How one book could jump-start your career as a food photographer

In restaurants, coffee bars and in every kitchen in America, we’re all obsessed with taking pictures of food. It’s happening so often at meal times it’s almost like saying grace.

So this seems the ideal moment to get advice from a pro. It’s compiled in a book to be released later this month, titled “How to Photograph Food: Compose, Shoot, and Edit Appetizing Images,” by award-winning European photographer Beata Lubas.

She grew up in Poland and was accepted into the University of Derby as an English literature major. But as enrollment drew near, she decided not to go because that would delay her dream of buying a camera and taking pictures. Right move.

She’s won a host of honors including the BBC Fresh Talent Award 2017 and the UK Blog Awards, Highly Commended 2016. She also has a client list touting international brands such as Quaker Oats and Royal Doulton.

The book announces itself with a cover shot of an amber-colored gelée dessert with fresh white currants given a glow with exquisite back lighting. But she can turn anything edible into an arresting scene, from humble pancakes piled impossibly high, to garlic, roasted golden brown, and nestled in a sheet pan. Even a cozy, everyday setting with powdered sugar dusted madeleines and lemon slices floating in teacups looks inviting.

Her style is both natural and spectacular and the book is filled with instructions on technique and career advice from Lubas and other pros. We reached her at her home near Birmingham, England, to find out more about the book and get some encouragement for shooting our own food photos, whether it’s just to show off on Instagram or to start a brilliant career.

Q: How did you get into food photography?

A: I gave up going to university and I bought a camera instead. It was literally just  to take photos of family gatherings and friends. And I ended up being in the kitchen with my camera all the time. I think a lot, I cook a lot. So I would be taking pictures of what I baked and what I cooked and my husband told me, “You know, why don’t you do an evening photography class in the nearby college?” So I did that because I didn’t know any other photographers.

Q: How did that turn out?

A: It turned out to be real fun! Obviously I was the only person who was taking pictures of food all the time and bringing it to the classes.

Q: So your classmates loved you?

A: Yes. We had assignments every week to take a photo of something, it was like a general assignment. And I was always the person who would be bringing photos of food. So they’d be like, “Oh, we know who took that photo.” That was basically how my education with the camera started.

Q: Obviously you’ve learned so much about technique since then. There’s a lot of theory in the book, but it comes off as more fun and cheeky than geeky. How did you manage that?

A: I’m glad you feel the book is like that because that’s the way I teach. One of the things my students always tell me is, “Thank you for making complicated things easy.” So whenever I read something, which is like really technical, and I’m trying to understand it myself … I try to explain it in an easy way, in a fun way, so people can remember it better. It sticks better in the mind. This is just a reflection of how I teach.

Q: Who is this book for?

A: The book is for aspiring photographers who are just starting out and want to have a book that will help them from start to finish with photographing food. But we also realized that it’s a book for everybody because even photographers who have the experience, like I do, will be interested in how other people work and will be able to learn from that.

Q: There’s a lot to learn from this book. I mean, you can do a lot better with an iPhone now, but there really is no shortcut to photography. When I was a travel editor and a young writer would say, “I’ll shoot my own photos.” I would really stress because they don’t know what they don’t know. You just can’t become Harry Benson or Annie Liebowitz overnight, right? 

A: That is true. One of the things is, I believe you can take amazing photos with iPhone, but you can’t really do it overnight. You need knowledge and time. I even mentioned that in the book, that all you need is passion. Know some of this stuff and put it into practice. Take the time to practice. That’s really the recipe to get better at photography

Q: There are some great photos here. Tell us about the cover shot, the glowing gelée dessert with fresh white currants.

A: This photo was not a troubleshooting photo. I literally put it on the board and I was just going to take a picture. Everything worked out perfectly. And I remember saying to my husband, “This is the best photo I have ever taken. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take a better photo.”

Q: How did you light that?

A: There are a couple of behind-the-scenes in the book that show how the photo was taken. I had a huge diffuser which beautifully dispersed the light and made it really beautifully soft. But the most important thing with the back light is the right project. There is actually something in the book about this as well. This is always so important. It’s not all about the light, it’s about how the light interacts with your subject.

Q: And there’s a really funny photo that’s just a yellow pepper cut in half, but it looks like a portrait of a person.

A: I have an eye for for seeing faces in food. This is a quirky,  weird thing about me. So, I actually have a lot of photos on my phone, for example, like when I slice a cheese and the cheese has all these little holes and it creates a little face. I always take pictures of those because it just makes me laugh. So when I tapped this pepper and I just saw that, I was like, “Oh my God, this is hilarious!”

Q: Any final words of encouragement?

A: Yes. I would say self doubt is part of the creative package. It’s annoying and it’s frustrating and it stops us and pulls us down. But really, if you want to create anything it is impossible not to feel self doubt, this is part of creative process. So, when I’m feeling self doubt and I feel so bad, I think: Does what I’m doing feel right? Does it brings me joy? Does it bring me happiness? Gosh, it does! So that’s what I try to focus on.

‘How to Photograph Food: Compose, Shoot, and Edit Appetizing Images’

Author: Beata Lubas

Publisher: Running Press, Hachette Book Group, $25

Release date: Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Price: $25; also available on Kindle ($13.99),

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