Food Photographer Profile | Becky Brown

I love hearing about people who do different types of photography. I think we often overlook what all we can dive into being photographers, Becky Brown has recently taken the jump into doing food photography. Let's see what all she has to say about jumping into the world of food photography with this exclusive interview!

Becky Brown | Indiana

How did you know photography was the right fit for you and you wanted to do this as a career? 

I don't think that I really had a choice - I can't imagine photography not being my career. I've had a camera in my hand for as long as I can remember so it's almost as if it chose me haha
How did you get started? 
My first experiences in photography go way back to being a young child and playing with my Grandma Brown's "Fancy camera". She was an artist and I would go to her house after school and we would always do art projects and crafts - photography was the area that really intrigued me the most. I was the yearbook editor in high school and always had a camera in my hand.
When did you know it was the right time to jump into this full time? 
After I graduated college at IU I had no idea what I was doing with myself. I stayed there and worked as a manager at the local restaurant I worked at all through college. I did shoot a couple of weddings that year as well. It turns out that has helped me now because I was able to build some relationships in that area with other local restaurant owners and caterers etc.
 I decided in 2009 after applying for numerous jobs with no success that I wasn't finding anything because I truly didn't want a job that required me to sit at a desk from 9-5 everyday. So I make the decision to move back home with my parents so I could save some money for gear and advertising and give photography a shot for real. I told myself I had one year to make or break whether I could make a living as a photographer and then it was back to the drawing board and out of mom and dad's house (sorry mom and dad! I love you!).
I was lucky enough to get a job freelancing with Cummins Inc. in Columbus and have been shooting for their visual communications department for 3.5 years now. I'm wrapping up my 4th wedding season with my company which seems crazy to think about as I look back at the beginning.  I did continue to work a part time job that first year and a seasonal job in the winter after that. I'm hoping that my food photography will fill some of the slower months for me now.
How did you get into food photography? 
Food photography has always been an interest of mine, but I've really started pursuing it during the last year or so. I  think that I am a combination of my two grandmothers. My grandma Brown was a creative and was always into the arts and my Grandma Miller was the best cook I know. She had 11 children and always had lunch on the table at noon for anyone and everyone that was there. The combination of what I've learned from these two amazing women has really lead me to pursue my passion for food photography.
Although there are many photographer who specialize in food there aren't many, if any, in Indianapolis. So I turned to books and the internet to learn as much as I could. I took an online course in Food Styling last winter.
Normally food photographers don't try to shoot and style their food. Most of the time there is a hired food stylist on set, but I searched and couldn't find anyone in the area so I wanted to learn about the styling end as well so I could start doing some shooting at home to build a portfolio. If you can find a stylist to work with definitely hire them instead of trying to do it yourself... or try to team up with a stylist who is getting started to build a portfolio together.
I also took and have re-watched all of Penny De Los Santos's workshop that she did through Creative Live this year which was incredibily helpful. I've read books, I've followed blogs. But most importantly I've forced myself to make time to cook, style and shoot different foods in what spare time I have. I love to cook, some of my friends call me Becky Crocker haha, but you have to force yourself to branch out from what you eat every day and really look at the food and what makes it beautiful or enticing to you.
Do you go around to local restaurants or do people find your fb page?
I am by no means an expert in this area yet, Im still in the early stages of marketing myself. I have set up a facebook page and am working on a separate site just for my food photography that I'm hoping to get up and running this winter so I can separate it from my wedding site.  I'm also sending out direct mail and email campaigns in the next month to a targeted list of local restaurants that I would like to work with. I'm a big foodie so I sat down and made a list of the top 75ish local restaurants I'd like to work with in the Indianapolis/Bloomington/Columbus area and I'm starting there.
How exactly would you let people know how to get this ball rolling if they wanted to dive into it? 
My best advice would be to find a photographer whose style you admire and research what they do and why you like their style. Are they a natural light shooter? Are their images simple and clean or more complex? And just practice, practice, practice. If you can assist or intern that's a great place to start - and something I wish I had done or could still do.  But making yourself shoot different foods in different light etc. will help prepare you before actually going out on your own. This is probably going to sound dorky but I actually sat down one day and wrote out probably a hundred different food options or dishes etc and put them in a box. Whenever I have time I pull one out and that is what I will shoot that day.
What's the hardest part about shooting food photography? 
Different foods react differently. I'll be the first to tell you that I'm not an expert at this point. There are so many things I haven't shot and different techniques that can be used that I am still learning. I don't think you ever really stop learning.
You always want to keep food fresh on set so working with things like lettuce that will wilt or a cheeseburger bun that may get soggy from the burger after awhile. This is also why having a stylist is so important because they keep things looking fresh and have backup items if necessary.  I've heard ice cream can be really tricky but I haven't attempted it yet. One of my favorite food photographers is Stephen Hamiliton out of Chicago. He does a great blog with behind the scenes videos of some of the special effects and tricks they use. Of course he in a league far beyond me and working with national clients and has a team of amazing people so it's a little different than shooting a mom and pop shop in southern Indiana haha.
How do you even begin to price something like this, like a normal session?
Just like brides, every client and every restaurant are going to have different needs and wants. It's important to find out what their budget is and work together on something that fits for both of you. I have decided to build a couple of packages, but I'm always willing to customize something to fit the clients needs as long as it works for me as well. I also don't price by the hour, I price by the dish. I don't want to have to rush through shooting. I want to spend time with each dish until I get the image I want. Sometimes this is easier and sometimes it's more complex depending on the dish. I feel like if I put 2 hours in package I'd get clients that would want me to shoot 20 dishes in those 2 hours and that's just not the way to get the best images.
What type of things would need to be included in the package? 
I have it set up so that each package includes a set number of dishes (and you get 2-3 final images per dish). Some include interior and exterior shots of the space or atmosphere shots or even a headshot of the head chef. But again, they can always add or create a custom package. I am also targeting local clients so it's a different story when you have large national brands or are shooting for a magazine. In those cases many more factors come into play - location, travel, assitants, food stylists, prop stylist, the actual cost of the food, the terms of usage etc.
What is something that happened or caught you off guard that you never knew about shooting these types of sessions? 
I was doing a shoot this summer that involves cakes and cupcakes and chocolate dipped pretzels. It was SOOO hot outside - one of the many 90+ degree days we had in July. But I really wanted to shoot outside at her country home to capture the rustic vibe. I would get maybe 3 or 4 shots in before everything would start melting.... It was challenging, but fun, and definitely a learning experience haha.
If you give a person one piece of advice that's wanting to take their business in this direction what would it be? 
If you live in an area where there are photographers who specialize in food try to assist or intern with them to gain experience before diving head first into it. If there isn't anyone in the area check online for webinars and online workshops or in person workshops near you.
Is there any equipment that you think is a must have for shooting this sort of stuff? If so what is it & why? 
There are some food photographers out there who use mostly natural light (Penny de los Santos) and there are others who bring in softboxes and reflectors and mirrors etc. It's really about finding your style and what you prefer. If I could shoot all in natural light I would, but this isn't always an option in some locations - especially in the winter here in Indiana when it can be dark and dreary all day long so I've tried to teach myself a variety of lighting techniques. I think the equipment you need is based on the style of shooting you are doing. And most importantly learn the equipment you already have before making a big purchase.  I'm currently shooting with a Canon 5Dmarkii and I most frequently use my 24-70mm L lens.
I will say that the one thing I have compiled as I've started shooting food is a styling kit (again if you can hire an actual stylist please do). It's full of items that can be helpful on set such as tweezers, spray bottles, brushes, cardboard, toothpickssmall containers of oils and darkening agents for meat, small reflectors and black cards, etc. These things come in handing when assembling certain things. In the image of the cheeseburger above I used toothpicks to hold the toppings in place  while I shot it so that I could see everything on the burger.  Most of this stuff I just found at Hobby lobby. I rigged up some small white cards with wire so to use and did the same with black cards to block light.
Do you use any special lighting set up? Off camera flash etc for this? 
I do have strobes with umbrellas and softboxes as well as reflectors and white boards. But sometimes all you need is a big window with great light. I shot this photo of the sushi in natural light with a small white reflector on the right side to even it out and that was it.
If you could go have coffee with any photographer who would it be & why? 
That's tough - I would stay it's a toss up between Stephen Hamilton  and Penny de los Santos. I admire the work of both of them but they have very different styles. Stephen is more clean in his style and does more studio-esque work, while Penny shoots food from a more photojournalist stance.
Any other pieces of advice?
Unfortunately if you're wanting to make money doing this or any kindof photography you have to remember that it is a business as well. So making sure that you have contracts and insurance and figuring out your cost of doing businesses and paying taxes and your goals are important before jumping into anything. I have a business minor from IU and I also went back and took a business class that was specifically geared towards artists through Ivy Tech which helped me greatly.
My other advice if you are trying to start building a portfolio is to mix up your props and plating as well. I spend alot of time aimlessly wondering around antique stores looking for cool plates or napkins so that all my images don't look the same. You can find some great deals at antique or thrift store. Or if you're like me I raid my mom's house when I'm there as well because she has some cool pieces with interesting textures.
Thank you so much for sharing Becky! Questions for Becky? Be sure to post them in our comments section!
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