One of our notable contributors, Healthy Laura, is on a special mission. Like many food photographers, she takes time to prepare the meals that are so pristinely illustrated, they look too good to be edible. Her mission is to tell a story through her images, to present food in a new light and work towards building on her portfolio, website and Instagram.
Laura shares her journey as a food photographer with us – her early beginnings, her personal growth and her very useful tips for any aspiring photographer.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background.
I’m a 24 years old, master’s degree law student from a small country called Estonia. It’s a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe with a cold climate and a population around 1.3 million. In my spare time I hide in the kitchen, where I can be creative and try to develop new recipes for my food blog.
Photography is another part of me. I have learned everything about photography by myself, mostly by watching tutorials on the Internet. So far photography has just been my everyday hobby. I can spend endless hours talking about photography or looking at amazing images on Pinterest or Instagram to gather some inspiration.
My interest in photography began seven years ago when I got my first DSLR camera. It was a Nikon D90 which I got as a gift from my lovely father. I’m a very lucky girl. It was an amazing gift but the only condition was that I had to take 200 different images every month. We are still laughing that I only have the blog because I have to shoot 200 pictures every month.
My first images were very bad so you can definitely say that there has been progress! I’m usually not good with technology. At the beginning I was excited but soon realized that I’m not able to shoot any images that are amazing. It’s no wonder why, when I almost always shot using the auto mode and wasn’t really eager to learn more about camera technicalities. So, for some time I sent my father the 200 images a month that we agreed on, but after a little while, the camera sat in my room unused for many years.
I started to shoot images again when I started my food blog. At the beginning the images were just awful! After finishing my Bachelor’s degree in law two years ago I got accepted to a Master’s programme and decided to carry on with my studies. But then came summer and I had a spontaneous idea to go backpacking. At first, I thought about all the different opportunities but then I figured that Australia is the most reasonable destination.
In one month I rented out my apartment, took a gap year from the programme and I was on the plane to Australia only with my hand luggage and the D90. I thought that if I’m not going to go now, then I will never go. So I went just to explore Australia and Asia. I worked in a vineyard and later in a kitchen as a chef in the beautiful Kimberley region for some time. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I had a chance to explore an amazing country and learn more about photography.
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When I was in Kimberly (Western Australia) which is one of the most remote areas in Australia, I saw the best night skies that I have ever seen. The only reason I could see that was because it’s one of the darkest places in the word and the light pollution is minimal. The milky way was so clear and you can see everything with your own eyes. I was speechless. I had to capture that with my DSLR. I managed to get a photo of the milky way, but of course the technical part wasn’t the best. But it was close enough. After that I promised myself that I had to learn more about photography.
Since then I started to learn all the technical things that I wasn’t really fond of before. The result was that my photography skills improved little by little every day. Don’t get me wrong, I still have so much to learn! It’s a journey. About a year ago I got back to Estonia and went back to university to get my master’s degree and started to shoot more pictures related to the blog. Food photography became a natural part of my day.
Now most of my life is about food. When I’m not sleeping, I’m daydreaming about recipes and photography. Just thinking about different taste combinations or the photography scenes to tell the story. I’m just obsessed. When I’m not cooking or photographing, then I try to stay active. Oh yes, there’s also the studying part for the degree as well, but staying active keeps my mind clear. I usually go for a run, do some yoga or play tennis. In the winter time I might go skiing or snowboarding. I also love travelling and hiking surrounded by nature! It really inspires me!
How would you describe your aesthetics?
Like every food photographer I try to make the food as tasty as I can. Usually everything depends on the lighting conditions. You might have a great dish but when the lighting is bad it won’t work. My favourite style is clean and elegant with some twist from real life (such as rumpled linen and a little bit of mess). My photography goal is to tell a story about my adventures in the kitchen.
Could you share a little bit about your work process, what goes into one photoshoot?
Everything starts with preparation. I have to have at least some kind of storyline in my head to be able to shoot. I always need a plan. Sometimes it is just the process of making cakes and then trying to capture the moment of making the pastry or shaking powdered sugar on top of the pancakes. When I have a clear idea, then I go shopping for the ingredients. Usually I make a plan for the whole week and try to get all the ingredients at once. However, the plan might always change and I usually have other crazy ideas that I most definitely need to do right away.
Sometimes I just run to the store and buy some extra berries or flowers. After that is the obvious cooking or baking part and preparing the scene. Sometimes it doesn’t take long because it’s only a short preparation but other times it’s just many long hours of cooking and photo shooting at the same time. Finding the light and trying to shoot different angles to get the image I need.
Finally, it’s the cleaning part. I always manage to make a big mess in the kitchen when I get too excited. Especially when I have to shoot quickly because (for example) the ice cream starts to melt. The final part is just the editing. I usually use only Adobe Lightroom to have the final touch to the images and I try to make sure that the images in the camera already look nice so that I don’t have to spend endless hours fixing my mistakes.
What would you say is an important factor to success with food photography?
I like to think that I’m at the beginning of my food photography journey. Because of that, it’s hard for me to tell you how to succeed in food photography. I can tell you only the things that have worked for me for getting better every day and have the motivation to keep shooting. So, here are my tips:
- Practice! It’s all about practise and working long hours by yourself. I usually like to try different angles with every dish. Some dishes look better with overhead shots (like smoothie bowls), some look better from the side. You just have to find the angle and you will get there!
- Never stop learning. There are so many ways to learn about food photography even for free. YouTube is full of photography tutorials with shooting tips and Adobe Lightroom editing tips. Some of my favourites channels are B&H, Adobe Creative Cloud and Mango Street. You just have to watch the videos or read about it and you will learn so much about photography. Get to know your camera and you will make amazing images. If you already aren’t shooting in manual mode and RAW format, then you just have to learn how to do it. When I learned how to shoot on manual mode and changed my file format to RAW, then I started to see some progress.
- Love food! This one is obvious. If you would like to shoot food, then you obviously have to love it. Right now I work alone so I don’t have anyone who cooks or styles the food. I have to do everything by myself and later I also have to eat it! When you love food, then it’s always easier to tell the story and not give up.
- Have a digital detox and boost your creative side. We live in a time when it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with information. Especially when your work is online and you almost always look at your screen. It might be hard to concentrate or get new creative ideas. You might start comparing yourself with others and feel bad. Sometimes you might feel that everything has already been photographed and there isn’t a point for you to do that. However, there’s always something. You just have to find it even when it takes time. When I feel uninspired and overwhelmed I like to put all the electronics away and just relax. I usually do something active. I go for a run, do some yoga or play some tennis. Sometimes I just like to read something inspiring or go to the nature to clear my mind. Spending some quality time with my family and friends is an important part. No phones and other electronics. Quite often when I’m in the ‘relax mode’ without electronics, I have so many ideas about what I should cook or shoot next. After this digital detox I’m usually so productive and I have more creative ideas.
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- Find the light. Photography depends so much on lighting. You have to find it to make sure that your food looks delicious. Usually you don’t need studio lighting and you can manage to get great images with natural light as well. You just have to find a good window without direct sunlight (or use a diffuser) and that works perfectly.
- Don’t shoot hungry. There have been so many times when I have missed the shot because I’m so eager to eat all the food. Sometimes I think that I’ve got the shot but actually my hunger is speaking to me. So, I personally can’t shoot food when I’m too hungry. I’m just a little be too impatient to shoot images that I like.
Do you have a favourite photograph? What’s the story behind it?
There are so many great photographers but the first ones that comes on my mind are Elizabeth Kirby, Vanessa Rees and Chris Burkard. The first two food photographers have something different in their style. So many creative ideas that are such a great inspiration. The last one is actually not a food photographer. I like to look at all the landscape photographers as well. Everything wild and different are just the things I like.
Your #1 tip or words of wisdom:
Enjoy the journey! It’s always easy to think too much about the future and forget the present. However, most of the time we just have to enjoy the present moment to live a happy life.
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