Luckily there was always the chance to use a camera as I was growing up. Most of my family are creative, and hands on, so when I was progressing through school, painting and drawing were featuring high on my favourite subjects, but alas, my painting skills weren’t as natural as I’d hoped so it was then that I picked up a camera. My theory was if I can’t paint it, I’ll photograph it instead.
College training was followed by an assistant’s position with an established commercial and advertising photographer. This was the area of photography I wanted to follow, so getting a position as an assistant in a busy studio was like a dream come true.
In the beginning it really did not really matter to me if people did not know who I was, as I was the assistant photographer. I was so hungry for knowledge at a commercial level, that every project was exciting and a great joy to be involved with, and this is a feeling which has stayed with me right till today.
Carving out your a career in photography is hard work, there is no doubting that, with long working days and some physically and emotionally tiring projects. Yet as a result you come to appreciate the discipline of photography even more when you’ve had to work so hard to get there, and I think my clients see that now. Caring for the subject and putting in the hard graft results in successful shoots.
Success came gradually, by entering and winning photographic competitions it meant that the people around me who already liked my work sat up and took even more notice as a result of industry peers appreciating my work.
As a photographer you are continually learning and nurturing your skill, there is always more to learn, new techniques to try, more accuracy in your lighting or composition, approach and execution. That is what makes it such an enjoyable and rewarding career.
The most enjoyable shoot for me is one where I’ve been involved in the process from the very start. The collaboration between photographer and client and food stylist is a really important one. The melting pot of ideas that comes from discussions prior to the shot ultimately means better photography in my opinion.
The day often starts with me setting up for the first shot, the food stylist bringing in all their accessories and the food for the shoot. Once the client arrives we get underway.
When working with advertising agencies you may not work directly with the client but may well work with the agency contact instead, who will have been briefed by the client. They often will know instinctively what they need, and of course there is always email to get shots approved
In the future I would love to work with a greater selection of clients as possible: I really enjoy the diversity of working with a national brand, for example, one day, then a small artisanal producer the next. For me the challenges involved in producing both packages of photography keeps the process fresh and allows me as the photographer to engage with different approaches and styles.
I tend not to follow individual people in the industry as such, but treat every visual experience as worthy of something to take note of. Films, magazines, exhibitions, websites and so on create a melting pot and a rich diversity of ideas for my own thought processes. For 2012 I wish to continue the development of my portfolios and meeting and working with new people. I am particularly interested in working with clients who wish to bring their products to market for the first time as I have gained some very useful and recent experience of this.
I live and work with my family in the Leeds area of Yorkshire and fortunately most of my bookings can be reached within a day’s travel. Of course there are times when I work away from home on location and this is all part and parcel of a photographers role
Food is a great love of mine, even when I’m not behind the camera, and I think the sourcing of our food is very important. As yet I haven’t ventured into the growing part, except a few herbs, but I love cooking new dishes and experimenting with recipes influenced from all around the world.
In and around the Yorkshire region there is a huge wealth of food producers and sellers, being traditionally an area with a great farming heritage. This is still the case today and I’ve been lucky enough to work with, shop at and eat the fruits of these labours.
The style of food photography, in its more artistic form, will hopefully continue to reinvent itself and progress through the popular trends it has experienced over the last few years. The amount of food related and photography related blogs and websites are testimony to the subject’s great appeal to an increasingly wide audience.
At the moment the style is very much rustic, often retro, with 1950’s styling being particularly popular, but always making the food the ‘hero’ in the image. Editorially the images we see in our magazines often depend on many different factors, and I think this is why we see a great spread of styles and approaches, so it is here where we see everything from the more artistic approach to very commercially led images which are shot to fulfil a design brief. These images can be less about the setting and props and focus more on the actual food product, being much more influenced by a marketing and design brief.
For someone starting out in this profession, my advice would be to get as much experience from a wide range of subjects as possible. Lessons learned from shooting one kind of subject can be employed in shooting another. The more experience you open yourself up to the greater the scope will be in future years, thus adding to your overall skill set.
Phillip Shannon’s website: www.phillipshannonphotography.com
Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipShannon1