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Ever catch yourself pausing to snap photos of your food before you eat? I do — and it drives my friends nuts. But I don’t care, because food photos sell… as stock, as fine art, and as editorial. Good food photos are needed in magazines, newspapers, websites, cook books… all over the world. Bonnie here, again, with another hot photo niche (I’m talking super-hot) that’s approachable for beginners. It also happens to be one of the most fun things you can get paid to do: Food photography. Today we’ll hear from professional food photographer, Jackie Alpers, who spends a lot of time in her kitchen, taking photos for cookbooks (after she prepares the dishes herself, from scratch). Do you have to be a gourmet chef to do this? Nope. But a love of food and a good eye helps. Scroll down for my interview with Jackie to find out what it takes to shoot food and make a nice income at it… INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSIONAL FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER JACKIE ALPERS By Bonnie Caton in Portland, Oregon BONNIE: Jackie, how did you get into food photography? JACKIE: I didn’t originally plan to be a food photographer, but I’ve always been attracted to food as a theme. Food is ripe with symbolism. It really started for me when I was asked to present my portfolio to a room full of designers — in much the same way a picture book would be read to a group of small children. They gasped out loud at the food photos, which embarrassed me a little, because I wasn’t expecting such a strong reaction. They ended up hiring me to travel to another city and shoot a food/travel story about pastries. On my excursion, I photographed cupcakes with pink and purple sprinkles, baby cakes engulfed in a thick layer of shredded coconut, and tiny meticulously-constructed French sweets. I was hooked! BONNIE: What do you think it takes to be a good food photographer? JACKIE: A great food photographer doesn’t have to be immersed in food culture or raised on a farm. They could even be someone who only eats grilled cheese sandwiches and cereal. What’s important is a personal reaction to food that you can express visually. Writers talk a lot about voice. The same is true for photography. A good food photographer uses visual tools such as composition, color, and subject matter to tell a unique story. BONNIE: I’ve heard of food photographers putting shoe polish on a turkey to make it look better, or using glue instead of milk… mashed potatoes instead of ice cream… do you use any inedible items to enhance the look of food? If so, what’s one of the more crazy-sounding things you’ve used to spruce up a food shoot? JACKIE: No, I never do any of that. I think it’s really important to let food be food. When I work on a cookbook, I become a home cook. I shop for my own ingredients and follow the recipe as it’s written, before styling and photographing each dish, much in the same way I would prepare dinner for friends. I want to show the reader what the dish is really supposed to look like. I don’t want them to feel that cooking is an unobtainable goal. If I can cook it, so can they. BONNIE: What kind of lighting do you use to take food photos? JACKIE: I specialize in natural lighting. Diffused sunlight filters in through windows that run the entire length of my studio in Arizona. All of my cookbooks were shot there. I’ve watched the light as it moves across the room and how it changes with the weather and time of day. I let the space dictate the best time to photograph a breakfast dish or even a bowl of chili. The way a place, or even a plate of food, is lit tells a visual story. When I’m shooting on location, I also use available lighting, because I want the viewer to experience the place the way it really is. BONNIE: What do you love most about being a food photographer? JACKIE: I love the interesting dichotomy that comes from working alone as I create my images and as part of a team before and after. I like how my individual creativity works as a wheel within a wheel inside the bigger project. When making a cookbook, for example, there’s the prep phase where the publishing team decides on the concept and brainstorms ideas for images. Then there’s the editing, layout, and marketing phase after the images are created. Seeing the completed project is incredibly rewarding, knowing that we’ve all worked together to make something that entertains and educates people. BONNIE: Do you have any tips on how to keep a constant stream of clients once you get started in food photography? JACKIE: Have a portfolio of your best work online. Be active on Facebook and Twitter. Do research to find the people you think are a good match for your style and contact them directly. BONNIE: What are some tips you’d give to someone who’s interested in getting started in food photography? JACKIE: Market yourself — don’t rely on others to do it for you. Put in all the time you can to master your craft — don’t expect to be a superstar right away. Finally, never give up. BONNIE: Is it possible to get started in food photography without a photography degree? JACKIE: It’s certainly not necessary to have a degree in photography like I do, but it is important to educate yourself as much as possible. With so many evening classes, workshops, online resources, and books available for immediate download, it’s never been easier to learn a new skill. And a simple Internet search can often answer technical questions in an instant. BONNIE: Thanks, Jackie! [Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]

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