Food photography, my love!
Hi. My name is Jella and food photography is hands down my favorite hobby! There, I said it. Absolutely at the top of all the things I love to do! ..or at least it’s on a shared first place with cooking and eating that is. When I started to write my Finnish food blog Vaimomatskuu (which translates to “wife material” and that’s a loooong story I’ll expain another time) in August 2013, I photographed everything with the same device I used to write with: a tablet. All of my photos were taken with whatever light was available at the time (and trust me, my kitchen does not have studio lights) and I used to simply edit my photos with Instagram. And that’s exactly what they looked like, too!
That was almost eight years ago, but I still would never have guessed that one day a photo taken by me would end up in a food photography book written by a world famous, super successful creator that I love and admire! And yet, that’s just what happened. Now you know why I look so happy in that picture above!
Kimberly Espinel: Creative Food Photography
Kimberly Espinel, a food photographer, author, business coach and educator behind the popular The Little Plantation website, #EatCaptureShare Instagram challenge and EatCaptureShare podcast self published a book titled “Creative Food Photography” in January. Me, like the rest of the food photography community I know, has been anxiously waiting for it ever since Kimberly first announced writing it! And here it finally is. I’ve had the joy of being in the top 3 of Kimberly’s IG challenge several times, but nothing compares to the huge honor of having one of my winning photos featured in this book! To be exact though, the winning image and the one printed in the book aren’t exactly the same … but more on that later. Let’s talk about the book first!
Creative Food Photography
I’m an art teacher by profession, but when it comes to food photography, I’m 99% self taught. I specialized in painting and drawing during my university days, so my knowledge and experience with photography was very limited when I first started my food photography journey. One defining moment on that journey was the first time I participated in the #EatCaptureShare challenge! The amount of inspiration the challenge and it’s participants gave me was incredible. It made me want to learn more, to challenge myself! I’ve participated in the challenge ever since, and keep learning new things on every round.
Find your own path!
Because I have been following Kimberly for years now, the helpful, insightful and inspiring content of her book is no surprise to me. Kimberly is a successful professional in the field of food photography, and I would expect nothing less from her. As an educator I was however especially delighted with the educational approach of the book! Kimberly encourages every aspiring food photographer to find their own path. To take a look where this or that trail takes even if it’s a cul-de-sac, to bravely cross over the most intimidating of streams.
So. In case one’s looking for a speedway or a shortcut to being a successful food photographer – this ain’t it. And if you’re looking for a technical tutorial, head on over to YouTube – it’s full of them! Getting the hang of the technicalities of photography is of course important! Creativity, expression and finding your own visual style is however not something you can achieve by following a tutorial. You need to figure things out by doing, trying, experimenting, and mistaking. And most importantly, by playing! Whenever I submit myself to free play with my camera, food photography can truly be the most fun I’ve ever had!
CREATIVE Food photography in bites:
In her book Creative Food Photography Kimberly covers a large amount of topics related to food photography with inspiring photography that illustrates each topic perfectly.
The book begins with the topic of discovering one’s own style, finding inspiration and considering who you are photographing for (yourself? Your audience? A client?). Next up we’re talking photo shoots: planning them, considering the storytelling as well as how the hero of the frame is presented. The hero can be anything from the food on your plate to a certain ingredient, color or even light – and the story your frames are telling can bring insight for instance on the mood, the message, the situation of the scene you’ve created.
Light, color, composition, action!
The book also opens up the creative use of different elements of art in food photography, from color theory to angles and composition. These are all topics i am very familiar with because of my job as an art teacher, but they are also topics I love and enjoy practicing every time I pick up my camera. What I found extremely useful for myself was the idea of creating mood boards for photo shoots! Unless I count my long list of Pinterest boards or all the different folders of saved photos on Instagram, I haven’t really ever made a mood board for my shoots! Now I’m very excited to try them, especially with client shoots.
The chapter on light is maybe my favorite in the book. Light is the key element for me in food photography, and it took me years to realize how to control and modify light instead of relying on pure luck! Kimberly points out things I would not have realized myself as a beginner. How the time of the day and even the year affects your results when using natural light and how also your geographical location makes a difference. Whether you use natural or artificial light, the size of the light source, its distance from the subject as well as its strength (hard/diffused) matter. Not to mention the relationship of your camera in regards to the subject and the light source! With all these different pieces to a puzzle, lighting is a topic for a whole book in itself 🙂
Composition is discussed with multiple visual examples demonstrating ways to arrange the elements of your frame creatively. Composition has to do with how you use your space – how you fill it (positive space) and what your leave empty (negative space) and it’s one of my all time favorite topics to teach to my own students. This being said, it’s clearly an important section of the book in my opinion! I have already been inspired to get out of my comfort zone when it comes to composition after reading this chapter.
The book closes with the topics of backgrounds and props as well as of editing! This chapter is still not about technique (again, there’s YouTube for that!), but instead about what you try to achieve with editing. Are you aiming for a certain style, mood or a color scheme, or trying to bring out the hero just a tiny bit more? This is why I love editing – there’s so many directions you can take! One single frame can be edited in so many ways, I could play with Lightroom forever!
At the end of the book Kimberly has added several interesting case studies. This actually inspired me to share with you my very own case of the pink onion, featured in the book. You will find this case study at the end of this post!
Kimberly Espinel: Creative Food Photography
To sum up my thoughts regarding this book: if you have fallen in love with food photography like I have, I highly recommend Creative Food Photography by Kimberly Espinel to you! You can order the book from several websites (depending on where you are located) and you can also get the book as a digital e-book version. I live in Finland so I ordered the book via AdLibris but for example Book Depository ships the book to EU and you can also order to book from Kimberly directly! You can order the book from her website where you alse find a list of how to access the book in different parts of the world.
By the way: Even though my picture is in the book, I have bought my hard cover copy myself. I did receive and advance digital version to review prior to the publishing date, and actually ended up loving it so much that I instantly ordered two copies, of which the other one I’m giving away to my Finnish audience. if you live in Finland, you can enter the giveaway on the Finnish version of this post here. The giveaway closes on 28th of February, so there’s still some time to participate!
The case of the Pink Onion
Let’s get back to the topic I’ve brought up at at the beginning of this post: my photo in Kimberly’s book! I had the pleasure and honor to have a photo of mine printed in this wonderful book and I can’t even describe how much this means to me! I photographed the pink onion below in January 2019 for #EatCaptureShare – Kimberly’s Instagram food photography challenge, and ended up winning the theme that week with my onion. This recognition alone gives me such joy, but to top it off, last Autumn Kimberly reached out to me to ask my permission to use the frame in her book. Clearly, I was quick to reply YESSSS!!! … but there was one little bump in the road.
See, I had actually photographed that frame originally in JPEG format. Back then I was constantly running out of disk space, and as I mostly shoot for Instagram and my blog, I wasn’t shooting RAW regularly. I honestly can’t relate to this reasoning now, but that’s how it was back then! Obviously this meant that my frame was not suited for printing, and I felt mortified… Kimberly was however sweet enough to propose that I recreate the frame in question, and I accepted this challenge with open arms!
Creative Food Photography IRL:
And a challenge it was. Mimicking natural January light in September is quite the task up here in Finland, where the days are super short and light comes from a low angle during the wintertime. You can see the difference of day and night in Finland between summertime and wintertime from this timelapse… and it’s literally like day and night.
Luckily the main subject – the pink onion – and my main props – the chrysanthemums – are easy to access year around. I actually use chrysanthemums a lot in my food photography because they are readily available year around, inexpensive and long lasting. The flowers I found weren’t identical, but I think they still served their purpose in a very similar manner to the original.
Light, color, composition, action…
In my original photograph, the onion had a crack naturally formed in its skin, revealing a stunning color under the dry peel in a beautiful way. I first aimed to find an onion with a peel naturally cracked in a similar way, but soon realized it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. So I ended up picking a photogenic shape and size, and then creating the crack by hand, peeling the skin slowly bit by bit to create a similar effect manually.
Possibly the biggest challenge turned out to be the light and the editing. I shot my new frame late in the day, when light comes from a long angle to my east facing home studio, just like it does during the winter time. My composition and shooting set up was easy to replicate, so just by choosing the time of the day wisely helped a lot! However, my editing style has changed rather drastically in the time period between the original frame and now. I used to edit my photos a lot cooler than I now do, so mimicking my old editing style honestly felt almost painful!
Pink onion in January 2019
Pink onion in September 2020
CASE of the pink onion: Closed!
The pink onion 2.0 is clearly not a perfect copy of the original: the quality of the image is more crisp and sharp and in comparison to the original I’ve edited the frame to have more value contrast and more vivid and intense colors. And I obviously could not bring myself to make it as cool as the original! 😀 The image has also been composed and cropped to fit the layout of Kimberly’s book, instead of my usual 4:5 ratio.
So I guess it’s not a case of twins, but sisters with these two frames, and I feel equal pride and love towards both of them. And what’s best? I learned a lot from this exercise! Recreating old work is not just educational, but inspiring. It’s a chance to appreciate what you’ve learned in between now and then, and also to appreciate what you already knew back then! As someone who is my own worst critic, looking at my old work usually just makes me cringe. But not this time 🙂 I will forever cherish each pink onion I pick up in my hands, and value the lessons they remind me of.