Q&A and Parting Wisdom
OK, so Molly Mom, who's from Bellingham, Washington, asked, "What are the rules or ethics about "adding raw ingredients to a cooked dish "to make it look more visually appealing? "Say with a stewed dish, "is it OK to put some of the raw ingredients on top "to make it look fresher? "And I don't mean garnishes."
I think that could pose a problem if the raw ingredients that you're adding to your dish look dramatically different from what's already in the dish. I think maybe adding slightly cooked or undercooked, which we've talked about on a couple of occasions, is OK. I also believe that, the way we constructed the spaghetti, the process that we did, is also appropriate when you're doing cooked foods, like if you want to display something in the pot. Is add something that you think is gonna be perishable, or not perishable, but something that's gonna wilt, add it at the very last minute instead of cooking it according to recipe. Some of those kind of decisions need to be made on the fl...
y, and you'll learn as you practice and say, Alright, the next time that I make that dish I'm gonna add the tomatoes at the very last minute, let them kind of heat through, not totally cook and break down, and then I'm gonna serve it or show it, because that would give me the opportunity to show a little bit more vibrancy. So, it's about constructing, construction. I wouldn't add it later, but I might add it at the very end and undercook it.
Cool. Pam Huckings, from Newton, New Jersey, asks, "Can you talk about your feelings on food art photography "compared to regular food photography? "Is there a defined difference "and where do you walk the line?"
Well, should we talk to Steve, because he's got a burgeoning career in it? I do think that fine art photography that includes food is not food photography. I think it's fine art photography. I think that whether or not you have an object that's food or an object that's not food, photographing in that particular way is really more about high art still life than it is about traditional food photography. Because I don't necessarily think the skillset translates, because I think that people who do that type of work, even if they are skilled at food photography, I still think that's a separate skill, because I don't think every food photographer can do that stuff, and I don't know that every fine arts photographer can do food photography.
So another good question from Snappy Gourmet, "How closely do you follow recipes? "Do you substitute a lot of ingredients, "such as how you mentioned yogurt "was better than whipped cream? "If a recipe calls for whipped cream "do you still use yogurt just for the aesthetic, "just so that it looks better?"
Sometimes, yeah. I don't know that I do that many substitutions when I'm trying to remain editorially honest, but I will check with an author and say, "I can't find this ingredient. "Can I substitute this that looks like it?" And then they could add that into the recipe and say, if you don't have this you can add that. I do do that on a regular basis, because I feel like there are times when we will publish a recipe in a food magazine or a newspaper where you can't find that ingredient everywhere. If you don't live in a big city or you don't live someplace where there's certain Asian markets or certain Indian markets or some kind of ethnic food that you can't find, you need to have an adequate substitute so people everywhere can follow along. So sure.
Cleveland Pete asks the question, Have you ever run into anything regarding cultural preferences when you've shot a piece of food, potentially, and it might be, you know, like, Is the fish head on, is it off, is it looking at you? Are you using a fork with a Thai dish, potentially.
Yeah, instead of a spoon. Right, I got you. Yeah, I think so. I think you need to be culturally sensitive as a food photographer, because I think people are really passionate about their food, and if you're presenting it in a way where it may potentially be viewed as ignorant to that particular type of food or potentially disrespectful, you need to really understand the food that you're working with. So, like spoons. The fact that if you put chopsticks with Thai food, that's a no-no. And not everybody would know that, because not every Thai restaurant adheres to that. The reality is that true Thai food is eaten with a spoon and a fork. So, yeah, I think absolutely you need to remain culturally sensitive.
Alright, I have a question from Linda in Minneapolis who asks, Starting out in food photography, should I work with a photo rep?
You know, that's a good question. I'm glad that came up. I think that if you have an opportunity to work with a photo rep, that it's a good way to cover a lot of the bases that we've covered in our workshop about business, because you're photo rep should be pretty knowledgeable about all the things that we've talked about, about rates and about all the negotiation things. And it also takes the pressure off you to deal with clients directly. I've talked about the fact that I'm unrepresented at this point. I've been represented in the past, and for me to have a representation at this point, it would have to be a really good fit, and I think that goes pretty much for everybody. You want to have a good fit with your representation, because you want that they're getting something out of it, and they're gonna work hard for you. And when they are knowledgeable and they have a good conduit to the type of photography that you want to do, that can be a really profitable arrangement for both of you. And I think that's the only way it works long term, is if both parties are feeling like they're getting something out of the relationship, but I do think it's very valuable if you find the right one. But it's like finding love, you know, it's hard. (laughing)
Nice. OK, a bit of a technical question here. MPG would like to know, "Do you ever register your images "with the US Copyright Office?"
No, I have never done that.
OK, thank you.
Alright, we have a question in the studio audience.
You talked about, you use a stock agency. Everyone else I've ever talked to says that they never make any money out of stock now, but you still think it's--
Well, you've got to remember, if you think about all the kind of prolific food photographers in the country, I'm probably one of the most prolific because of the nature of the way I shoot for the paper. We're publishing eight to new images a week, year round. So as far as volume is concerned, that's what stock is about. Stock is about volume, so the more images you have out there, the more opportunity you have for resale. So if you're only working, you don't have that kind of an arrangement where you're shooting that kind of volume, it's hard to build up, because not everything that you shoot your stock agency wants. So even if you're able to put 25% of what you're shooting into stock, that's still a lot. So I would say, it's a hard business. Stock is a very hard business. And I can't say that, it's not even close to the most profitable part of my business but a drip and a drab and a drip and a drab and a drip and a drab, and at the end of the year it means something. So, you know, it's a volume business for sure. Any other questions?
Absolutely. We'll take a few more questions.
Yeah, we're good, we can keep going.
Alright, cool. Question from Rodney Bedsel who is from New Rochelle, New York. Hi, Rodney. "I know several cookbook authors, "and I've approached them about shooting for their books. "The response I've gotten is that the publisher "has more control than the authors do "as to which photographer they use. "Does it help to try to network with publishers "and get to know the editors at the publishing houses?"
Yeah, I think that's absolutely the right approach because it is true that even though it's the money of the author that's paying you for the images, they definitely have the final say, the publisher. And the publisher has particular photographers that they're really comfortable with, because their margin error, margin for error is very slight. And they don't necessarily like to take chances on new photographers when they already have a known entity in-house, meaning a client that has been working with their authors consistently. So the best way to do that is to get to know the publishing executives and the publishing editors rather than try to go through the author. Because unless the author has a lot of clout, that's not gonna fly.
And a question here is, "What do you do when you don't like the appearance "of food that someone else has cooked "on the day of the shoot?" And I know that as a chef sometimes I cook with ingredients that I don't particularly enjoy but I know that other people will like those ingredients. How do you deal that kind of situation?
Are you talking about how it looks or how it's gonna taste?
How it looks.
Send it back.
Simple. Again, your name is the one that's going on it. Be gentle, but be clear.
What are some things that you've come across? Can you name anything off the top of your head, a piece of chicken that's not cooked?
Well yeah, sure.
What kind of things would you ask for?
On the last cookbook I shot we were working with some newer stylists. There was a battery of stylists we were working with and a couple of the more newbies and they were fine, they were good, but they needed a lot of guidance, and there were certain things that came out and we worked on this one particular shrimp dish that needed a lot more care and it kept getting sent back to the kitchen and I made sure I went back to the kitchen with it, and said look: "This isn't a criticism of what you did. "You followed the recipe, "but we really need to do something different here "because it's not gonna look good on camera." And I think people really appreciated the fact that I walked it back to the kitchen and talked to them about it instead of saying, get this off my table! I cannot work under these conditions.
And you're not worried about them spitting on it or anything like that?
Well, I don't have to eat it. (laughing)
Alright, a question with regards to success and life-work balance. So, can we talk about the big picture as far as what boundaries do you have for hours, or do you recommend that people need to be working 80 hours a week in order to be a success? How do you find that life-work balance? Do you work on the weekends?
Yeah, I do. I do, but I feel like that you've got to know when you need a break. And I have that tendency to kind of push until I need a break and then I take it. The issue with this is that if you love what you do, it's kind of hard to turn it off sometimes, and I think that's the instinct that you have to fight against, is that you just want to keep working. You want to get through more of it. You want to create more. And I think you have to force yourself to remember that, you know, you have friends, you have family, you have colleagues. You want to have a social life. You want to be able to have a hobby, and I think it's important that when you have a way of making a living that for some people is a hobby, but it's your business like what you asked me earlier, when you said, "Do you take pictures on vacation?" That's when I turn it off. I don't carry my camera to restaurants. I don't do those things, because that's what I do for a living. So it's important to know when to turn it off and have a hobby outside of what you're doing professionally for a living, you know. And I have hobbies that have nothing to do with photography, so that's important.
Absolutely. Well, we could ask you questions for another 48 hours, so I'm not sure if we really--
Well, since you're taking me in your pocket to the gym, you know?
Exactly. Andrew, did you have any final comments or things that you'd like to say to the people at home and the people here?
Yeah, I do. I think that one of the things that's really important in the whole equation is knowing that if you're here in the audience or if you're at home watching on your computer you have already taken the first step to understand that you are trying to better yourself. You're trying to learn something new. You might be trying to reinvent yourself. You might be trying to reinvent your profession. All of those things are things that I can relate to, and this is why I'm here doing the things that I've done in these workshops and others, in that I know there are people there who want to find something that they love to do. And I found that. I found that, luckily, and it was later than I might have expected, but I found it and I reinvented myself. So I think that the experiences I've had have led me to the desire to share that and hopefully inspire other people to learn. And I think that also the instinct as an educator, the thing that I grew up doing, doesn't leave you. You want to share. And what I want you to do, whether you're here or you're at home, is I want you to gather the confidence that you gained from the knowledge that hopefully you gathered over the last few days and put it into yourself. Be confident that you took steps to better what you're doing and make the art you want to make with confidence, with power. It gives you internal power to know that I'm doing something for myself, and I can better myself through it. So what I want you to do is, I want you to gather it up, put it inside, and I want you to go out there and do it. I want competition. I want you all out there. I want the competition. This is one of the things that people have said. "You're gonna share all of your secrets, "and you're gonna share all of your things." No. How many pictures have you looked at over this thing? Hundreds, right? They're all different. I can give you my camera. I can give you my lens. I can give you my tripod. I can give you everything you need to take a picture. It's not gonna look like mine. It's not gonna look like yours. And it's not gonna look like yours Go out and make art that you're proud of. And you, quite honestly, if you've already taken these steps, the rest of them are there out in front of you. Learn more. Do the things we've talked about. Research. And then go out there and conquer the world. Go out and take it. If you want it, take it. Don't wait for it to come to you. Take it. That's what I did. Somebody opened the door a crack and I kicked it down. That's what you need to do next. You got out and you get your knowledge, you go out into the world and you figure it out, and that's what I want you to do. And that's why I'm already proud of you, because you came here to do this, and if you came here and spent 18 hours watching me on the internet. You need to be proud of yourself. Be proud of what you did over the last three days. And now I'm gonna go home and go to sleep. (laughing) I have one last thing. And one last slide. Don't forget. Don't forget. Don't forget: Have fun! (laughing) I'm out. Have fun, have fun! This is a shot that a client insisted that I take: "Make sure that you can get that piñata in the picture." I made sure I got the piñata in the picture. Have fun. This is a great way to make a living. It really is. And if you've really decided that this is what you love and that this is what you want to do, you're gonna be really rewarded by it. So, have fun.
Oh my gosh, thank you. (applauding)