There’s nothing like a good, holiday food porn binge. It’s a fantastic place to find inspiration for your own culinary creations, and a chance to marvel at the prowess of both chef and photographer, while you moan in teased ecstasy. Because, as many of us have come to realize, photographing food is not such a simple DIY business. Your dish might be perfectly arranged, colorfully garnished, masterfully cooked—but when you send your friends photos, everything looks like dull grits and cold slop. It takes a special kind of photographer to really pull off food portraiture, to bring the personality out of that blueberry cobbler, or gravey-slathered roast.
It takes someone like Andrew Scrivani.
His work is frequently featured in the New York Times, he’s contributed to multiple cookbooks, his Instagram has 52,000 followers—and Scrrivani is heady about his art. He takes the craft he’s dedicated himself to very seriously. And dammit if he isn’t one of the best in the business! Browse his galleries online and try not drool all over your keyboard.
How did you get into food photography?
I was working part time as an assignment photographer shooting occasional news stories for the NY Times as a freelancer. A few of these stories were with the Dining section as it was then called. As they became more familiar with me they asked if I could cook and shoot a simple dish for a New Year’s Day hangover remedy. It was a Chinese Congee or rice porridge. I did a good enough job and they asked me to do more cook and shoot assignments. This led to the building of my business as a food photographer. Opportunity knocked and I was in the right place at the right time with the right set of skills.
What are some of your favorite "tricks of the trade" or tips for aspiring food photographers?
I don’t particularly like the idea that there are tricks or tips that can make an ordinary artist stand out. I like to think of it as “best practices” applied to a lot of hard work, study and practice. One key element that I have been teaching lately is understanding your own food story as a starting point to being a good food storyteller. We all have intimate feelings and memories that involve food and I have been encouraging photographers to tap into those emotions…both good and bad…in order to be in touch with how powerful and personal food stories can be. Another key piece is trying to find a style that is your own. This process begins with being honest about what you like and what your intentions are as a photographer. Ask yourself “why” with every choice and if you don't have a good answer…try to understand your own thought process. Intellectualize every choice.
How do you avoid drooling all over the food throughout your entire photo shoot?
I try to detach from the food as something I want to eat during a shoot. I start by going back to the basics of light, shadow, shape, color and try to build an interesting image. I also get very focused when I work and tend not to eat…as counterintuitive as that sounds. Once we are done though…the food does not last long.
Do you have a favorite cuisine/food to photograph?
I really enjoy shooting desserts of all kinds. I like to bake and I love the process of making bread and pastry as visual elements. Hands kneading or rolling dough is always compelling for me as I remember my grandmother making desserts and breads when I was a kid. Also, people usually attach fond memories to desserts and those pictures tend to be real people pleasers.
What is the most challenging food to photograph in a flattering way?/Why?
Dark colored foods can be very difficult to make look delicious. Browns and dark greens really eat up the light and details seem to get lost in the shadows and the image goes flat. Considering how many foods are both of these colors it really takes some craft (and a really good food stylist) to make them look appetizing. Creating contrast by breaking up dark colors with lighter ones…like garnish in a brown soup…or changing your angle to pick up spectral highlights off a steak can be essential to making those dark, drab or bland looking foods stand out.
How do you make something as simple as a plate of food look so moody, deep and expressive?
Lighting… it’s really all about the lighting. By employing a single light source and crafting and shaping the light to be what I want really helps create a mood that was inspired by traditional still life painting. Also, by both creating depth with the use of selective focus as well as practically setting up shots that have considerable actual depth in the frame…like letting the image trail into a dark empty space…allows the image to feel three dimensional.
Why do you think you're drawn to this kind of photography?
My only real artistic experience with food imagery was by looking at paintings in museums. I was not a food magazine reader and I didn’t cook from cookbooks so I was sort of starting with my impressions from looking at paintings by Caravaggio and Vermeer. When I started to make food images I kept trying to recreate the look and feel of that lighting. My style emanates from that starting point.
Is there anything else you'd like me to add in the article about you or your work, specifically?
Photography has been an amazing starting point for me and has led me down many other artistic paths. Currently, I am producing and co-hosting a podcast with my great friend Chef John from YouTube fame, producing films with Boro 5 Pictures, running a 15-week Mentorship for aspiring food photographers on Speakeasy.Com and finally producing and starring in a series of webinars for Adobe Stock to encourage photographers to become engaged in the stock photography business.
I want aspiring photographers to spend time not only developing their skills and style but also understanding what artistic thinking is and can lead too. The instinct to create has led me down so many amazing paths and it is really because I have kept my mind open to different forms of expression and outlet. I know I have been fortunate and I have worked at my craft and business to get here but if someone would have told me that this is where I would have ended up 20 years ago…I would have thought they were from Mars. Keep working and learning.