Photographer Anders Beier is an absolutely fantastic and inspirational food photographer that has been shooting for many years now. He’s started something called the sustainable food photo competition and has worked with various companies to make it larger and grow the contest out.
Anders is based in Copenhagen, Denmark and started shooting around the time that things were moving from film to digital. He was trained on large format and shoots with Nikon and Hasselblad products right now. In fact, he’s been using Photoshop since version 1.0.
We talked to him about his love of food photography and his thought process when creating images.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Anders: I have always been interested in visual art and creativity. From my upbringing on a small island in the Baltic sea, I’ve been fascinated by the sea, storytelling, and visuals. My father was good at drawing and that’s my first encounter with visual art. I drew a lot as child and even made my own home cinema where I drew stop-motion pictures to cassette tapes with stories. Later, I got into skateboarding and making videos about that, with a VHS camera and editing on 2 VHS machines and an AMIGA 500 for graphics. After 9th grade, I went to the States as an exchange student. I scored well in art class and TV broadcasting..
I attended what Americans would call high school, with majors in design, art, and TV/Media. I moved to the “big city” of Copenhagen and was a “runner” on small movie projects. One of the cinematographers suggested I take still-shots and consider attending photography school. That was the first time I really had a still camera in my hand and I experienced A LOT.
A whole new world opened up to me, where I was making stories with “one chance” – kind of like drawing. In Denmark, there is only around thirty spots for photography students each year, because you have to have paid internship before applying for school. I went to one job interview where I showed my portfolio and got the job. Then, I was able to attend the school of photography.
The funny thing was that I didn’t really think of it as a big deal. But it really changed my mind. Peter Jarvad was my mentor. He had customers like Copenhagen Fashion-Week, L’ôrèal, Helena Rubenstein, Armani (cosmetics) and Peugoet (cars), along with catalog shooting. A really good photographer and a lighting expert, Peter taught me lighting, and thinking/visualizing the picture in every detail before you shoot (film was very expensive). In school, we did experiments with digital photography. Yes that’s how old I am. On the job, we shot on SINAR large format. In school, we had one of the first digital camera backs, and tested Photoshop 1.0
Phoblographer: What made you want to get into food photography?
Anders: The thing is that if you like photography, I think you can’t really get enough of learning, I’m always on the lookout for new techniques so it really doesn’t matter what you photograph, it´s all about telling the story using means available (lighting, background, mood, texture, sharpness, motion and much more) I have always liked the kitchen and it’s in my nature to try to control the uncontrollable and I like whole food, organic, and sustainable living. I like cooking the same way I like photography: experimenting… never using a recipe… going with the flow and the basic knowledge learned by experience. With my background as a car and cosmetics photographer, relying heavily on light and the perfect angle in products, I’ve taken that knowledge and infused it into food photography. There is a tendency to make food photography naturally lit. But, in my opinion, you still need to highlight the important, and make the picture alive. It’s a balance between natural feel and flashing the best.
So, how did I get into food photography? Hmmm. I got a assignment for a recipe book about iced tea from a US company. After several Skype meetings, and finding the right feel, I reached out in my network and found a really good food stylist. We had a blast photographing iced tea recipes and our friendship grew. couple of years later we encountered each other again, and he was approached by a publisher wanting to make a book about local food on this small island called Bornholm. We accepted the project, we found a style, and worked closely together to create a completely unique book.. Casual feel, yet very simplistic, and technical. We wrote the book together and it took us three months to complete the , with 300 pages and more than 1000 pictures. More than half of it was visual. The book won the best photography cookbook in Denmark and is currently top three in the Gourmands World’s Best Photography cookbook award 2016. The winner will be announced at the Gourmand Awards in Yantai, China the 28th of May. We are really looking forward to talking with like-minded geeks within the photo / food industry.
Phoblographer: A lot of your work is very reminiscent of the countryside. Do you feel that living on an isolated island tends to influence this look? Where do you feel most of your inspiration comes from when it comes to food photography?
Anders: As a child I was “forced” to take trips around the island (100 km in diameter – 60 miles) each weekend with my parents and we as a family spend a lot of time fishing, walking, sailing, and using my imagination playing with rocks, sticks, and climbing trees, swimming, diving. So I have great memories in the nature. There comes a time where the island populated by 38.000 just is too small, I lived in Copenhagen for 10 years, and yes, party time, people, drinking beer with agency people, and always selling yourself got very tiresome for me.
So I really needed to get away – and a visit to the island where I met some creative people in the same position as me, we started an ad agency serving the local community with ads, films, photos. Then I grew and then serving the local wasn’t enough, I knew I had the talent so I started reaching out, and that is hard from a remote island, REALLY hard. Now with hard work, and help from Agency Access (full service agency for photographers ) to build my portfolio things are really catching on. And most of all I have found my style, in cohering with Bornholm which is the name of the island.
So I do find inspiration here, and it sure does influence my work as a food photographer at the same time the food itself is also taken into consideration. In some ways it’s the core of my style. Scandinavian chefs are doing great in world and on Bornholm there is rich traditions and great producers of food and Bornholm also just received a Michelin Star for one of the great restaurants here.
Phoblographer: While some of your work resembles the homely look that you’d see in something like “Cooked” on Netflix, you’ve got other work that is very studio in design but not in appearance like your photos of blueberries falling with a drink. Where does your vision typically come from with that and how do you even begin to think about a scene like that?
Anders: Yes its very true that I do have a more technical interest in pictures. That is the cosmetic photographer in me, and I really try to mix these two worlds. The very technical photography and my playful way of solving tasks has always been one of my strengths.
In the concrete case of the blueberry shot it was a part of a large series of recipe shots and the ad-agency gave me the assignment to interpret the ingredients and adding my Scandinavian style. The food stylist and I put a lot of effort in preparing the shots, the feel, the look and a continuous style throughout the pictures. I´ve always been fascinated by water/reflections and for me it’s about telling the story, together with making the picture easy to “read” Our initial thought was to make a simplistic shot of the iced tea in water reflection but it needed an element of surprise and adding the blueberries was and ingredient.
I’m also very influenced by surrealism (Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Wilhelm Freddie) and postmodernism especially with films from Luc Besson, The Big Blue, Leon, and Films by Quentin Tarantino. They represent a commercial like aesthetic in pictures along with telling outrageous stories.
Phoblographer: Food photography in many ways is a psychology game; and in today’s society we’re bombarded by many food photos all across the web. So how do you go about making your work stand out? We know that a lot of the business of photography is people work, but how do you try to make your images speak for themselves?
Anders: I have been fortunate to have some great influences in my life and when it comes down to hard facts it’s all about believing in yourself to make the right choices along the path. Inspiration can be found everywhere and imitating other people’s work is OK, but that will not make you stand out from the crowd. Find our own style, experiment, play, fail, succeed, seek knowledge, find inspiration, but always do your own interpretations.
Phoblographer: What do you feel makes an image signaturely yours? What processes do you typically go through to ensure that someone says “That’s an Anders?”
Anders: On my website it says : His images are simplistic, graphic and textural. They have a genuine pureness which allow the viewer to taste and feel the subject. Anders Nordic/Scandinavian background and connection to the earth is shown in the color pallets used. His work can be seen in advertising campaigns to editorial stories.
And I think that pretty much sums it up.
I don’t have a lightroom “Anders” setting that’s way too late in the process for me. I visually imagine in my mind and take all the parameters; product, brand, style, background, feel and setting. Then i deal with lighting and highlighting the important, then camera settings, and I will in most cases finish the picture in lightroom and photoshop, I’m not a fan of oversaturated, unreal photoshopping, but a real down to earthly look is what i go for.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use.
Anders: I’m not a gear freak, but that being said i appreciate quality. When I really started getting business serious I bought a complete digital Hasselblad with 35mm, 80mm, 50-130mm, and 200 mm polaroid filters and macro converters, along with profoto lighting equipment one for location/battery and one for studio. It just works. For light travel a have a Nikon D800E. One thing really dislike is soft boxes. It is the most boring light ever. I always use regular flash head the a BIG frost filter. That way you are able to shape the light, roundness, and the exact amount of light. (I’m still using a lightmeter) On my wishlist at the moment is Hasselblad h6d or PhaseOne 100MP the new flash-system from Profoto, just need the right lottery ticket.
Phoblographer: How do you think lighting sets the mood in food photography?
Anders: The light is very, very important, also in food photography. But finding the balance between the correct amount of ambient light and flash is the really tricky part. I always bring tons of different mirrors, silver reflectors, black/white carton and much more.. In most cases I always find the natural light in whatever the conditions may be to be my main light source, take that into consideration and then supplementing with flash and reflectors.
Phoblographer: Where do you want your business to be in one year and how do you plan on getting there?
Anders: In one year from now, my business have become more international. I have found the right agent to represent me. Then all the things I’ve done this past year will pay off – I wrote the book “Bornholm – people, fools and foodies”, and it’s currently top 3 in the Gourmand World´s best photography cookbook award, hopefully the trip to the award show in Yantai, China will pan out with work, new connections, and a first prize. I’m really focused on getting new contacts and to market my style to other parts of the world.
I’ve started a sustainable food photo competition, its the first year running but through hard work we have attracted some amazing judges like :
Alex Grossman; Bon Appetit
Megan Re; food network
Jennifer Kilberg; Agency Access
Fredrika Stjärne; food and wine
Ditte Isager; photographer.
And great sponsors such as
The overall theme is Sustainable food, and local food. I hope to build this to be the biggest food photography competition worldwide. For photographers there is a great chance to make a statement and to get noticed, the winners will get their picture in Njord magazine, featured with Phase One, access to a great database of creatives worldwide through Agency Access, featured on Wetransfer and on our travelling exhibition.