This is the tenth post in my series of monthly posts where I speak with people in the creative industries and ask them questions about the things that "I Wish I Had Known" when I started out as a creative myself.
Early this year I had a really amusing chat with Martí Sans, a Food Photographer from Catalonia, about food, branding and how life has a funny way of turning things around:
1. We met 6 years ago and during our first conversation, you told me a really interesting story about how you ended up becoming a Food Photographer. Do you mind sharing that story with us?
(He laughs really loud) I wanted to become a chef. In fact, it was while I was studying to become one that I bought my first camera. I believe that I was about 17 years old. I studied for Chef and Pastry Chef for 5 years, but during the last 2 years of the career, I was completely sure that I would not spend my future working in a restaurant. I started doing some photography gigs while I studied and once I finished chef school I had made up my mind and became a freelance photographer.
2. Do you need to know how to cook or bake in order to be a successful Food Photographer?
It is not necessary, but it does help. Like in many other fields, having a knowledge of the subject that you are photographing helps you to understand how to face the photo and to find the most interesting features of each product. For instance, if you work as a Bird Photographer, having a knowledge of how they behave, move or interact will make things easier for you.
3. How different is food photography from other types of photography, like product photography?
In regards to similarities with Product Photography, I think they are very similar. It's a style of photography where all the details are really important and the lighting makes the difference. In terms of other types of photography, in most cases, they are related worlds but they are very different.
4. For those who are not familiar with Food Photography, can you walk us through your workflow when taking the photo of a dish?
Usually, the process starts with emails, phone calls and some meetings. The client lays the initial idea on the table, they give you some references of what they are going after and you try to give your vision on how to get the best photo possible. From there, you set the timeline for the shoot, deadlines, etc. and you start to work.
During the shoot, all the photos are built bit by bit. The point of view is decided, the props are added and the empty plate is lit. The idea is that the food arrives at the very last minute in order to have it in the best state possible. If you are using sauces or ice cream, you add them at the very end to avoid mistakes.
5. It seems to me that photographing food is a very slow process. How do you manage to get the shot on time before the food gets cold or becomes unattractive? If it's grilled meat, for instance, do you have one piece of cooked meat or do you have several ones that you cook as you go?
What we usually do is that you set up everything without the main subject. You might have the side dish or any other additional surrounding elements ready. For a piece of meat, for instance, you might use a prop with a similar colour while you are composing (a piece of cardboard might work) and then you swap it for the real thing. The idea is to have everything ready before the food arrives and that way you avoid having it for too much time on set.
6. Is it true that you can't eat the food that you photograph? How much of the food in the photo is real food?
I would say that almost everything is real. It's true that in some cases you use food that is not real but you might do that for technical reasons with ice cubes, ice cream, etc. The majority of food that we use could be eaten if you don't mind that it has been touched by so many hands. You'd be better off eating a new one!
7. What is the typical crew working on set with a Food Photographer?
It depends on the size of the production. For small productions, I try to do everything on my own, but if the production gets too complex, I would work with a Food Stylist and an assistant. For bigger productions, I usually work with a digi-op, an assistant, a Food Stylist and, more often than not, with an Art Director. Also, in the latter case, I work with a retoucher for the post-production.
8. What is a Food Stylist?
A Food Stylist is a person in charge of prepping the food for the photo or video. They might or might not be a cook, but it is important that they know the rhythm of a photoshoot as well as understand the point of view of the image and how the dish will look in camera. I don't always work with one, to be honest, because I like doing the food styling myself, but there are times when I can't control everything on my own.
9. Apart from your photography, you also run workshops in different cities in Spain where you teach photographers, bloggers and hobbyists how to take photos of food. How did that come about?
It was something that just happened organically. I did a short workshop for some friends a few years ago and they encouraged me to create a whole day course. That must have been 5 or 6 years ago and bit by bit the courses have evolved to what they are right now. I do 8-hour courses around Food Photography and people seem to enjoy them. I also have two online courses on Product Photography at Domestika (an online portfolio and tutorials platform in Spanish) that allow me to reach a wider audience.
10. You recently changed your branding from your original brand name to your own name. Do you mind explaining why?
Up until now, I had been working under the brand 365mm, but now I have changed it to Marti Sans Photography. What happened was that the previous name was prior to my professional photography career. It was meant to be the name for a blog where I talked about photography but it ended up being the name of my portfolio and my brand. With time, I have come to realize that using my own name is simpler and easier for everyone. When I teach courses, people always use my name and not my brand name, so after careful consideration, I decided to do the switch.
11. As a Food Photographer, do you work freelance? Do you have an agent?
I work freelance at the moment, but I'm considering looking for representation.
12. Lastly, what advice would you give someone who wanted to start a career in Food Photography?
We always tend to make up excuses like "it's just that the camera that I own won't..." or " my strobes don't allow me to..." In the end, I am willing to bet that 95% of the times it is our lack of technical knowledge that won't allow us to get the photo that we are going after. It is also important to remember that you can only learn photography by taking photos. Books, blogs, workshops... they are all good but if you don't shoot, you will never learn. Fewer tutorials, more shooting!
This is brilliant, Marti! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer all my questions and giving us a glimpse into what Food Photography is all about. This is everything that "I Wish I Had Known"!