Interview and Photos by Max Hirshfeld
After receiving your BS in 2005 what was the first thing that led you to switching to further education as an artist?
I have always been interested in some type of art from a young age. I was enrolled in drawing classes, painting classes, and even in high school and college took a few art classes. It has always been my passion and I knew that I would want to be in the art field as my future career, I just didn’t know how or when. Some of my family members are photographers, and one in particular inspired me to start shooting a bit. So after graduating with my BS in 2005, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do yet and decided to pursue photography. I signed up for a few classes and quickly realized that this was the career I wanted to pursue.
When you started at Art Institute was photography your first field of study? And if not, what led you into photography specifically?
Photography was my first field of study, but I did get to enjoy a wide variety of different classes while I was attending the Art Institute.
Who inspired you and what might be your one guiding principle that you came away with?
My inspiration was definitely one of the professors I had, and another was the former Director of Photography who also taught a few of my classes. They taught me not only about photography, but how to build a business, how to work with others, and taught me some great lessons I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. They were an incredible instrument in helping me get to where I am today and I am grateful for what they did to help me start my career and to help it blossom to where it is today. One particular lesson I learned in school that has helped me a great deal in my work as a food photographer is something one of those professors always said: “Ask yourself what if?”. Those words have stuck with me since then and have been the greatest tool I take on shoots with me today.
Did you assist other photographers after school?
I did assist other photographers right after school. I found it was the best hands-on approach to learning my craft, there is no education like one in the field assisting someone else that is a professional. I also sat down with many photographers once I graduated to talk photography and the industry, have them look at my portfolio for some advice, and just meet my colleagues. It was a great way to learn more about what my future may look like, but also get some hands on experience.
You have chosen to concentrate on shooting food. After doing this for the past few years do you see yourself branching out into still life and, say, interiors which for many photographers are often combined in what is offered to clients?
I definitely see myself branching out into still life and especially interiors, and have already had the opportunity to shoot some interiors while on my food shoots. I think that will be vital in helping me further my career, especially when working with restaurant clients. I think still life would be a great avenue to pursue as well, although I see that as more of a personal project at this point while I work on my food photography and learn more about shooting interiors.
I know you shoot with available light which allows broad freedom but has its own set of controls that need to be mastered. Tell us a little about your normal shooting approach and the kit you travel with.
I enjoy shooting with available light because it does allow me the freedom to move around easily, especially when shooting in a tight space or a crowded restaurant. I also like the look of natural light especially while working with food, and it has been the style of photography I have enjoyed the most. I am still learning little techniques to help control the environment I am in which is challenging at times. When on a shoot, I look for the biggest window or most available light the restaurant/client can provide for me and work there. If possible, I ask them to turn off the overhead lights which mix with the natural light while I’m shooting. If not possible, I use large flags to block out the other light. While shooting for clients or magazines, I like to have the food as close to how they would serve to customers as possible, so I don’t use many food styling items. I use some food tricks like oil to make food look more juicy or less dried out, toothpicks to help keep a burger together, salt to give beer more head, but I like to keep it as simple and natural as possible. I have been doing a bit of research into styling tools in case I get into commercial food photography, and will continue to work on that as personal projects.
Since DC has become something of a foodie’s town, are there new avenues to pursue (within that world) that might allow you to stand apart from others?
DC is a great place for me to start up my career because there are so many new restaurants, chefs, and avenues to pursue. I think as a newer photographer the best direction for me to go is to shoot as many different types of food and lesser known places as possible. There are always new chefs coming up with new ways to present food or cook, and that could be something that could help me to stand out apart from others. Chefs are a big inspiration to me, and working with new and upcoming chefs could be a way to set myself and my portfolio apart from others.
Do you shoot personal work? Video?
I shoot some personal work now, especially during down time while I am marketing myself and finding clients. I feel it is a great way to keep myself consistently shooting and motivated, and also helps me learn through mistakes while on my own time. I don’t work too much with video although I took a class while at the Art Institute and would like to learn a bit more about it for my own personal and possibly professional work.
Finally, where do you see the future of food photography heading?
I see a lot of positive things in the future for food photography. There is more and more interest in food photography now, as well as new ways to cook and plate with all the newer young chefs coming around and developing new styles and techniques. Especially in markets like DC, New York and Chicago, with the increase in new and unique restaurants and styles of cooking, they will always need photographers to help showcase their work.
More of Kate’s work can be found at www.katebohlerphotography.com