Food Photography - An Interview with Kieran Scott

Kieran, how would you describe yourself as a photographer?

I’m an Editorial and Illustrative photographer. My works centre’s on story telling – getting at the truth. My style has been described as gritty, but my main objective is to create engaging, honest beautiful images. The main subject of my work is life – in all its iterations.

What has been your biggest achievement?

There have been a few awards, I’ve travelled the world, photographed global icons and Hollywood stars and worked with some incredible photo editors, designers, writers and creatives. But I think my greatest achievement is still being relevant in a world where everyone – and I mean everyone is a photographer. I think it’s wonderful everyone is taking pictures – I’m just relieved I’m still working!

Tell us about the book 'The Recipe' that you recently worked on...

Copyright © Josh Emett

The Recipe is probably my 50th book – give or take a few non-starters and it’s the most photographically successful book I’ve done so far. Although other books have won various awards for the photography, I think “The Recipe” is a cookbook in its most distilled and perfect form.

The recipes are among the best on the planet and the images describe those recipes. There’s no prop styling, tricky lighting, odd angles, or shallow depth of field to distract you from the dish. It’s simple and direct. The food is the hero. And that was our mission to begin with. To create a manual for folks to follow - A guide book for foodies.

Is there one dish or type of food that is more difficult to photograph?

Butternut Squash Gnocchi, Lidia Bastianich. Image copyright © Kieran E. Scott

Every dish that gets put down in front of you has a personality. Some fade quickly, some are just plain dull others are complex and awkward. But all of them have their good side and years of experience means you get to know what works and what doesn’t.

If anything, it’s the food that wilts or fades quickly (and that can be anything from soup to steak) that will give you grief but a digital camera and a little bit of planning means you can snap it in seconds and you’re done. Digital cameras have taken all the stress out of working with food - Working with film meant planning, Polaroid's and multiple back up dishes.

As an aside I’d say a good food stylist is really important and as a photographer having a broad knowledge of food and cooking will help with capturing any tricky dish.

How long did it take you to photograph the dishes for this book?

I think it was 38 days of photography spread over about a year (Josh and I had other commitments to fit in) and anything from 15 seconds to 5 minutes to shoot a dish.

The book took a couple of years at least to plan, produce design and edit from start to finish. It was a major undertaking and the real work was done by the producers, editors, designers and chef.

Who decided on the style of the photos? The black plate on the black background is an interesting choice – What was the reasoning behind that?

Plum Clafoutis, Marcus Wareing, Image copyright Kieran E. Scott

I had lots of conversation’s with the publisher and creative director before we started... But it always starts somewhere and ends up somewhere else!

We thought we were going to be shooting on Josh’s beautiful stone bench top (there is a knife image at the beginning of the book that I photographed on the first day of shooting as a test) but I didn’t like the plates on that background and I had bought a bunch of black card with me as cutters – so I tried a black plate on one of those and then a white plate on white and – after a very short conversation that went like… "ok. That looks better" – we got on with it. The logic for me was what I mentioned earlier – it’s about the food – and that approach suits that objective.

From The Recipe by Josh Emett, image copyright Kieran E. Scott.

Most of us have heard about the secrets used in the food industry to make food (especially fast food) look appetising for the camera, were there any insider secrets like that going on for this shoot?!

If that’s your perception of food shoots then you’ve been going to the wrong food shoots! The only thing that would stop you eating the food at my shoot will be your waist line! I have no real secrets. Food goes down in front of my camera and I push the button. Good food stylists do very little with the food to make it look better than it already is. I’m not saying that’s the way it is on all food shoots – but it’s like that on mine!

What food photography tips can you share with amateur photographers?

  • Start with good light (I use either south light through windows or a 1 stop diff with flash) and a standard focal length lens like a 50mm to 80mm (on a 35mm camera).

  • Don’t front light. Use soft fill to balance your main light source and not something obvious like a reflector. I will often wear a white tshirt as a reflector so the reflections have an organic shape or anything light that’s lying around – a white plate or a roll of paper towels can work a treat.

  • Try not to be sucked into the shallow depth of field trap. Shallow depth of field can be interesting when it’s used well but again it’s just an escape route for bad photography and food styling. Think about your audience who may want to make the food – they have to be able to see what they are making.

  • Remember that your job as a food photographer is to photograph the food – not a bunch of pretty props, and try not to make it look like a 3-year-old has styled it, crumbs can be nice but don’t overdo it!

What advice would you give to people who want to turn photography into a full-time career?

Be passionate, be informed, be creative and be on time!

Young creatives are able to work over a few disciplines now, not just photography. My son is a working musician, video op, assistant and stills photographer. It seems to be a great way to survive in an industry full of hopeful photographers. Then there’s careers on social media that I know nothing about! So it’s difficult for me to give advice outside of my own experiences.

The one thing I do say to anyone wanting to go full time is, know your subject. Whether it’s food, fashion, cars or portraiture. Having a good knowledge of your subject matter is key – that way you can offer clients much more than a camera and a good eye.

Will you be trying any of the recipes out yourself at home?

I already have – I love to cook!

Learn more about Kieran and see more of his photography on his website.

If you're interested in cooking, and perhaps even photographing, some of these recipes yourself, The Recipe by Josh Emett is on sale now.

#foodphotography #interview #kieranscott