Food Photographer Lou Manna on Pixels and Pâté

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All images by Lou Manna. Used with permission

Pasta provides an ideal canvas for food photography. That’s what Lou Manna, a veteran food photographer, told me over Skype recently. With all of its texture and malleability, pasta can be styled in myriad ways, but Manna doesn’t arrange it. He leaves the styling to the chefs and food stylists, and they leave the photographing to him.

Manna’s photographic career has spanned over 30 years from photography, from photo clubs in high school and college to a 15-year stay at the New York Times to the food photography he’s known for now. After transitioning from film, Manna shot mainly with Olympus cameras before moving to a Canon 6D and 60D in recent years.


julius motal lou manna 13While Instagram and food blogging has largely democratized the food photo industry, Manna has found hope in the new Pentax 645Z to further differentiate professionals from the rest, and it linked back to an earlier time in his career.

“I shot Hasselblad while the other guys shot 35mm,” Manna said of the equipment he used at the Times.

The level of detail he could get with medium format was something that 35mm couldn’t quite touch, and that’s what helped him land more feature stories, further building his photographic experience and expertise. Now the 645Z is the contemporary version of what he did years ago, and it’ll help set the work of food photographers above the average iPhone shot.

That’s not to say that phones and nonprofessional cameras should be discounted.

“It’s all about lighting,” Manna said of the key to successful food photography. How you light the subject and where you focus can dramatically affect any given food image. In his food photography workshops, that’s what he teaches his students. It’s possible to take good photographs of food with a smartphone, but that can really only happen with good lighting.

Though, he finds that newcomers to the genre often exhibit similar approaches.

“They shoot too high and too wide,” Manna says of many new food photographers. There’s a pull it seems to get as much in the frame as possible, rather than properly composing the image.

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Manna advocates simplicity. Keep the number of props in the image to the absolute minimum, so that the attention on the food. The viewer should stay with the image, and hopefully get a little hungry.

Lots of the work in this post was shot with the new Pentax 645Z. Manna is also the author of Digital Food Photography, and he has a revised edition in the works. Check out Manna’s work on his website and his blog Digital Food Photography.

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