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MORE FOOD STYLING FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS AND STYLISTSa guide to creating your own appetizing art
By Linda Bellingham Jean Ann Bybee Brad G. Rogers
Focal PressCopyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBuilding Your Portfolio
WHERE TO START?
Whether you are starting at the very beginning of building your portfolio or beefing up your existing portfolio, you need to know that this is a process that will continue as long as you are food styling or photographing food. As your talents grow and as you work with different types of shots, you will both eliminate and add images to your portfolio to give it a fresh look. After a few years of showing your portfolio you may feel it is starting to look tired, and if you are thinking that, the people you show it to are probably thinking the same thing! That's when you need to freshen it up, and perhaps you will want to consider all new images the next time you show your portfolio.
I want to share with you how I got started as a food stylist. From talking with other food stylists, I've learned that my introduction to food styling was fairly typical in some ways. My story will include how I built my portfolio many years ago. If you are just beginning to build your own career and portfolio, I believe it is important to share this with you to give you an idea of the process involved.
Having a degree in home economics definitely gave me a head start in understanding food chemistry and food handling. After a few years of teaching home economics in high school, catering, and working in restaurants, I was ready to look for a new direction in my career. On a whim I applied for a food stylist position in a commercial photography business in Dallas, Texas. At that time I did not have a portfolio to show, not one image. But I knew I would be making food for the camera and that sounded like fun. Because of my strong background in food, I felt confident about being successful. In other words, I had no idea what I was getting into!
There were 10 full-time staff photographers working in the studio where I applied. Each photographer basically created images that were on an assignment list handed to them when they arrived at work in the mornings. Generally, they worked on outline shots.
NOTE An outline shot is an image of a product that is usually captured on a white or light gray background. When clients use the image, they remove or cut out (using specialized computer software) the product image from the background and drop it into their ad. They can use the image for numerous applications and the shot is usable as long as the product design or packaging does not change. (For an example of an outline shot, refer to the full page image of a hot dog at the beginning of Chapter 6.)
Working for a studio that manages multiple photographers is a tough assignment for a food stylist, but I had no idea that was the case. My guess is that my enthusiasm coupled with the fact that I had experience with food got me hired for the job. It was a place to start and, ultimately, it served me well.
In that studio, whenever a photographer was assigned a shot that involved food, I would prepare foods that would present well with the client's product. I would look at the product (e.g., pots, skillets, dishes, etc.) and then consider foods that would look good displayed with the product. Sounds easy, right? Well, don't forget there were 10 photographers. And this particular studio seemed to attract clients who had food-related products. Needless to say, I was working in a 10-ring circus and definitely earned my wages. However, I did not do any work that I considered worthy of a portfolio.
After working at this studio for three months, a new account came into the fold. A large, upscale grocery chain approached the studio to produce images for their annual Thanksgiving brochure. The client was bringing in a local top-gun food stylist and I was to be her assistant on the job. The shot list (listing of all images to be completed for the project) was fairly lengthy and the shots were divided between two of the in-house photographers. The job was estimated to take at least one week to complete. I was in heaven that week working with a seasoned, professional food stylist. I learned so much from her.
On the last day of the shoot, she said to me, "Linda, you're too good to be styling in a studio like this. Would you like to assist me for awhile? You'll earn an assistant's wage, which isn't much, but you'll meet a lot of people who will be able to help you get started as a freelance food stylist in this market. You need to build a portfolio. The photographers you meet may be willing to help you with this. If you're as good as I believe you are, you'll be able to go out on your own as a freelance food stylist fairly quickly." I was flattered, shocked, and very scared to hear these words from her. But I knew this was the right thing for me to do.
Attitudes and Abilities That I Learned as an Assistant
While on the subject of how I got started, I am going to briefly stray from the subject of building a portfolio, because I want to mention some important things I learned in my first year of food styling. As an assistant I learned a lot of styling skills but I learned other skills as well. Most important, I learned how crucial organization and planning are to achieving a successful shoot. If you arrive at the studio missing even one element that is necessary to pull the hero image together, you may be making another trip to the store. This slows down the entire day for everyone on the shoot, could definitely drive up costs for your client, and does not instill confidence in you as a stylist.
Another skill I learned as an assistant was how to view the set through the camera and to take that information and improve what the camera was viewing. Because the camera sees things differently than our eyes, the stylist has to know how to enhance the depth of what the camera sees. The more time I spent styling on the set, the easier it was for me to see what was needed to make the hero food and sometimes the arrangement of elements on the set look better to the camera.
I also learned how very important it is to follow direction. When suggestions for changes in the hero food on the set are offered by the photographer, art director, or client, you should not take their comments personally, but rather make every effort to learn from them. This is something I learned very quickly as an assistant by observing the lead stylist. I believe it serves a stylist well to achieve an attitude of being a food technician as well as a food artist. Having this attitude can help build a level of trust as a food stylist within the commercial photography community.
So, I worked as an assistant. I met lots of photographers, assistants, clients, and art directors. After a few months of assisting, I worked up my nerve to ask one of the photographers if he would be interested in doing a test shot with me.
NOTE Test shot is an industry term for working on a shot without a client. When a photographer and a stylist work together on a test shot, they volunteer their time and purchase necessary items to complete the shot. Both have the option to use the image in their portfolios.
When a stylist is just starting to build a portfolio as I was, the photographer usually drives the direction of the shot. In other words, the photographer will suggest a general food, theme, or type of shot he needs for his portfolio. For my purpose, I just wanted good shots to start building my portfolio (also called book), so I was enthusiastic to work on any kind of shot. When a stylist and photographer work on a test shot together there is a negotiation necessary to divide the expenses. It has been my experience that most photographers rely on the food stylist to provide the food and other supplies necessary to produce a test shot. The photographer takes care of his studio overhead and is responsible for making a copy(s) of the shot for the stylist's portfolio. Today, most copies of still images are digital and are saved on CDs and video images are saved on DVDs. Back when I started food styling, all still shots were on sheets of film called transparencies. A transparency is a piece of film (4 × 5, 8 × 10, etc.) that is placed on a lightbox to view. Video images for commercials and such were saved on DVR reels.
And that's how it all started. I was assisting as a food stylist and even working with some different lead food stylists. Soon I was asking almost every photographer I worked with to do a test shot with me. The big day for me was when a photographer called to ask if I wanted to work on a paying job with him! To him it was a simple job, but to me it was a huge deal!
If you are just starting out as a food stylist, you will need a portfolio to show photographers and clients when you approach them for work. Generally, a food stylist presents her portfolio to photographers, whereas the photographer will present his portfolio to clients. When the photographer lands a job that involves food styling, he will start calling stylists on his list to see who is available on the day(s) the shoot is scheduled. It is not uncommon for a photographer to place two or more food stylists "on hold" for the shoot date(s). The client may request to see a food stylist's portfolio, especially if they are not familiar with the stylist's work. The client and photographer will then decide which stylist will be retained to do the job.
NOTE Photographers and stylists need to have a wide variety of shots in their entire portfolio. Having a large number of images in your portfolio gives you options in selecting a specific grouping of images to show a client. But as a rule, you should not show more than 8 or 10 images to a client unless asked to show more.
Building a Basic Portfolio from Scratch
If you have no idea where to start and need a few suggestions for images in your portfolio, start with foods that you feel comfortable styling. Select a subject matter that will show off all your food styling skills. Remember your portfolio is your calling card, and it is the way you will present yourself to photographers and clients. You want them to see that you know what you are doing.
Image suggestions for starting a portfolio:
1. Have at least one beverage shot. Make sure you have a frosted glass in at least one image, just to show that you know how to do it.
2. Have a breakfast shot with either a cup of coffee or glass of juice. Choose breakfast items that will demonstrate specific styling techniques: fried or scrambled eggs, pancakes, cereal, and so on.
3. Ethnic foods, like Mexican or Asian, will show your versatility.
4. Have at least one protein dish. Select a beautiful fish fillet or a steak and complete the plate styling with accompanying vegetables and other appropriate foods.
The key for building a good basic portfolio is to have a variety of foods in your images. Eventually, as jobs come to you, you will have many images included in your portfolio. As you start picking up work, ask the client if you can have a copy of the hero shot(s) you styled to add to your portfolio. This is a very common request and I've never been turned down when asking for images or film for my portfolio. As you read through the projects in this book more suggestions for portfolio images will be mentioned.
Some food stylists have reputations for being best at certain kinds of styling. For instance, a stylist may be fabulous at styling ice cream. Word about the stylist's skills will spread through the advertising grapevine and that particular stylist will be hired for ice cream shots over other stylists. If you feel your skills are stronger in one or two areas, focus your test shots in that direction. Hopefully, as you gain experience styling other foods, you will be able to incorporate images in your portfolio that show off your new skills.
I've got to make a confession. When I first started out as a food styling assistant, I met a lot of people in the food industry. Yes, I built my portfolio but I didn't show it many times. Honestly, word of mouth in the industry grapevine was the absolute best means of advertising myself to get jobs. You could spend thousands of dollars on an agent, or gimmicks to sell yourself, but if you are good at food styling, the photographers and clients you work with will spread the word. Regardless, a portfolio is a necessary tool for both photographers and food stylists.
While writing on this subject I asked my coauthors, Jean Ann Bybee, who has been a commercial photographer for many years, and Brad G. Rogers, who works in the industry as Jean Ann's agent, art director, and set/prop stylist, to give their perspectives on building a portfolio. I was curious to see the differences in their views. And, they had some valuable information to add to the subject.
Excerpted from MORE FOOD STYLING FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS AND STYLISTS by Linda Bellingham Jean Ann Bybee Brad G. Rogers Copyright © 2012 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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