A lot of your commercial work centres around food. How did you get into this kind of photography originally?
Well I’ve always been food obsessed and I naturally gravitated towards food and lifestyle photography – who does’t love a bit of food porn? I originally had dreams of being a photojournalist out on the front line – but the realities of war and the lifestyle that work would bring didn’t fit my reality. I still love photojournalism and documentary photography which is my first love – but I went down the food photography route commercially to pay the rent! When I first started out I assisted for a few years and worked with every type of photographer out there to see which areas of the industry I enjoyed. Working with people who are passionate about food is inspiring and of course the shoot leftovers are a bonus too!
Your work has a lovely bright, airy feel to it. Do you have any tips for achieving this kind of look?
I always prefer to shoot food with natural light if possible – it’s much softer and forgiving. I want my food photography to look natural and of course like you want to eat it. My go-to set up is to find a nice natural light source like a big window and place the light source to one side of the plate. If it’s a bright day then I will use a diffuser in front of the window to soften the light. Using white or black pieces of card on the set to add shadows, contrast and light is a great way to lift an image. A reflector is your best friend to bounce light into your subject too – or if you don’t have one of those then some foil or a shiny takeaway lid or piece of mirror are handy tools. Shooting with natural light has it’s restrictions though – especially if you want consistency – and of course these dark short winter days don’t help.
Is it important to be a good cook in order to be a great food photographer?
Not necessarily. In the commercial world a food photographer will often work on a shoot with a food stylist (who makes the food look amazing for the camera) and a prop stylist (who picks out and sources props like crockery, utensils and surfaces), sometimes a chef or home economist too – who do all the cooking – there is often big team behind a food shoot. But other times when you are shooting personal work, testing or working with small budgets you will have to do a lot of this yourself as well – so a passion and skill for cooking, styling and food definitely helps. I love to cook for pleasure and I’ve been on quite a few cooking courses to try and further my skills – but I will happily leave the cooking to the pros when it comes to photography.
As well as food and lifestyle, you also shoot much more serious documentary projects, including one about survivors of the docklands bombings. Are there any similarities between this type of thing and photographing food, or do you think of them as completely separate practices?
This is a question that I’ve been struggling with myself my whole career! My areas of expertise and skills lie in two very different specialisms that don’t really sit together as they are very different – but I feel I have a particular natural, emotive and simple aesthetic across all my work so people can recognise my style – which is really important in such a competitive and saturated industry. You’re always told to specialise in one area of photography so that you can make a name for yourself in that area and people commissioning you will trust you can deliver – but you also need to be versatile. In reality freelancing is really tough and you need to be able to take on all sorts of work – then focus your personal work and portfolio around projects you are interested in. For ages I tried to be someone I’m not and I’m only now just coming back around to shooting what I’m passionate about and it’s reminded me why I want to be a photographer in the first place. I love telling stories and much of my work is about storytelling and documenting life. It’s said a lot but; if you shoot what you love it will come across in your images.
Any more upcoming projects that you have planned?
I’ve just finished a big personal project on mental health – I’m really excited to get it out there and share it soon – it’s a very hard hitting project looking at the language and stigmas surrounding mental health issues using portraiture, food/still life and first person stories. I hope to put on an exhibition sometime later in the year.
You tutored on Frui’s Puglia and Vietnam holidays last year. How did you find that experience?
Inspiring, exhausting, fun, indulgent, rewarding…I loved sharing my love of photography in such amazing locations and getting to explore these places and of course trying the all the local food and tipples. Did someone say snake wine?
Which trip are you particularly looking forward to in 2018?
I’m really excited about the list of amazing trips in the Frui diary this year – with some fab new destinations – I’m particularly looking forward to visiting Oman as it’s part of the world I’ve never been to, heading to beautiful Myanmar and going back to the crazy streets of Hanoi in Vietnam.
What’s the most interesting person or place you’ve photographed?
Every stranger I meet and photograph has a story to tell – each and every one is interesting in their own way. I visited South Sudan to shoot an advertising campaign while the country was on the brink of a civil war – that was certainly interesting!
Which well-known photographers do you most admire?
Steve McCurry is probably my ultimate inspiration – beautiful emotive portraits, capturing cultures and stories, beautiful travel shots – his work just makes the perfect coffee table book.
Groundbreaking female documentary photographers like Dorothea Lange inspire me a lot – and modern day heroes include young photojournalist Daniella Zalcman who founded Women Photograph – an organisation to support an elevate female voices in a very male dominate industry. Matt Stuart is my favourite street photographer – his ability to capture everyday moments in such a stunning way is incredible – his work is funny, clever and candid. David Loftus is the king of food photography (he shoots all of Jamie Oliver’s stuff), I spend far too many hours drooling over various food photographer’s work like Jonathan Gregson and Louise Hagger.