From Food to Culture, Lifestyle and People

I always wanted to be a photographer from a very early age: I was always the one with the camera at parties or family events. I worked in the graphic design industry before becoming a photographer, and as I was dealing with photographers in that job it seemed to me that making the career change would be possible.

People and lifestyle have always interested me, as I love knowing about people and capturing the spirit of their lives and personalities. It wasn’t until I started working with an established food photographer, however, that I discovered my keen interest in food photography.

I am completely self-taught and I have learned through experience. When I left the design agency I managed to get a job assisting David Loftus, a very famous food and lifestyle photographer in London. I worked for him for just over two years where I learnt a lot about the commercial photography industry, and he has been a great influence on my career.

It is a very competitive industry and the first few months of going out with my portfolio to see picture editors and art directors was terrifying! I was lucky to have met a lot of people during my assisting years so some of the people I visited already knew me. It is still nerve wracking though standing there showing your work, wanting everyone to like what you do.

The first jobs that I was getting were very low paid but I did everything I was asked to do, just to start making a name for myself. Paying the bills was very difficult and I don’t think I had a social life for a long time!

It is very important in the industry to be able to work well within a team. Luckily I am able to get on with people well, and am quite quick to work out how to get on well with them. I truly believe that talent is obviously imperative but so is personality. Clients will want to work with you again if they got on well with you on the shoot.

I achieved my first career break through sheer hard work. Seeing lots of people with my portfolio, staying in touch with them and sending postcards eventually paid dividends. I also had some great job leads coming assisting, including doing work for Jamie Oliver. I even photographed his 30th birthday party.

Nowadays I get a lot of work through word of mouth and through my website.

The best shoots are when you get to work with a great creative team. Before the shoot we will discuss the look and theme of the shoot, the location, and the number of shots we will take. Then we concentrate on getting the right props for each image.

On the day of the shoot everyone arrives early, we get the equipment ready, have a cup of coffee (essential!) and then we get working on the set. While the food is being prepared by either a chef or a home economist, I will be discussing which props to use for the shot from the selection provided by the prop stylist. She or he will then start to put the set together while I make sure that my cameras are ready and the lighting is correct.

Once the food arrives we are able to then start to shoot. This can sometimes take a few tries to get the look we are happy with, which may mean moving a few things around on the table or adding or taking away props.

We always know when we have got the shot we want and we have achieved the look and feel that we wanted.

I live in a place called London Fields in Hackney, east London. I live right on the park so I get to look out onto greenery, which I love. I like working from home. My shoots are predominantly on location so my studio at home is more of an office. I can change it around when we shoot here but I like going out on location best.

I am out so much with work and meetings that on the ‘office’ days I can get my head down for a good few hours and get stuck into my work. This is especially important when doing a big edit. I need a good few uninterrupted hours to get this done properly.

I like cooking a lot but I have to admit that I’m the kind of cook that needs to follow the recipe word for word! I’m not good at throwing ingredients together and coming up with something really new and tasty. I don’t have a garden where I live but I would love to grow my own vegetables one day. When I finally move out of London I will buy a place with a garden big enough for a vegetable patch.

I am however, really fortunate to live right next to a great weekend farmers’ market, on Broadway Market. I love visiting the stalls early on a Saturday morning to get all the fresh ingredients for a lovely weekend meal (with recipe in hand obviously!). Sometimes I just love browsing the market and sampling some of their wonderful home grown or home made products. Also not far from me is Borough Market which is a fantastic food market, although it can get crazy busy on a Saturday. It’s best to get there really early.

For a long time now the trend in food photography has been more homely and relaxed. I think people like to cook recipes that they know they can make look exactly like the picture in the book or magazine, therefore the fancy looking, difficult dishes might turn people away. I also believe that the serious foodies amongst us are wanting to cook either with our own home grown produce, or organic produce from the markets.

My plans at the moment are to re-launch my website this September (it is up and running now), with a totally new design and lots of fresh new images. I hope to carry on shooting more and more with the interesting people throughout the food industry, and I would like to shoot more projects abroad.

If I had to give advice to young people wishing to start a career in food photography, I would advise, firstly, to get work assisting a food photographer. Be observant, look past the obvious and the obviously exotic! Sometimes the most simple of settings is the most evocative. Look for inspiration everywhere and create mood boards of the things you like, the colours, the lighting, the settings, the atmosphere. Don’t replicate it, but draw your own inspiration from it.

Contact Details

Jemma Watt’s website:

Follow Jemma on Twitter: @jemma_watts

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