I’ve always known I wanted to be a photographer thanks to the influence of my uncle when I was growing up. I started my career in 2008-2009 when I was assisting the food photographer Myles New. I have always had a passion for food and cooking, but it was Myles that planted the seed in my head that I could become a food photographer myself.
Whilst I was studying my A-Levels at school I attended a City & Guilds evening class at Park Lane College in Leeds. Once I’d learnt the basis of photography, I then went on to study a Higher National Diploma in Multimedia at Leeds College of Art & Design. I decided not just to specialise in Photography, as the industry was changing over to digital, and I knew I needed to learn the software skills.
The good thing with the Multimedia Diploma was that it included photography, so I always introduced photography to my other projects. Once I completed my HND, I got some freelance work at a studio in Leeds called Volume V3. This is where I began to learn about photography, as until that time I knew how to light objects but I didn’t have any professional working experience. I learnt so much more by working in the industry than I ever did studying.
I was really lucky because when I finished my HND I got some freelance work straight away in a still life studio. It was when I moved to London that it became particularly difficult. I relocated to London with 3 years’ photographic experience, so I naively thought that it would be easy for me to get work. This definitely was not the case as people wanted me to start from the bottom again.
Originally I wanted a full time job, but the money I was been offered was not enough to live on so I started to freelance again. I assisted a range of photographers working for clients such as Marks & Spencer, Zoo Magazine, Evening Standard Magazine and Good Food Magazine, just to mention a few. Alongside my assisting I also worked as a school photographer, nursery photographer, wedding photography and a portrait photographer. It is a very tough industry but as long as you have motivation and a passion for photography, I believe you can make it.
It is hard to pin point a specific moment when I felt I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. I guess one of my most successful times was when I started working for the V&A Museum documenting their collection for their online archive. I have always known I wanted to be a still life photographer, and this was the first time I was working as a professional photographer in this field.
My second and maybe more beneficial career break was when I started to take photographs for ‘Eat Me’ Magazine. My food photography was being shown to the food industry, and off the back of this publication I have got much more work as a food photographer.
Above all else I really enjoy photographing food in a studio environment. The majority of the work I have done so far has been for food reviews or for magazine articles, so I am always photographing the food in the restaurant or cafés. This is fine, but I don’t have as much control over the aesthetics and props within the photograph, as I do when I shoot in my studio.
As the majority of my food photography is taken using daylight only, a typical shoot will start at about 9:30am till about 4pm. The majority of the morning is taken up with cooking the food, selecting props and setting up the set. I usually photograph between 5-8 different dishes in a day’s work but this does depend on the cooking time and so on.
There are so many food photographers but the ones that have influenced me the most are Myles New, David Loftus, and Hilary Moore. Myles New and David Loftus have a very similar style: they use beautiful props and tend to use natural lighting rather than flash which I feel gives them a very natural and rustic style. Their shots always “feel” very real. Then at the other end of the scale is Hilary Moore. I love her work because she is quirky and her food shots are much more stylised. Also she tends to use flash in her work.
I originally come from Leeds, and it is such a wonderful city that I do get homesick, but I am glad I relocated to London as there are so many more opportunities for me here within the food industry. I now live in Anerley, near Crystal Palace Park, with my boyfriend Jonny and our cat Maxine. I have lived in London for 5 years now.
I love everything about food. Just last week I went to pick some really delicious raspberries in Kent. Where I can I try to support local businesses and farmers. I buy the majority of my meat from Pohill Garden Centre in Kent, as they have a lovely butcher and local produce shop. I would love my own vegetable patch but currently I live in a block of flats.
I really enjoy cooking and I collect cooking books. My favourite cookery book at the moment is ‘Gizzi’s Kitchen Magic’ by Gizzi Erskine, and I have recently bought an interesting book called ‘Supper Club’ by Kerstin Rodgers: it’s not just about cooking, it tells you how you can hold your own supper clubs with strangers.
Photography is forever changing and evolving. I think a current popular style is ‘Grandma’s Kitchen’ style. By this I mean day-lit food photography with old-fashioned props and plates. With the economy at its worst, people are tending to stay at home and cook rather than going out. I think that when people look at food photography, they want to imagine it is something that they could cook themselves so the current trend is relaxed, simple and homely food shots, just like the food and tableware grandma would make and use.
My ambitions for the future are to get some more commissioned work from food magazine editors. I also want to get a desk in a shared office with other photographers, as working as a freelancer can be quite isolating sometimes. I think this would be a great way of sharing ideas and learning new skills. I also hope to produce a cookbook for the charity Food Cycle by December 2011.
If I had to advise young people wanting to enter the world of food photography I would say this: don’t give up! It is an incredibly competitive industry and you will take a few knock backs along the way, but it is worth it in the end. Firstly, choose an area within photography and stick to it, whether that is fashion, still life or food. Secondly, keep working on your own projects, as those are the ones you can be more creative with, and more often than not will bring in your next job. Thirdly, remember that networking is very important: it’s not just about meeting other photographers, it’s also a way of promoting yourself. You never know where your next job is going to come from so the more people you know the better.
E-mail: [email protected]
Follow Lauren on Twitter: @photosbymclean