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In a time when we often launch into food first with our cameras and then with our forks, it’s almost an understatement to say that food photography has permeated culture in a very tangible way. That’s why, in the spirit of discovering what it takes to be a professional food photographer — and have an excuse to enjoy a delicious bite and some good conversation— we created “Devoured: An Evening of Food and Photography.”
Beginning as a celebration of Offset‘s vast collection of food photography, the event — which was hosted at our office in the Empire State Building on Wednesday — quickly evolved into an evening where some of our artists, an imaginative food stylist, and an NYC meatball aficionado all had a platform to share their creative processes.
“Food photography is becoming more and more accessible and prevalent in our modern-day culture,” explained Offset artist Penny De Los Santos, who also photographs for Saveur and National Geographic. “Everyone connects to food, so it makes sense that an event where food photographers are featured would be packed to the gills. Food is trending in a big way — from culinary programming on television to awareness of food issues across society.”
But finding her signature as a food, still life, and travel photographer took De Los Santos years to cultivate, out of a desire to look beyond what was obvious. For example, during the evening’s panel discussion — moderated by chef and Meatball Shop co-owner Daniel Holzman — she says, “If you’re photographing a ribbon cutting, you don’t want to be anywhere near the ribbon. You want to be on the edges. That’s where you’ll find your voice as a photographer. If you’re true to that, the work will definitely come.”
To complement this perspective on thinking outside of the box, we invited food stylist Mariana Velasquez — who worked with De Los Santos on images for the book My Key West Kitchen — to the conversation. In addition to sitting on the panel, Velasquez’s unique vision was reflected in an installation she created specifically for the event: a table dressed as the remains of a dinner party, for which she researched how food and a table looks after the meal is finished.
On her concept for the table, Velasquez explained, “We spend our days making food look beautiful and creating amazing images and trying to make it look spontaneous. I’m trying to recreate the spontaneity of the table. I’m interested in what a table looks like after the fact. It really tells the story — it’s the evidence of what happened.”
We believe that every image has the ability to tell many stories, and this installation left the storytelling up to us; the spontaneity of the piece left people wondering: “Whose number is that written on the table?” Or, “What kind of cake is that, and I wonder how it tastes?” We all look at images and come up with our own interpretations.
Holzman, meanwhile, brought a chef’s perspective and curiosity to the conversation, helping us to dig deeper into what food photography means to society and gain understanding about how the artists got into the profession (while also providing delicious meatballs for the event).
The other Offset artists on the panel also provided unique insights and tips on capturing great foot shots. “Find one main light source and treat it like the sun,” says Offset artist Mark Weinberg, who shoots for clients including Food52, Kinfolk Magazine, and Whole Foods Market. He says that, like most other genres of photography, food photography is all about finding the right light. And that logic extends to getting a table by a window if you want to take a snap of food at a restaurant.
But he acknowledges that finding light isn’t all it takes. “I think with the pervasiveness of cameras on all of our electronic devices, food is being photographed more and more by everybody. I see this creating a greater need than ever before for top-quality photography and styling,” he explains during the panel. “It’s important to get other people to look at your images.”
Offset artist Adrian Mueller, whose conceptual photographs of food, liquids, and still lifes have landed him clients such as Jim Beam, L’Oreal, and Martha Stewart Living adds, “I like to get to the essence of the shoot, which often means reducing.” His advice for photographers? “Try to reduce as much as possible when it comes to surfaces or props or the food itself. If you want to create an emotional connection, you have to get rid of the visual clutter.”
Although planning is key for steam or liquid shots, he says, a lot of the magic comes from the accidents that happen in-studio. But it’s also about having the conviction to follow your vision. “Whatever you shoot, it needs to be authentic to yourself. Once you do that and create a body of work in that way, someone will respond. But it takes time and courage.”
After listening to each panelist discuss the ideas of imperfection and interpretation, it became clear that “Devoured” was the perfect title for Wednesday’s event. Good food photography is less about the perfectly styled piece of cake, and more about the ability to create the story that embraces but also has the ability to upend trends — allowing everyone to connect to the image.
Top Image: Mariana Velasquez’s installation at Shutterstock’s “Devoured.” Photo by Lindsay Comstock.
Offset artists are visual storytellers with a deep passion for their craft. Images in the Offset collection are gathered from world-class and award-winning assignment photographers, illustrators, and agencies, with a focus on unique content with narrative, authentic, and sophisticated qualities.
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