Food photography is an often undervalued and overlooked profession that can form a crucial component to the success of many businesses in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Not only do high quality and professional photographs of food, people and premises emphasise the strengths of a menu, but they also provide a story for the customers, giving depth and value to a brand.
I spoke with Anna Nowakowska of Matchbox Photography, who specialises in food photography as well as portraits. With 14 years of experience in the business, Anna offers a very specialised and tailored service for businesses having worked with clients such as Rasam Indian restaurant, Di Fontaines Pizza, McCambridges bread, Lucy Kennedy’s sandwich collaboration with Flora and more recently, a Government initiative called the Finglas Tourism and Food Trail.
Food photography is an art form, with a high level of skill involved in its successful execution. It is not just limited to menus and restaurants but also cook books, product packaging and promotional material.
Anna has worked with bakeries, restaurants, nutritionists and farms as well as restaurants to help her clients provide more depth and context to their products and their origins. Shoots can take place in a studio or on location, with chefs and staff, and can include action photos of food preparation such as chefs throwing pizza dough, staff portraits, shots of fresh ingredients and the establishment and its surroundings, with each project carefully tailored to create a unique and artistic package for the client.
"Each time is completely different," said Anna and creativity is a key factor in overcoming challenges on set. For example, bread photography is completely different, with a unique set of challenges, to seafood photography.
Some interesting techniques used for creating images of food that appeal to the senses include using steam from an iron to make sausages appear to sizzle, creamy mash as vanilla ice cream and keeping fresh merguine together with hair clips. The majority of Anna’s work in done in the actual production, with very little effects added afterwards, via packages such as Photoshop, and she uses natural lighting wherever possible. The skills and creativity required in finding solutions to these issues in production is, according to Anna, "Endless," with a steep and continuous learning curve.
Despite the level of skill required in food photography, in Anna’s experience not every business sees the value of the service, with many managers presenting a slight resistance to the process, or attempting to bargain with her over costs.
In an era where online filters and food pictures flood social media feeds it is possible that many businesses feel that anyone can be a photographer, but the results from acquiring a professional are unquestionably better. "I have done seven years of courses and training, and invested an enormous amount of money to be in the place I am now," said Anna.
Much of Anna’s extra training has been completely unique and learned ‘on the job’ as there are not many photographers who specialise in the food niche in Ireland. The entire service is extensive, exceptionally skilled and tailored which can really add to the value of a brand, so in this respect as a photographer Anna said that in this industry "You have to be very strong" and recognise the value of your work. The professional skill of the services that Anna and other food photographers offer should not be underestimated, nor should the positive impact its correct execution can have for businesses.
Anna offers many businesses a ‘menu make-over’ package, which includes new pictures for online of every item available on the menu, as well as portrait shots of staff and surroundings that personalise the brand. These services, she feels, are "Very important for large and small businesses alike".
She charges by the day, with a set pricing for a whole day of six to eight hours. There are also half day options available, with more flexible pricing options, depending on what is needed by the client. Factors like the amount of products that are required for the shoot are important for her when considering her costs.