At a very young age I wanted to create beautiful images, and I had it mind to be a fine artist. It was a long and winding path to become the photographer that I am now. When I left school I studied Fine Art for two years, after which I was keen to join the real working world so I took a job in a graphic design studio as a runner to take a look at the commercial side of creativity.
The industry fired me up and I moved on to an advertising agency for a short while, desperate to get involved on the technical side of image making. I then joined a film laboratory to get an ACCT ticket which would enable me to work in the film business.
I spent eight years in the cutting rooms, starting off as assistant film editor then being employed as a fully fledged editor. It was much more tactile working with Moviolas and Steinbecks. Looking at moving images every working day was a great way of training the eye and it also enabled me to get to know the advertising industry at the sharp end.
In my spare time I was getting interested in taking my own stills, and as I had friends in the music business they would get me press passes to all sorts of rock concerts. Those ware very tough jobs: it was “every man for himself in the pits”. It was a great learning curve, however, and also a lot of fun meeting some crazy people.
At the time one of my directors offered me a break to take stills on his television commercial movie set. I jumped at the opportunity, and even though I had no proper training I had a feeling I could cope! It was indeed a baptism of fire. I gave up my editing job and, as they say, the rest is history.
I became a freelance unit stills photographer. I took the job very seriously and worked really hard, over many long hours, taking all types of mad shots: up in cranes, down mine shafts, at the top of mountains and at the bottom of Olympic dive pools. I was privileged to work with some of the biggest names in the industry: Lester Bookbinder, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Nick Rogue, David Bailey, Paul Weiland, Nick Lewin and Barney Edwards, to name but a few.
All the time I was working with the greatest lighting cameramen and stylists, getting the most fantastic experience in a very visual world. I then progressed onto taking stills on feature films. A portrait I took of Miranda Richardson playing Ruth Ellis was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery for British Film Year. I just made it in time back from Shepperton Studios working with Ridley Scott on a big Coca Cola commercial, to be part of group of us having our picture taken by Norman Parkinson. It was during that evening that I thought I was on “The Map”.
I realised after a while that I really needed to create my own pictures, where I would be completely in control of the lighting and styling. I started testing in my house using the rules that I had learnt on set. I was deeply inspired by Lester Bookbinder and Irving Penn and by the stills of Bryce Atwell (his work, in particular, gave me an idea!). The photographic portfolio was complete and I began the hard business of knocking on doors.
I relentlessly did the rounds and gradually the commissions started to come through. After a while I made the conscious decision to give up taking the stills on movie sets and move across to the world of food photography.
I now have a small team of experts that work with me regularly: my home economist, my stylist and my photographic assistant. We work on all sorts of projects together, from editorial to packaging and also advertising. We have wonderful working days together and enjoy the different challenges that each project brings
I live and work from my studio in London’s Notting Hill . There are the most fantastic specialist food shops around me. I love getting fresh fish from Kensington Place. My favourite haunt to eat is The Ladbroke Arms, as the food and atmosphere there is fantastic, and we also like to go to Sally Clarke’s restaurant or The River Café. All of the food there is seasonal and not too overprepared.
I also commute to my house in The Cotswolds at weekends with my husband and three dogs. I have created a potager kitchen garden there and grow a small selection of vegetables organically. It is very satisfying indeed sowing and growing a beautiful vegetable, taking pictures of it and finally cooking and eating it.
In The Cotswolds we go to a fantastic little pub called The Churchill Arms, which serves wonderful food, and I also love going to Daylesford Farm Shop in Kingham, a very special place.
I am very grateful to have worked on film from 10 x 8 down to 35mm, but now this world of digital is wonderful for me. It makes it far more possible to get to the image that I have in my head. It also makes working on location a lot easier, as you could be anywhere in the world and you are able to download your files.
I think food photography has really progressed to a much more natural look over the years, and the food manufacturers are embracing that look which is terrific.
My advice to any young person who would like to enter this profession would be to work hard and to try to understand the spirit of the food. Be always aware of colour and texture and light is absolutely paramount. My motto is never to say “That will do”.
Diana Miller’s website: www.dianamiller.me.uk
E-mail Diana: [email protected]