Food Photographer Sandy Weatherall City Palate sat down (albeit digitally) with accomplished food photographer Sandy Weatherall  of  Jinsei Photographics in Edmonton to get some pro-tips on photographing food. Take your Instagram to the next level, impress your friends on Facebook, or simply capture the magic of a favourite meal with these food photography tips.

CP: Food or photography? What was your first passion and how did you come to marry the two?

SW: Photography. I knew in high school, I wanted to be a photographer and went to The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) to study the two-year program. One of my first successes as a student was shooting bread from the local Italian bakery. There was something about the details and creating sets and props that was so satisfying.

Later, when I moved to England, about a year after graduation, I was enthralled by some of the British food magazines and cooking shows. There was something so pretty and intimate about the photography that I knew I wanted to do this.

I worked in many areas of photography but kept doing self-directed food projects to hone my skills. Then I did a test/interview shoot for Company’s Coming Cookbooks and got the contract to shoot many of their books. Shooting for them really developed my work which increased my abilities and confidence.

CP: How has Instagram affected what you do?

SW: Instagram has inspired me because there is so much great photography out there. I can also see what people like and what directions to take next. The biggest influence is that so many of my clients have asked for support for their social media.  They noticed that I already knew the importance of not only great photography for social media but how it’s supposed to work for a business. So much so, I have now added social media management as a service to my clients. Instagram has moved me from strictly being a still photographer to a videographer and a social media manager, as well. And I’m excited about the evolution!

Calgary food magazine gorgeous photograph of ham in a pan by food photographer Sandy Weatherall

CP: What are the most challenging aspects of photographing food?

SW: It’s telling the entire food story in a single glance. Am I trying to say it’s healthy, decadent, elegant or playful? What are the ingredients? How is it cooked? All of this has to be told in two dimensions and without words.

CP: What are some of your best tips and tricks for getting a great shot?

SW: Trust your intuition. We all eat and it’s likely if you like the way something looks, so will other viewers.

Create intimacy. Food is intimate. It’s about family and friends and literally becomes part of us.

Technically though, the best trick is to have a “stand-in” food to get your lighting right. Light is the most important part of any photography. Food lighting should create texture and warmth. Once you have the light, then bring in “the hero.” And yes, those are the terms we use; stand-in and hero.

One of the most common myths I bust is, “Do you use fake food?”  Never! But there’s always the best looking guy or gal, waiting for their time to shine while the stand-in does the hard work. And yes, I personify food and often talk to it. Haha.

CP: What are some major “no-no’s” when it comes to shooting food?

SW: Never shoot with a wide-angle lens. It creates distortion and loses the intimacy.

Stay away from filters for food. Food should be seen as natural and delicious, just as is.

Not thinking about the story. It needs to make sense to the viewers. That being said, sometimes I have deliberately confused the story as an attention grabber.

CP: What is your favourite food to photograph and why?

SW: I love fresh, natural food. Nature creates these beautiful things for us to eat. The colours and shapes are naturally amazing. If I can shoot beautiful produce, I am a happy photographer. Plus, it’s how I like to eat so I am naturally drawn to it.

But I also like to photograph food in action. A drip, a splash or an ooze is the most fun thing for me to shoot! I’m lucky I often work with a food stylist who loves to indulge my whims for this.

CP: What is your least favourite food to photograph and why?

SW: Brown food. Brown food tastes great but it’s challenging to be visually interesting. Which is why texture and lighting is so important! I do get a kick out of the challenge to make brown food look as delicious as it tastes.

Big food too. Like a giant ham or a huge whole salmon. Getting proportions right and just the physical logistics are a challenge. Although, once again, I love the challenge so maybe they are really my favourite things to shoot.

CP: What else would you like to impart to aspiring food photographers?

SW: Just keep food photography fun. Good food is a celebration of life! Which is why my business name, Jinsei, literally means, “Life.”