We asked nine talented artists from around the world how they create on-trend, vegan-themed photos that appeal to buyers and promote green living.
In 2014, an estimated one percent of consumers in the United States identified as vegan. By 2017, that number had multiplied to six percent. In 2018, sales of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives increased by seventeen percent.
In Great Britain, the number of vegans rose from 150,000 to 600,000, from 2006 to 2018. And, at the start of this year, companies and publications — ranging from Whole Foods and Aramark to Real Simple and The New York Times — listed plant-based dishes among their top food trends.
As we become more aware of the consequences of factory farming — on the animals, our health, and our planet — more people than ever are choosing to integrate plant-based foods into their diets.
“Even the largest fast-food corporations now include vegan options in their restaurant menus,” Saint Petersburg-based photographer Roman Rodionov, a.k.a. Kert, tells us. “I think people are becoming more informed and conscious, which makes me happy.”
For food photographers, vegan alternatives offer a wellspring of inspiration. Read on to hear from nine talented artists on how they market these beautiful delicacies.
“The main rule for me is the quality and appearance of the product itself,” Ukrainian-based photographer Lunov Mykola tells us. “The product must be fresh and beautiful and have vibrant, saturated colors.
“More than half of the ingredients in my photos, including exotic ones for our region, we grow in our garden. As a rule, most of our dishes are prepared immediately after we’ve chosen them from the garden. At this very moment, my family and I are preparing new seeds and seedlings to grow into plants for new dishes.”
If you don’t have access to a garden, Edalin Photography has a tip: “In vegan recipes, I often use fresh vegetables, fruits, and greens. But, unfortunately, greens quickly lose their color and shape without water. So, when you need to decorate your dish with fresh parsley or basil, just wrap them in a wet paper towel and put it in the refrigerator. Then, decorate your dish, directly, before shooting. The cold and moisture will help the plants look fresh and vibrant in your images.”
Raw, Whole Foods
“Living a vegan lifestyle is a kind of experiment when you first start, since there are so many exciting new products and recipes that you didn’t know about before,” Georgia-based photographer Viktor Kochetkov tells us. “Our goal as vegans — and photographers — is to be inventive and open-minded while we cook and shoot. We use both raw and cooked products, as well as both whole and cut veggies and fruits.
“Vegans are people who search for a variety of products to incorporate into their diet, so that’s what we do. We mix things up.” There’s no need for overthinking — or overcooking. Beautiful ingredients are often enough on their own.
“In general, vegans use a lot of whole, raw foods, so we don’t spend too much time on cooking,” Kochetkov explains. “A lot of our food is already ready — such as raw vegetables and greens — so our advice is this: Keep your food simple, but diverse. We simply cut our veggies and add some attractive garnishes, such as roasted vegetables, basmati rice, and other grains.”
Unexpected Vegan Dishes
Get creative, and think beyond traditionally vegan dishes. “Some common, unexpected foods can be prepared to be vegan, including muffins, ice cream, waffles, or burgers,” German-based photographer Alexandra Anschiz explains. “I borrow recipe books from the library, and I look for certain ingredients I can incorporate or use to replace non-vegan ingredients, like coconut or avocado.
“It’s always possible to adjust the recipe, if necessary, to make it vegan. And, I like when photos can show ordinary ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, in a fresh and unusual context. I would be glad to see more images combining old traditions and the newer vegan trend. For example, I’d like to see photos of a dinner party or festive meal — like Christmas dinner — with just vegan dishes on the table.”
Multicultural foods and vegan ingredients are two of the leading trends in food today, and chef and photographer Anya Andreeva has incorporated both into her work. “During my many experiments when writing my raw vegan recipe book, I started looking at different cultures and tried to recreate their dishes raw,” the artist tells us.
“For example, I conducted a Russian-themed experiment (my own culture) with lots of pickles, carrot salad, and a raw version of rye bread with adjika (spicy tomato sauce). I also included avocado — definitely not something you’d find in a Russian kitchen. I left Moscow when I was a child and was raised in Spain, so I wanted to do a little blend of various cultures.
“In another multicultural experiment, I recreated a meal I had in a cafe I frequently went to in Bali, back when I lived there. When I found out that you can dehydrate papaya to make delicious wraps, I just had to try it! I love discovering new things, and traveling as much as I have has really had an impact on my food.”
Veganism transcends borders. Look for traditional and first-generation dishes with a plant-based twist.
“Veganism is about love and joy, so I like more high-key photos with a lot of light,” Barcelona-based photographer Antonina Vlasova says. “I love to play with colors, and for vegan food, I enjoy using different green tints, because that’s most often the color people associate with veganism.
“I recommend cooking vegan food as little as possible, so as not to lose the vibrancy and richness of those colors. I also always use lemon juice to grease cut fruits and vegetables, which can oxidize and get darker over the course of a shoot. I’ll sometimes use extra virgin olive oil to add shine and reflections.”
Harmonious Color Palettes
When it comes to color, sometimes quality is better than quantity. “Usually, in my photos, I pay a lot of attention to the play of colors,” Edalin Photography explains. “For beginning food photographers, I would advise using the color wheel.
“The color varieties of vegan food are conducive to experimentation using the color wheel. In particular, I think the use of complementary or monochromatic color schemes helps create harmony and catches the eye.”
“Of course, vegan food is associated with a healthy lifestyle, and when you decorate your dishes with mint or basil leaves, berries, seeds, sprouts, or microgreens, it brings some freshness into the image,” Anschiz adds. “Think of ways to add some color when cooking. For example, you can add some spinach to pancakes or muffins, or make a beetroot hummus or colored ice cream with different flavors.”
As Italian food photographer and stylist Micaela Fiorellini explains, the raw ingredients can also become attractive garnishes for the final dish. “I think that fruits and vegetables — when used as props and not just the main dish — can make for a really colorful and interesting image,” she explains.
When working with beautiful ingredients, there’s no need to overdo it on the lighting. “I like using natural light and always use a tripod,” UK-based photographer Magdanatka explains. “I move my background and plates around the house so I can select the best light for each subject. Sometimes, the best light can be in different places, depending on the time of day, so I always try new things.”
Roman Rodionov, a.k.a. Kert, agrees. “I’ve experimented a lot with different options for lighting vegan food and have come to the conclusion that the food looks most appetizing when the pictures are shot in natural daylight,” he tells us. “Use the light from a large window and soften the shadows with the help of reflectors.”
Vegan food photography doesn’t have to be overproduced or manicured. Sometimes, a more rustic, lived-in atmosphere can breathe new life into a classic still life.
“Many photographers use special techniques for their food photos, such as spray glues, lacquers, cardboard, sticks, etc.,” Fiorellini tells us. “I respect and admire this way of working, which allows you to create perfect dishes. But, I prefer to use only real food, and photograph my recipes even when the aesthetic result is not ‘perfect.’
“I love cooking vegan desserts and breakfasts, and I like to photograph, say, a brownie or a piece of fudge that’s not perfectly straight and rectangular, or a stack of pancakes that are not all the same. A little bit of ‘imperfection’ makes the food seem more real and makes me want to eat it more.”
Antonina Vlasova has a similar perspective. “Fruits and vegetables look wonderful, even if they don’t have ‘ideal’ shapes. So, if you find a unique or ‘ugly’ one, try to include it in your photo,” she says. “You might be surprised! Almost all the products I use are from local stores or farmers’ markets, since I find they look more real and less ‘plastic’ than the ones you’ll find in larger chains.”
The Vegan Lifestyle
“The vegan diet is not only about food, it’s also about our whole planet: sustainability, climate change, and much more,” Kochetkov says. “We’ve seen a rise in interest in vegan food photography already, and we predict that will continue for years down the road, as global changes happen in real-time.
“In the future, we predict our clients will search, not only for food photography itself, but a hybrid of food and lifestyle photography. People today have access to more information about what we eat, and they understand that choosing the right food means doing the right thing for society.”
Try incorporating people into your photos to add a human touch and help convey a larger narrative. Vegan-themed shoots don’t have to be limited to still lifes alone. They can also include lifestyle sessions in the kitchen, in the dining room, at the gym, outdoors, and at work.
Similarly, you can use people to convey a larger narrative behind your food photos — like the journey from farm to table. “I’d like to see the story behind images of vegan food, like the process of cooking with vegan ingredients, which may come from your own garden or a farmers’ market,” Anschiz adds.
“The vegan food industry is developing rapidly, and new products and food technologies appear constantly,” Rodionov adds. “These trends always inspire me to create my own projects. I think, soon, there will be more popular vegan alternatives for traditional Asian cuisine — such as tom-yam, onigiri, ramen, etc. — and I’m excited to see those in the near future.”
Stay up-to-date on the latest news and trends by subscribing to plant-based blogs or following popular vegan accounts on social media, and then incorporate those ideas into your upcoming shoots.
Cover image via Alexandra Anschiz.
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