The art of beautiful food photography
Interview with Anna Pustynnikova
1. What made you want to be a food photographer?
My father was always very passionate about photography — he even had a small photo laboratory at home — so photography was essential part of my life all the time.
I started in photography with shooting people, street photography, and taking part in different art projects. At that time, I was working as marketing manager for a restaurant company.
The company developed rapidly and I started to get a lot of projects arranging food photo shoots. I was present on all of the shoots as a client and at that time I was immersed in the atmosphere and magic of food styling and food photography.
That was love at first sight. I began to study and practice a lot food photography and styling. Gradually, I was completely captured by food photography. I now have my own clients, interesting and exciting projects, and it has become my full-time job.
I still enjoy shooting people and street photography and am always ready to try different areas of photography, but food photography is my life, my art, and my passion!
2. What are some of your favorite foods to photograph and why?
It’s a funny thing that at the beginning of my career in food photography and styling, I thought that there was nothing better than taking a picture of a cake or dessert because they are so pretty and you do not have to do much to show their beauty.
But in time, I realized that I do like shooting savory dishes, such as roasted meat, chicken, pasta, soups, burgers, even dishes I generally don’t like to eat.
I feel more energy, more power and more potential in these types of food. They are also more challenging in terms of styling. I feel myself get really excited working to reveal their beauty and character.
3. Other than your camera, what’s an essential tool in your kit?
Light is my most important tool and 99% of the time, I work with studio lighting. A tripod is also an essential part of food photography because you constantly have to go back and forth from the camera to your scene to check, to change, or to refresh something and it’s very inconvenient to find the proper shooting angle again and again. The tripod also gives you necessary stability.
As a stylist, I have a big kit of different tools including a number of brushes, tweezers, knives, spatulas, sprays and many other things. I’d say that tweezers and a chef’s knife are my favorite ones.
4. How has food photography changed over the past few years and what are some of the current trends?
New trends in food photography emerge every year. Food photography now is not only showing a dish itself for practical use of cook books or food magazines where it should illustrate recipes, now food images tell stories, bring emotions, and show lifestyle.
Advertising photography seems to be more stable and keeps a more traditional approach, but it also changes considerably.
From my perspective, over the past few years there have been two significant styles in food potography: I call the first one “dark food photography with mystic light,” where pictures are usually dark and atmospheric with clear and strong light accents on the food and textures and strong contrast and play with shadows and highlights.
The second one is “rustic style,” which shows us food in the atmosphere of your grandmother’s country house — light is very soft and natural with vintage and aged props, a lot of textures, and naturally-aged wooden backgrounds and rustic textiles.
Another recent trend I call “simple and alone.” This style gives all attention to the dish with almost no props.
Here, styling plays more important role because you’re telling a story with the dish itself, with a minimal quantity of props. I would also note the emergence of the “reportage” food photography style as a result of social media influence.
A lot of advertising images now are taken in this style. You see food in some particular moment of our everyday life. It often looks like it’s a random shot, with lots of overhead angles and flat composition.
5. What are some common mistakes new food photographers make?
Making mistakes is a normal process for everyone. I made a lot of them and learned a lot from them. There are a few things in food styling and food photography I’d like to draw attention to for those who want to improve their skills:
- Don’t shoot without any idea, even very simple one. Always take time to think about what you’d like to say — and show — and what you would like people to feel looking at your image.
- Be very accurate and precise in creating your scene and styling your dish. All props and background should be clean, food should be fresh and styled with attention to every detail — a withered leaf of mint or dirty glass can easily spoil and ruin all your efforts.
- Shoot food, not props! Food is the hero and even if you have really beautiful plates, think of the food first and then choose your props.
- Be consistent and logical in choosing props and styling. If you shoot an apple pie, don’t put plums in your scene. Less is more sometimes.
Can great styling make up for boring food?
To me, no food is boring, but definitely yes. Styling is more exciting if you work with very simple foods — for example porridge. I’ve made a few examples of absolutely amazing styling of it.
Visit Anna Pustynnikova's website at: AnnaPustynnikova.com
Watch Anna in our Live Workshop - Food Photography, Lighting & Styling. You'll also find a wide selection of food photography classes and two more live shows in here.
Anna is a top food photographer and stylist based in Moscow, Russia. Passionate about food photography and styling, she’s worked for a number of clients and her images have been used by numerous publications.
You can learn more about Anna and her work in our live talk show or visit her website to view her work.