Jeff Wasserman: Creating Delectable Stock Food Photography

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All images by Jeff Wasserman. Used with permission.

Photographer Jeff Wasserman’s day job is being the Photography and Multimedia Editor for the Canadian newspaper the National Post. When he’s not sorting through the images of other photographers, he is a stock food photographer represented by Stocksy United.

Jeff started out as a commercial and wedding photographer then moved over to photojournalism where he later climbed the ladder to a desk job. The problem: Jeff missed shooting daily. “Food photography proved to be a great creative outlet for me,” Jeff says.

So it only makes sense that he combined it with his passion for cooking.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Jeff: I have been involved with photography most of my life. My brother bought a Pentax camera and a darkroom kit when we were teenagers. He quickly lost interest in it, and I picked it up and never looked back. I eventually began shooting weddings and then commercial assignments. A friend working as a photojournalist convinced me to give photojournalism a try and I have never looked back!

Phoblographer: What made you get into food photography?

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Jeff: Cooking has always been a passion of mine, even before photography. When my photojournalism career moved to an inside management position, I eventually found myself missing the creative outlet of daily shooting and felt I was getting out of touch with hands-on photography. I realized stock photography would be a way back into shooting, since I could schedule shoots to fit my free time.

At first, I shot very contrived lifestyle photos, which I now look back on with some embarrassment. I did not really understand what modern stock photography entailed. Retrenching a couple of years ago, I focused on food photography, and was fortunate to receive an invitation to Stocksy United, a stock photography coop founded by Bruce Livingston and Brianna Wettlaufer (who also founded iStock Photos).

At Stocky, creativity and individual styles are nurtured, and I have been able to grow with the agency. It is a great agency to be working with. As well, I am a Getty Images contributor, where I have rights managed content.

Phoblographer: As the Photo and Multimedia Editor for the National Post, do you feel that any of the work that you see inspired you or influenced you in any way at all?

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Jeff: I am exposed to thousands of incredible images every day from all over the world. The influence this has on me cannot be understated. It opens your eyes to the breadth of humanity and conditions, both bad and good. I am continually inspired by the drama captured in daily life and conflict, photographers’ powerful use of light, timing and perseverance.

It’s almost always a case of tons of preparation and a bit of luck. (Ever wonder why the same photographers seem to always be lucky?) Food photography, like most good photography, requires a lot of thought and planning before you pick up a skillet or camera.

Phoblographer: Food is very personal to each and every different ethnicity but for some odd reason food photography seems to be very universal in that the way images are perceived are all pretty much the same with the way that they look like a dinner table with natural window light. Why do you feel this is?

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Jeff: For years food was styled and photographed in a very artificial manner. It still is to some extent, mostly for food packaging art. People grew tired of looking at food photos that did not represent any type of real lifestyle and grew wise to the tricks of plumped up, shellacked food that did not represent what they were eating. Styles have now moved to the more realistic settings of dinner tables that people can relate to. I hate to use the work authentic – but this is what I strive for, because people are drawn in by it. Perhaps “contrived-authentic” would be closer to the truth.

Food bloggers really led the way to opening up food photography to a more spontaneous style. As people became accustomed to seeing Instagram photos of food, they began to expect this casually styled photography from pros as well.

Phoblographer: Where do you get the inspiration and creative ideas for your images?

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Jeff: I read a ton of magazines and newspapers every month and as well as viewing a ton of online content. Art, film and TV are also in the mix. Keeping up on current trends is very important. On top of that, I view several thousand news and lifestyle photos every workday. Ideas come from all these sources as well as from just walking around the city, shopping and observing daily life. Sometimes ideas come in the middle of the night and I send myself a quick email to remind me. I am a big believer in lists and always have lists of ideas for shoots.

Phoblographer: Not only do you shoot, but you also style your own images. What are some of the most common things you do to make the food look better?

Jeff: Mostly I use lighting and arrangement to enhance the food. Getting the proper highlights and shadows, is what makes the food come alive. I use very little other enhancement, aside for the occasional brush of olive oil to increase the glisten factor and a light water spray on some fresh fruit and vegetables. I find the more you meddle with the food, the more artificial the food looks.

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Phoblographer: Considering that you also style your own photos, what do you think is the biggest discovery that you’ve made in the past year is when it comes to styling images?

Jeff: Styling is incredibly difficult and it’s really a separate profession from photography. I am slowly learning to be a better stylist. I think most people don’t realize just how important the styling of a food shoot is and just how much meticulous work and creativity goes into the styling.

Phoblographer: What gear do you use and how do you light your images?

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Jeff: I use Nikon D800e bodies and have a wide variety of Nikon lenses, but my go-to lens is the Nikon 105mm f2.8. If I am shooting overhead and want a lot of texture detail I will use the 24-70 2.8 zoom, since this gives me a lot of cropping control with the zoom. If I am looking for a narrow depth of field, I always use prime lenses, which are sharper wide open. For lighting I use Elinchrom D-Lite strobes with various soft boxes and grids.

I mostly use one head aimed through a large, Westcott two-stop white flat to achieve a more natural light source and use a lot of black and white cards and reflectors and flats to control the light. As well, I use a Camranger which transmits a basic jpeg to my iPad so I can better view the image, which allows me to work on the composition and styling.

I can also use it to remote focus and fire the camera if I have it mounted in a difficult to view place, such as above the set. Occasionally, I do shoot available light, but I like the predictability of strobe lighting, and given my shooting schedule I cannot depend on sunlight to do the trick for me.

Phoblographer: Where do you see yourself as a photographer in the next year, and do you plan on getting to that stage?

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Jeff: I am very lucky to have two great careers that I love. My work at the National Post is both demanding and rewarding and will continue to be the main focus of my working life. Food photography is really like therapy for me. There is no “breaking news” in food photography! My goal for next year is to produce larger shoots involving people and food, concentrating more on the social aspect of food and drink. This will require some tricky time management on my part, and likely the help of an assistant and perhaps a stylist or chef.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

STOP! This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Wasserman. No use permitted without express permission. Contact jrwasserman@gmail.com for further information.

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