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Photographer Cara Livermore on How to Shoot Food for Hipsters

by Chris Gampat on 07/24/2013

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All images by Cara Livermore

Nom nom nom nom nom nom nom.

Uhhh, we mean: we stumbled on the blog of Cara and Bob–the masterminds behind the popular Hipster Food blog and  Chickpea magazine. It’s about vegan food; and it’s accompanied by some very fantastic photography that is bound to get you hungry no matter what your foodie preferences are. The duo utilized one of the best modern tools for marketing yourself as a photographer: Tumblr. Utilizing the community’s heavy emphasis on imagery combined with its simple shareability via its dashboard, they were able to tap into foodies and liberal minded creatives everywhere.

But of course, no food blog is complete without excellent imagery. So we talked to Cara about how she gets the images that she does and about running the community.

Phoblographer: You guys have obviously utilized the power of Tumblr’s emphasis on images. Tell us the story of how you guys built the Hipster Food blog.

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Cara: Before starting the blog, we weren’t vegan and had never cooked before. (Beyond cookies & pasta.) We started it when we moved into our first apartment alone together, with a fresh pantry and some free time on our hands. It was meant to be a place of learning how to eat and cook vegan food. I posted at least once a day for the first few months, answered every question and comment given to us, and eventually wrote a more extensive (but still amateurish) “how to go vegan” guide. Our commitment to it got people’s attention and from there both my photography skills and our readership have grown ever since.

Phoblographer: Something that I’ve always said is that in the creative industry, your network is everything. You’re young, just like me. How important do you think it is to go out there, collaborate, and work with others to build off of one another?

Cara: We worked alone for a long time, but we knew with our big readership there had to be more quality content all around us. That’s the biggest reason we started Chickpea, our vegan quarterly magazine, and something we both spend most of our days working on now. Collaboration is incredibly powerful, and can bring out some of the best content possible, both on the web and in real life. Chickpea is powered by contributors working together to elevate all of our work, and brings us closer together.

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Phoblographer: Tell us about the photography: how do you get inspired to create and shoot the images that you take?

Cara: After college I was burnt out on creative work–at the time it was what I got my degree in, illustration. I took all of my boredom and frustration out on my camera instead. I absorbed all kinds of photography from my favorite blogs and books, especially cookbooks and magazines. I took in other forms of work also, like zines, writing, old TV, and more. Out of thousands of images I picked up on what worked, what didn’t, what styles I liked best, and cobbled together what my “style” is now.

Phoblographer: What’s in your gear bag?

Cara: I know I’ll get heckled for this, but I hate “gear” and would rather work with the least amount of equipment possible. I have a Nikon D5000 (it’s light) with a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor prime lens and a very old Tamron 28-105mm zoom lens that I only use when necessary. I also have a Pentax ME SLR with an almost identical lens to my Nikon. I have a set of toy Diana lenses that I use to blow off steam, when a shoot just isn’t working. Never underestimate a fun $20 lens to boost productivity!

Phoblographer: Natural light or artificial meant to look natural? Why?

Cara: I use all natural light, but I know artificial works for most people. I think it’s mostly that I love waking up in the morning to shoot, and there’s just amazing light at that time of day. Plus, I overthink the heck out of proper lighting setups. I like to keep things in the moment, or I spin my wheels to much and get nothing done.

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Phoblographer: I’m a former vegan, and I know what it’s like to get criticized by meat eaters. How do you deal with trolls in your community?

Cara: Trolls, whether they’re meat-eaters or not, aren’t that big of a concern of mine. Commenters are more bizarre/laughable to me now; at the beginning I took it really personally. People are unnecessarily rough online, and especially tone can be taken the wrong way in text. I just imagine how our conversation would go in real life (probably better) and don’t take it too seriously.

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Phoblographer: How important do you think Instagram is in the foodie community?

Cara: I think it’s really important, especially for those in niche groups/specialty diets. I get entertainment, inspiration, and support (directly or indirectly) from all the people I follow on Instagram. A lot of former tumblr bloggers are on there now, too, as it’s really easy to post and have a conversation. It shows other budding cooks/vegans that it’s easy to find food at restaurants, pack a lunch, or create a feast for a group, because your friends are doing it too. I know a lot of photographers hate Instagram, but I think it’s showing that powerful images can really affect others, and it makes it easier than ever to create those powerful images.

Phoblographer: There has to be an entire process involving timing to make the food look as wonderful as it does, right? Tell us about your typical process from the concept, shooting, editing, etc. It also looks like you’re using VSCO Film tools, no?

Cara: It’s definitely a process, especially for the magazine! For the spring issue, we made and shot six elaborate cake scenes in one day. For the summer issue I was in this terrifying cycle of grocery shopping–>overnight prep–>cook–>shoot–>clean–>edit–>grocery shopping for two weeks straight. Luckily for hipsterfood it’s much simpler.

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While things are boiling/chilling/baking/etc., I set up the shooting space. I’ll put together backgrounds, plates, utensils, and other props until I think they look just right. I’ll take a few test shots (without the food itself) to see if the styling works and if the lighting/camera settings are all good. I’ll finish up making the food, usually undercooking it a bit to keep it fresh, and shoot until it’s perfect, or as close to perfect as possible.

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Editing used to take a lot longer when I was still learning how to light things properly with natural light. I used to use my own actions and Sara Lynn Paige’s Reminisce action set, and they worked really well. I just got the VSCO tools about a month ago, and haven’t had a lot of time to try it out, but I love it so far. Very nice film emulation – my roommates couldn’t even tell the difference between my Pentax film shots and Nikon VSCO shots.

Phoblographer: Do you feel that there is often a better season to shoot than others?

Cara: I love going outside to shoot, so I love shooting in the fall. The grey overcast skies, beautiful temperature, and dulled colors are very choice to work with. The dead of winter is nice too, though, as the huge drifts of snow (higher than the windows!) give off a really dramatic light inside.

Phoblographer: Where do you go to get your produce?

Cara: I have a CSA share in the spring/summer that gets me a lot of nice fresh food. We’re also lucky enough to live not two minutes away from one of the best farmer’s markets in America (the Rochester Public Market), so we can get homegrown foods even in the dead of winter. (Yes, we go out to shop in blizzards for butternut squash and bulk onions.) We have a few Wegmans within a 15 minute drive, and we have a garden and hydroponics, so we’re pretty well stocked.

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