Interview with a food photographer

Food Photographer Darrin Jenkins in his studio

How did you get started in food photography, and what inspired you to specialise in this niche?

I started way back when I was at art college, studying commercial photography where I had the opportunity to do some paid work. One job was photographing hot dogs that were to be used for cinema ads, those old enough will be able to remember the ads that showed between films and intermissions.

I was one of the few students who was shooting professionals whilst still at college, it was not unknown to see me wheeling photocopiers into the studio to photograph.


Then I did three years of shooting food as well as many other things during my period assisting three photographers.

How did you find your studio?


I was looking to move from a small office I had in Hatfield town centre to somewhere bigger, a photographer I knew mentioned me to another photographer who was looking to share his studio space. After a few years of sharing he offered to sell me the studio so here I am now.

What is the studio like?

It’s an old chapel built in 1863, it has a high ceiling which makes it great for those high up an over the top photos. It consists of two rooms, the main studio and what was the darkroom and then converted to a modern kitchen. I designed the kitchen so that we can use it as a shooting space, the hob arranged so a camera can access both sides and a nice wide area for prep shots. The kitchen is not a bad size being just under 300sq ft. There is also some space out the back where I planted a grape vine, so nice to sit out there and reach up to pick some delicious grapes…

What sets your food photography apart from others in the industry? How would you describe your unique style or approach?

I like to get the lighting and composition right, this may sound a bit obvious but every day I see food photos taken by other professional photographers that are poorly lit, or have bad composition. I also love being creative, thinking up new ways to do the photography, I’m often asked to come up with creative ideas and concepts for the shoot, sometimes I’ll sketch some scamps out to help the client visualise what my ideas are.

Can you share some examples of your favourite food photography projects or clients you've worked with in the past?

I shot a vegan desserts book, the chef & author approached me to do the photography as well as the creative. Each recipe had a styled photo, some which were quite elaborate involving some interesting props such as moss and wild fungi, fake snow etc.. I had great fun coming up with the ideas and photographing the amazing desserts from such a talented chef.

I've also photographed Raspberries, Lemons, Red Cabbage and Apples for Ocado van and lorry livery, if you live in  the UK you have almost certainly seen these vans driven around.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest food photography trends and techniques?

The core skill in food photography has not changed much over the years, it is technology and end use of the images that has. For example shooting digitally has made it much more creative, opening up new possibilities of what we can do, also the photographs are used in different ways such as social media, the same skill is need to shoot but knowledge on software, retouching, colour spaces, resolution and file types are needed to get the best results. Things are also moving more now so animations and video has been another addition to what I can do.


What type of equipment do you use for your food photography, and how do you ensure the best possible results for your clients?

I use the best equipment I can get, shooting with medium format digital is a huge leap up in quality from the DSLR cameras, although the gap is closing. The lighting has to be good too, I use mostly Swiss made Broncolor as the colour consistency and features like very short flash durations are great to have. I also have spotlights, fibre optics, small lights that are great for small subjects, soft boxes and small box lights, as well as a high speed IR flash triggering device to capture those things that happed fast.

Then there is the vast amount of background paper rolls, card, reflectors, pins, wood blocks, rods, clamps and clips, all very useful and great to have at hand when called for, something you don’t tend to find in hire studios.

How do you handle food styling and presentation to make the dishes look their best in photographs?

Some food shoots are simple enough for us to do the styling but if the shoot is more complex and the client wants lost of specific propping then we hire a props stylist. Also when we have to prepare food a home economist is a great person to have, their expert skills on how to prepare the food for photography is invaluable.

Do you work with a team, or do you handle most aspects of the photography process on your own?

Sometimes the team can be just me and the client, and sometimes I hire in an assistant, Stylist, and home economist.  Really depends on what is required by the client and the budget available.

What challenges do you commonly face in food photography, and how do you overcome them?

The challenges tend mostly to be client side, they may not be aware of the requirements of food photography, and bring along food that looks substandard which even the best lighting will never look good. Usually this is sorted out before the shoot so everyone is aware of what it needed.

Sometimes I get a request for a quote with minimal detail, like “I have 20 food dishes that I would like photographed, how much?” It would be foolish of me to quote on that so I ask lots of questions about the product and how they intend to use the images, then I can give a meaningful more accurate quote for the work.

What advice do you have for aspiring food photographers looking to build a successful business in this field?

Learn from other photographers by assisting them, collaborate with stylist and home economists on some personal work. Don’t charge too little otherwise you will find you will not be making enough to pay the bills and give yourself an income, it is very easy to drop your price but much harder to increase it.

Do you have any memorable or interesting stories related to food photography assignments?

We were shooting Ice cream Sundaes for a POS campaign for Harvester restaurants, the client said that they use Angel Delight for the ice-cream for the photo shoots as apparently the real Sundae requires a big machine to make them. So I tested different makes of delight and found that Tesco’s delight was the right colour, so I ordered (online) all the stock that they had, not sure what the delivery driver was thinking about me when he delivers multiple bags of delight to the studio . The home economist had the really hard job of layering it into heavy goblet shaped but she did a grand job and the results look just like the ones in the Harvesters (but better). The agency was St Luke’s London.

Some years ago I used to shoot covers for American B films that were to be released on video in the UK. One was a film about a young band, and for some reason I cannot remember we shot some long haired kids holding guitars laying in a pile of pizzas, pizza boxes and empty beer cans, all shot from about 15 feet above. We went to a local recycling centre to grab bags of empty cans, something I think we would not be allowed to do theses days due the health and safety of trampling over a pile of wast to retrieve the props we needed!

How do you manage your workflow and ensure timely delivery of projects to your clients?

Planning, planning and more planning before the shoot day. That way the shoot goes smother and keeps any problems to a minimum. Post production is booked in so that the client will have a clear idea on when the images will be delivered.

Have you ever faced any difficult or demanding clients in the food industry, and how did you handle those situations?

The key is to lay down the ‘rules’ before the shoot, they must understand any limitations and the time it will take to shoot, otherwise you could have a situation where the client is expecting you to photograph fifty products in a day when realistically four to six would be possible.

I had one client who asked if I could swap a few items around in a shot of dairy products. Not normally a problem, but they asked several days after the shoot had finished even though they had approved the shots on the day! What’s more amazing they couldn’t understand why it was not possible to do so!! Took a lot of explaining but eventually they understood what they were actually  asking for..

Besides photography, do you offer any additional services, such as content creation, to your clients?

As well as stills photography I also do animations and video.


How do you handle the business side of your food photography, such as pricing, contracts, and licensing agreements?

Everything to do with pricing and licensing is agreed before the shoot begins, avoiding possible client / photographer / agency  problems later on. Estimates are sent out with a clear description on the shoot requirements, usage and t&c’s.

What do you enjoy most about being a food photographer, and what keeps you passionate about your work?

Well, I love food for a start and that helps a lot as I am fairly knowledgeable on the subject. Often there is a requirement of speed in food photography as the food can quickly deteriorate under the lights, keeps me on my toes, also catching drips and splashes requires some forward planning, technology and prep, all of which I really enjoy doing.

How do you handle and adapt to the specific challenges of photographing different types of food, such as desserts, drinks, or complex dishes?

Every job is different and needs its own treatment, it is very important to stick to the client’s brief but also aiming to exceed their expectations is part of the process. Complex dishes can be shot in stages, particularly if there are dishes that quickly melt or loose their best, the final image being a composite of several images.

Do you have any claims to fame?


Yes, I have been on Ready Steady Cook as a food photographer, also had a five minute slot showing tricks of food photography on the BBC’s One Show. One of the presenters tasted the fake ice cream thinking it would taste ok, needles to say he pulled a big grimace. 

I've also won 3rd in The International Pink Lady Food Photography competition for my photo of half a Lemon Meringue Pie!

Also had dinner in Marrakech with Richard Branson


Where do you see your food photography business heading in the future, and what are your long-term goals?

I see more animations and video are likely to be asked for. Whilst AI will have a big impact on photography I believe that the consumer will still prefer to see real food, packaging will still require actual photos of the contents on the box. So I think that there are still many more years of food photography to come.


Food photography range of ice cream sundaes
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