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Food photography

Food photography - Howard Shooter loves his food so much he's spent a fair few years photographing it.

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Professional Interviewed

Pear by Howard Shooter
© Howard Shooter Photography.
Food's not something Howard Shooter just eats; he adores it. He loves the creativity of food and when you combine that with his great photography skill, you have a perfect recipe for success.

Howard's success is not just down to his own hard work, he has a very "normal" team of people who work with him to create images good enough to eat. Someone he works very closely with is his food stylist, or home economist if you're using the old terms. The food stylist's role is to cook the dish and to style it appropriately – sounds simple but it's not.

"Some of them are brilliant chefs who have trained for years but they still need to know how to style it for photography and that's where the skill of it sits," said Howard.

Most of the time Howard, the art director and food stylist will all sit together and, as a team, work out how the food should be styled. Of course, as it's Howard's shoot he can have the final say and direct the food stylist but most of the time, brief depending, it's a team decision.

Unlike the seventies and eighties 99% of all the food that is shot is real now and as food moves styling and preparing the food can take quite a lot of time.

"Like today for example, we're on our second shot and we started at 9am so it's taken roughly six hours. It's not unusual for one shot to take a day but on average your looking at between 6 and 8 shots a day. If you're working for a magazine, generally, you can expect to start at nine and finish at half five with eight or nine shots but if you're doing packaging it takes longer as you're following layouts and lighting it very specifically with flash. There's no such thing as cutting corners in this business and as a result everything takes longer.

When I've taken a photograph it's right or it's wrong, there's no middle ground. So, in that perspective, everything has to be perfect to levels which are quite likely boring for most people.
Fairy Cake by Howard Shooter Trifles by Howard Shooter
© Howard Shooter Photography. © Howard Shooter Photography.

Howard works differently to other food photographers as he works for a variety of people and shoots many different things. He photographs food for packaging, advertising and a lot of PR. He creates cards too and sells around two million a year.

"A lot of other people get into one supermarket then they're stuck but I didn't do that as I think it makes you vulnerable to market changes. I rather have a huge range of clients who I may use slightly less frequently but over the year you're guaranteed 4-5 days shooting a week."

Bruscetta broad beans by Howard Shooter
 © Howard Shooter Photography.
He works in Camden from a studio that gives him the option to use both natural light as well as artificial but generally speaking, when it comes to flashes, less is usually more. If he's working on packaging it's not unusual to use five flashes but if he can get away with it he will only use one light. He doesn't like using too much flash and most of what is used is reflected using diffusers and reflectors any way.

"The food is the hero. So the food tells you how it should be lit rather than you deciding how it should be."

Unless Howard's photographing celebrity chefs, which are often done reportage style, he uses a tripod. He's a firm believer that still life, certainly food photography, should be done with a tripod of which he supports Mamiya camera and lenses on.

"My main lens is a 20mm macro – the best lens Mamiya make. Which in terms of 35mm is a 35-28mm or 35mm wide angle with an extension which makes things a bit arty but 9 times out of 10 I'll stick with my macro."

Howard shoots at around f/4 or f/5.6 and aims to use the slowest ISO possible. Most of the time he aims for a shallower rather than a sharper image but, again, this depends on what you're photographing. If you're shooting packaging 9 times out of 10 you're shooting on f/22 – it's all about getting the best quality possible.

Sometimes, to get absolute perfection, you have to cheat slightly and Howard is no different. He isn't a stranger with Photoshop but he does try to keep using it down to a minimum.

Beef cut by Howard Shooter
© Howard Shooter Photography.
Imperfections in food might need a bit of Photoshop. For example, if Howard was shooting fruit, something like a pomegranate, he may want it to look very juicy and refreshing so he may add a little colour to make it more red. But as he said, he's not into cheating so he only does it if a little colour is missing or a seed is damaged.

"I don't like my shots to look digital. But saying that, there are certain things which will take you six hours to do in camera and ten minutes in Photoshop. Occasionally I have to do a little re-touching on packaging but because we aren't allowed to misrepresent the products we tend to not do any."

So, after spending over a decade surrounded by food will Howard ever grown tired of it?

"No! I have a very large stomach and that's how my wife likes me!"

For more information Visit Howard Shooter's website.

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