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I met Jenn during that memorable workshop in May of 2011. That same workshop where I met Meeta and all the other fab foodbloggers, some of which I still keep in contact with today and have seen a few times since. The one thing that really struck me about Jenn was her constant urge to learn. She is the kind of person that will continue exploring a certain shot until she gets it right. And that she gets it right you can clearly see from the photos below. I love her colorful and vibrant style and you should definitely check out her beautiful landscape photography as well!
Jenn blogs at Jenn Cuisine
How long have you been blogging and did you start out with taking food photos straight away?
I started my gluten free food blog, Jenn Cuisine, in 2008 and mostly, yes I have been taking food photos since then. The first few posts were text only, but as I became more comfortable with photographing food that quickly changed. Now I have my own portfolio site for my photography (http://jennoliver.com) and have had the opportunity to work with Simply Gluten Free magazine for the past year or so which has been a lot of fun.
What gear did you use in the beginning and has that changed?
I started with a point & shoot camera – Nikon Coolpix P4 (with a whopping 4MP!). Now I use a DSLR – currently a Nikon D800 with a variety of lenses, as well as a tripod. My most used lenses are the 105mm macro and the 24-70 f/2.8 zoom.
Did you teach yourself or did you follow workshops and such?
I am mostly self-taught – at least for technical aspects of settings, etc. I learned a lot online, reading and experimenting a lot – I still keep an active list of links to online resources that have either helped me specifically or I think are valuable to others who want to learn the basics of food photography.
Since then, I have also attended a few workshops. I took a photography lesson from my friend Dario Milano to learn about lighting and flash, and I have attended three workshops for some creative inspiration – Plate to Page in Weimar, Germany (2011), a workshop by Simone and Meeta in Amsterdam last year, and one with Tim Clinch last year in Spain.
Can you describe your current setup for taking photos?
Most of the time my setup is quite rudimentary. I use my dining table a lot and rearrange the furniture in our small apartment all the time. I also really like to photograph on my kitchen counter – though it’s far removed from the incoming natural light so these images are usually done with flash.
90% of the time I position myself so that the hero is backlit in some form, and I have a reflector of some sort opposite the light source.
Pullbacks and resulting images:
Do you have a process you go through when preparing for a shoot for your blog? Is it spur of the moment or do you plan meticulously? (or both)
A bit of both. If it’s for a client I will do mockups and sketches beforehand, especially of styling and composition. I will often also do a dry run for styling to make sure I know what I’m doing aesthetically – this I find very important for food with a short lifetime, such as something with melted cheese, or ice cream.
For my blog, I generally have an idea in my head and prep it and test the lighting while the food is cooking/baking. Then I set the food in, snap a pic, and eat. I’ve found this works best when you have a hungry husband and baby who aren’t nearly so patient to let you play around forever until the food gets cold.
What is the type of light you work with? (daylight, artificial light. If daylight what kind of light?)
I have no problem working with either artificial or natural light. A lot of advice out there for budding food photographers preaches that “natural is best”, but I find this to be for the most part an oversimplification. Natural light, properly controlled, is beautiful. Natural light, shining direct on the food in a harsh way, is not. The same goes for artificial light. What do I love about artificial light? No matter what time of day or night, I can produce the same conditions. I can photograph in Winter. I am not dependent on the sun staying behind a cloud or a rain storm coming out of nowhere. If I want to change the angle or direction of the light, I can without instead rotating my entire staging area. Does it take a little more setup and cost? Sure. Does it take a little bit to learn? Sure. But so does everything else about photography. To refuse to consider artificial light options I find is a bit limiting.
Is the quality of light different? Yes and no. It all depends on how you control it. Some of my most favorite images in my portfolio are from natural light, and some are from artificial light. This doesn’t make one better or worse over the other.
Examples of natural light:
Examples of artificial light:
Flash on the left, natural on the right:
Natural on the left, artificial on the right:
What was your aha moment when shooting food? Assuming none of you started being as awesome as you are today..
For me, the “Aha!” comes from practice. In the beginning I spent a long time just photographing a bowl of food on a table at different times of day from different angles, to see how light bounced and reflected from the food. I don’t remember when, but at some point I realized that while food is the subject, the point of food photography is not to document the food, but rather to use food as a tool to show how light interplays with its subject, and to find beauty in the use and control of that light. And that is what I always focus on, light first.
What is the one thing you would like to improve on?
I am always looking to improve my composition, food styling, and lighting. Probably always will be.
Do you have a few tips for beginning food bloggers who want to improve their photos?
Pay attention to detail, and take your time. If you are rushing to snap a few pics before feeding a hungry family, you will not be in the best place in your head to work on improving your skills. You need to set aside time to seriously work on your craft, and think about all of the elements and factors going into your images.
It is also important to seek constructive critique. Food bloggers tend love being supportive and there’s a lot of opportunity to shower compliments, which is great for encouragement and self-esteem, but it’s also just as important to be part of a community or have a mentor from whom you can receive some hard critical feedback. “Looks delicious!” is nice to hear, but doesn’t necessarily help you become a better photographer.
Who are your role models (food bloggers and/or food photographers you admire)
It is hard to keep this list short, so I will do my best: