspace, but there is always room for new, fresh talent. The key to a successful Blog is intelligent content, beautiful photography and well researched articles. English is not my mother tongue, so at times I struggle, but I always persevere with my learning and self-development.
• Do not take “no” as a final answer. Follow your dream, because today you are the student, but tomorrow you could well be the teacher. Enjoy every moment and good luck!
Dario Milano. Website at : www.foodpixels.com