Continuing Education and Research
Continuing education, wink wink right? We're here. It's Creative Live, and this is it's such a great platform for so many reasons and you're here for a reason and you're watching for a reason and it is something that we need to participate in to continue to grow because you know, I liked being a student when I was a student. I enjoyed learning and I liked being a teacher and I liked being in the environment and I think clearly if you're here, you're also somebody who likes to learn and if you're watching, you're somebody who likes to learn and if there are things that you really need in your life, this is the way to go about it. Just keep going at it, keep coming, keep asking the questions and participating you know? And I think the relationships you form around it, like we made most of our friends growing up in school and I find that I've made most of my friends in my adult life in school. You know? And it's a powerful part of our culture to be able to do this, and the fact that we're...
all here for it. Research, and pasta. What does research mean? In my world, what research really is is looking at magazines. Looking at websites. Understanding which cookbooks are out in the market. Keeping tear sheets of the work that I really like to look at and understanding the trends and also following social media accounts that I like. All that research is something that is ongoing. I subscribe to basically every major food magazine. Whenever I'm in the stores, I go to bookstores very regularly and I go through the cookbooks and I see and I look at the bylines and I see who's shooting and I see what their styles are. I'm aware of my competition. That's not just creative, but it's also business-wise who's doing what? Is somebody really knocking it out of the park year after year on cookbooks? I look at the bylines and the stylists and all the other people who are in magazines because I want to know who I like, 'cause I look at stylists in magazines and the bylines and I pull 'em out and get in the gutter and look at them and you say oh I really liked what that person's doing. If I get a chance to work with them, I would like to. So you make a note of that. All of that is about this big database you're creating, right? You're creating a database of all the things that you want to support your business, and all of the research that you do is part of that. So, there was a time when I kept a wall in my studio where I would tear sheets out of magazines and other things, like you won't really want to rip stuff out of cookbooks, but I've done that. And put them on the wall, in my studio. Work of other people. And whenever people would come in they were like oh this is really nice. You put your own work on the wall? I'm like no, that's not mine. It's just stuff that I think fits my style and it's something unusual that I didn't think you could do with that food or I thought that propping was really unique and sometimes people would come in and they would ask me well what is this, what is it about? Why do you like that picture? Why do you like that picture? And everything was different. It was I liked just that bowl, or you see that way the swoop is in the soup? I want to recreate that in a shot. Or do you see the way that angle is up here? That's a unique angle to shoot that kind of food. I think I might want to try that, or those surfaces are really great, and by doing that, by creating this kind of poster board of inspiration in a way? It helped my work, because at the time I was shooting really prolifically. I was shooting a column that I shot for the times for eight years, and we shot it five days a week for eight years. So it was like constant. We did, five days a week is, that's a misnomer. It's not five days a week. It was five recipes a week, every day of the week had a different recipe and it was published that way. We didn't shoot 'em all every day. We shot them in bunches, but the reality was it was really hard to be creative and make that many images constantly because a lot of the food was very similar, right? It was a column called Recipes for Health and it was wildly successful for a very long time, but we did a lot of the same food. Healthy food has a tendency to overlap a lot, and it was hard for the recipe writer to come up with that many recipes and it was hard for us as photographers and stylists to make it look different every day. And I was constantly looking for inspiration. So it was, that's when the walls were filled with different things because I was like oh god, if I have to shoot another soup I don't know what I'm gonna do. What am I gonna do with this soup? And I would look and I would find something in Savor or I would look at my old Gourmets or whatever it was and I would be pulling out tear sheets and pictures and it helped so much because you can so easily get stuck in a rut, especially when you're working a lot or you're stuck with the same props a lot, or whatever it might be. You can get stuck in a rut and your work can end up looking the same all the time. So it's really important to continue to do your research and then now with the internet it makes it that much easier because every once in a while, I'll start trolling around Instagram for accounts that I really haven't been following or I wasn't aware of, and you know now with that suggestion thing I'll be looking and I'll see something I like and I'll click on it and I'll get five that are similar to that and maybe I'll like two of them. And it's certainly not even close to being all food, and that's the other thing I want to talk to you about, research. I've said this on a number of occasions and I really feel strongly about it is that you need to be influenced by art outside of your venue. I go to museums all the time. I have hundreds of art books. I am a devout student of design and architecture especially because I feel like what we do is three dimensional art and if you can see lines and form and shape in our work, and it ceases to be a leg and thigh combination or another bowl of stew, you're achieving at a higher level from an artistic perspective and being able to do that allows you to stop seeing the same thing all the time. It breaks you from the rut. So, I was heavily influenced early in my career by the Vermeer look. Dark backgrounds, single light source, you know and I made that my style and it was very recognizable. People always used to say it was painterly and all these other things, but after many years of doing it and then watching the trends in food photography swing right into my wheelhouse, I needed to reinvent myself because now everybody's doing what I was doing. So then it was about what could I do next? And that's where about doing all that research and looking around and seeing, you know, like any other artistic form. You know, rock and roll, everything in literature goes back to Shakespeare and everything in rock and roll goes back to the Beatles, and or even beyond you know? I'm just saying the general sense. It's the same thing with any art form. There's a baseline that everybody starts from and then you start to deviate from the recipe. That's the other thing that everybody copies right? Recipes. Change one ingredient, my recipe. But I can't say this enough that the next steps for you are the always steps. They're not just steps that you take to get to another plane, it's a step that you take every day to continue to grow as an artist and as a business person. You also kind of do that research when it comes to how people want to structure their business and you can always consult with people. It's hard to get another food photographer to tell you all about their business right? Because everybody's business is a little different, but also people are pretty guarded about those things, but you can ask other people how they structure their businesses that have like you know, multiple faceted kind of businesses that incur using freelancers or whatever it might be and understand the parallels between different businesses and you can kind of learn from the structures of other businesses, and you'd be surprised how much overlap there is. It's really impressive how much overlap there could be. So, do all your research, continue to learn on this plane because it'll help you be creative and it'll help you build a better business because you will be more confident in all of that. Working, doing workshops. I think for the social aspect of it and also being able to put the kind of ideas into practice in a lot of ways from a creative standpoint really is helpful for a lot of us and like I said, even when I'm on the other side of this and I'm here and you're there and I'm teaching you and I'm working and I'm kind of hands on with other photographers and I see what they see and I try to understand what their vision might be and how they can translate it better with a little bit of help, it also helps me too because I understand that the struggle for everyone is real, including the emoji for it or bitmoji for it the struggle is real. You have to be able to interface with other people. You can't just get locked down in your studio and do your own thing, and forget about 'cause watching other people work is really enlightening. Right, you watch them work and you say oh that's different, 'cause the first time somebody had seen me work in a studio, I had no idea that I was really unique in the way I worked. Like no one, I didn't have other people that I worked with that, I didn't work with any food photographers. Like I didn't assist a food photographer. I became a food photographer and grew into the business organically, just step by step got very lucky and also was making it up as I went along. But then when I was on set one time, a big set on a big cookbook shoot of a stylist who'd been in the business for like 30 years, she's like I've never seen anybody work like you before. And I was like, what do you mean? What does that mean? She's like the fact that you carry the camera around and stalk the table, and that was something I've said before in workshops and that was something that she coined. She's like you stalk the light. You look for it in the camera and just walk around looking through the camera until you find what you want and I didn't know any other way to do it. That was it, that was the way I worked and she was like yeah, I was like well what do other people do? They're like, they lock off the camera, they find an angle they want and they push the trigger and that's the way they work and they stay there and they are locked into it and they don't like to deviate from it. The fact that you like to do that gives people this sense that you're kind of some kind of weird genius because no one else is doing that. And I was like well that's pretty cool to know, you know? But I also learned something because I realized that that's not the behavior that I needed to employ on a commercial set. I needed to tone that down a little bit because what I was doing is I was over promising because now I'm showing them I can give you 17 angles and I can do this and this and this and that's not really helpful. You gotta limit that and tone it down and even though that's my instinct to want to work that way, I have a tendency now to tone that down and become more stationary or whatever you might want to say. That doesn't mean that my processes are any different, it's just what I'm showing people is different but working with other people in workshops shows you that too right? You get hands dirty, and also form partnerships with people you meet at those workshops 'cause they're usually local so you can find a partner or a stylist or someone else who's a food photographer who has a different skill set than you and you can kind of partner with them. I know Leia's done that and it's been successful for her to figure out locally who she could work with who is, they're kind of on the same plane. It's really helpful to do those things and it's fun because it's really nice to go to like big national food conferences. I mean I've spoken at IFBC many times. I've been up in Canada and I've spoken at their national workshops and you start to see that the people who are participating in food photography are from so many different arenas. Bloggers, writers, people who want to be professional photographers, people who are chefs and restaurateurs and all of these different people who are participating in food photography and then you get like Instagrammers and other people who are making a living doing that. Like I actually had a workshop where three of the people who came called themselves professional photographers because I read everybody's bio before they came in because it was like eight people. I figured I can memorize eight names, it can't be that hard and I wanted to see who they were. Professional photographer, professional photographer, professional photographer. They come in, they were Instagrammers. They didn't even own cameras. And I was like wow, and these people were making a living doing that with their cell phone, but they still needed to know some things about how to take better pictures but they were doing it with their cell phone, and that was eye opening as well. So, that's what's great about when you go to these things, you have a tendency to figure out wow man, this is a really vast landscape here and I can fit in in a lot of different places because I have many interests. So. Going to class. I did this about three years into my career. I was a working photographer with many many bylines nationally, but I went back to school. I went to Pratt, took a lighting course because I hadn't touched strobe lighting since college. I had been working as a daylight photographer and I didn't know how to work strobes anymore. I didn't understand any of it. I said I gotta go back to school, so I enrolled in a class at Pratt and I took a lighting course with a really reputable teacher and the first thing I walked in, he looked at my name, he's like why are you here? 'Cause he knew who I was, and I told him straight up in front of the whole class I said I haven't shot strobe since college. And he's like well, you're in the right place and we became friends and he was a bit of a mentor to me and helped me a lot in learning how to use lighting. So no matter where you are, it's never, you should never be ashamed to admit the things you don't know, and get yourself engaged in a way to learn the things that you feel you need to know, to get better. For me it was learning how to light in a way that, because here's the thing. I was using strobe lighting badly because I didn't know how to turn it into the daylight look that I had become known for. So now all these years later, it that thing got refined over many years to that silly little setup that you saw today. It seems pretty simple, but the science behind it works. So, that was what helped me learn how to manage those situations. So go back to class, it'll be fun.