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Interview with Rachel Korinek, Food Photographer

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Seasonal Paleo and gluten free recipes 

Interview with Rachel Korinek, Food Photographer

Laura | Lau Sunday cooks

Today, Lau Sunday cooks turns 2 years in age ! What started off as a mere food blog focused on sharing my new Paleo lifestyle and gluten free recipes, has become, above all, my food photography journey and the best showcase for my work.

My love for food photography came at a time when I craved to find a way to explore my creativity, and it was love at first sight. One day, wondering around the Internet, I came across a food photo taken by the very talented food photographer, Rachel Korinek and I quickly got lost in her blog; Two Loves.  Her bright and clean photography captivated me and somehow, she re-awakened the creative side of me and made me dust off my old camera and start photograph. This is how, two months later today, I started Lau Sunday cooks and began my most satisfying creative journey.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of Lau Sunday cooks than sharing with you the interview I had a few days ago with Rachel Korinek! Besides a fantastic professional food photographer, Rachel spreads inspiration and good vibes on her blog Two Loves Studio to those food photographers who aim to take the next step in their food photography journey.

Through my blog, my mission is to give you knowledge and techniques to succeed in your photography journey beyond a basic level. To feed you with inspiration, motivation, comfort and courage from my journey as a professional photographer. - Rachel Korionek

Now, grab a cuppa and enjoy this interview about her work and her techniques, and of course it goes without saying that I am hugely grateful to Rachel for taking time out to share her passion for food photography here on my blog.

1. How did you get started in photography?

I've always enjoyed photography and my parents gave me a digital camera when I was growing up so my sister and I could take photos on our family holidays.

When I was in high school I enjoyed creating mixed media art, but unfortunately I turned away from my art subject to take others that were going to be me good grades to get into university.

It wasn't until I was 25 that my love for photography and art came back when I met my now husband, Matt.

He found me Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin in a little bookshop in Tasmania and I was hooked!

2. You grew up in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales in Australia, you hiked the Himalayas and travelled the world for 18 months. I have to say I'm quite impressed! Is your love for nature and the places you have visited what influences your photography?

I’m really lucking to have grown up in such a beautiful part of the world! The Blue Mountains is filled with quirky artists and anything goes really. I definitely think my upbringing shaped how I see the world and hence how I approach photography, just as I think that future experiences will further shape how I create images.

3. What's your initial process and thoughts when you create a story or conceptualise an image of food?

Usually I have a brief or a concept, even for personal work. I match the food with the props to the story that I am trying to create.

You get better over time at working out what things will work and what wont work, but you need to be flexible because sometimes they won’t match and you need to start again.

I’d like to say that there is a magical theory I have, but really I just conceptualise composition and feel so that it matches my style of bold and clean.

Sometimes I see an image in my head randomly and I take notes on that, evolve the idea and eventually shoot it. It doesn't always translate the exact way I pictured in my head, but usually I get something cool.

4. How many shots does it take you, generally, to get the perfect shot that you’re looking for? 

Generally? It’s hard to say as each job is different, but in the hundreds.

When shooting editorial, personal or blog work and even some client work I will usually take between 200-500 shots and really explore lots of angles.

I haven’t shot lots of commercial or advertising campaigns, but from my experience professionals can take hours to shoot 5 shots as there are many people involved in the decision making processes that each shot has to be assessed carefully and sometimes but teams offsite which can add to the time it takes and how many shots get taken.

It’s nice to have options too. If a client comes back looking for something slightly different, you have the shots to work through to try and fulfil their request.

Part of being a photographer is to weed out the hero images, and I usually get 12-25 from around 200-300 images, if I'm lucky. 

5. What's your favourite sort of food to shoot? and what food do you struggle to shoot most? 

I’d say brown foods are always hard! No matter what you do to them. Dishes like lasagna and casseroles aren't particularly fun if I have to style them on my own.

I like shapes in food more than certain types of food if that makes sense? I have a fascination with circles, so I guess I could say that cakes would be my favourite things to shoot.

Any dish with multiple lays is always fun too. The possibilities are endless and I think that is when the magic really happens. 

6. Do you eat or, at least, try all food you shoot? 

Generally no. I hardly eat at all when I am on set and I usually don’t even feel hungry actually. I approach it as I am there to execute a result and get very focused on the task at hand. (Hopefully) I get carried away with the work and so it doesn't even cross my mind.

I will however once the shoot is done try some of the left overs that weren't shot. The food on set I find, can be sitting out too long or has had fingers touching it, styling tricks done to or its undercooked that you wouldn't dare to eat it anyway!

7. We can very often hear from photographers "Natural light is the best for food and will only use natural light". How much do you agree with this statement on basis of your experience shooting with artificial lighting? 

Natural light is beautiful there is no doubt about that, but I do think this sentence is misconstrued and therefore limits people’s growth into photography.

When we first learn photography, everyone will tell you that natural light is best and only use natural light, we take that as gospel. What I think people are trying to tell new photographers is to choose natural light over say the lights in your kitchen or dinning room. To find natural light if your stuck in a room with no windows and only fluorescent lighting. Perhaps we should replace ‘only’ with find. ‘Find natural light’ instead of ‘only use natural light’.

Learning how to capture and manipulate natural light is the first lesson of being a good photographer, for sure and is totally invaluable. However, to be a top photographer you’ll also need to know how to use artificial lighting just as well as natural light.

Professionals who shoot large campaigns will mostly shoot artificial, the reason being that it takes days to execute their briefs and the natural light couldn’t possible be consistent over those shoot days. They are also usually dealing with so many more elements that need to be controlled, for example splash photography and composites that to deal with ever changing natural light on top of that would be near impossible.

Even if we take a step down from that and just look at the best food magazines in the world, most of those shots would be done with a mix of natural and artificial light.

I don’t think it is necessary to expect that all photographers should be proficient in artificial light, but if you are feeling like you've hit a wall in your creativity then it’s a great option to explore.

8. What is your post-production process? 

I usually shoot tethered and edit images in Lightroom first, then sometimes in Photoshop depending on what needs to be done.

I love post processing, I think it is the best part. Really taking an image and making it shine and reach its full potential.

Ansel Adams once said, ‘editing photos isn't a crutch, it’s a way to extract what you were looking for to begin with’. I love approaching post processing like this. There is so much you can do, and I am not talking about Photoshop falsities to make a better image. Just simple things like the power of a goo crop, highlight and areas of contrast.

Sometimes I will even edit old images from new things I have learned.

Editing is powerful and I don’t think there can be enough emphasis on learning the full power of the programs and tools we so have readily available these days. 

9. Do you do both studio and location work? If so, do you bring a different approach to each?

Yes. I guess I ‘d approach it with a ‘prepare for the best, expect the worst’ kind of attitude. Even if it is a place that I know. Getting complacent can get you into trouble.

Photography is about problem solving so I’d always approach every shoot with that mentality.

I usually have more concerns for on location shoots as they don’t always have the best lighting or even space to work in. Studios I feel a little more relaxed as they do have good lighting, space to set up lighting and more resources to tackle issues that might arise, generally speaking.

I think flexibility is key. Being able to communicate what isn't working and what back up plans you might need to go to in order to get the shot. 

10. When I found out you photographed Lizzy Marsh’s first Paleo cookbook, I didn't take too long to order my copy. How was your experience shooting your first ever front to back cookbook ? Can working with chefs be challenging? 

Paleo cookbook shot by Rachel Korinek.

It wasn't glamorous that’s for sure! We had to shoot 55 recipes in 5 weeks with a budget of $500 for everything. Now that sounds like a good story!

We basically only used props we had, borrowed a few for nothing, we used base ingredients we had in our kitchens and shot dishes, keeping left overs for our meals during the week. That way we could supplement the budget with some of our own cash.
We did everything in my apartment and white backgrounds (mostly). It was a lot of work and the space and inspiration got tired very quickly.

 

I love the saying:

Anyone who isn't embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn't learning enough” ~ Alain de Botton

and I am for sure embarrassed by that book as it is what really propelled me into another level. The problems you have to solve, and the creativity you have to find to shoot that many recipes in such a short space of time on $500! I really felt a shift in my work after that book and I am very grateful I had the opportunity to do it.

This was also a first for the design team and there was no real art direction so we learned a lot for the consecutive editions about creating a consistent style and flow of images throughout the book.

Lizzy was a dream to work with and is one of the greatest, humblest and real people I’ve ever met. I think it depends on the personality of the people you work with. Not all chefs or content owners will be difficult because it is their project, but some will.

You've just got to remember you’re working as a team for a common goal, so support one another and you’ll create amazing work. 

11. Your website, Two Loves Studio started like a food blog in 2012 and in the past two years it has evolved into a creative space for those photographers who aim to grow professionally and personally. What did it lead you to leave in the background your apron and the kitchen utensils to start sharing your photography knowledge, techniques and tips? 

I am so pleased that you asked this question!

My first ever blog was a place where I shared my hobbies and the things that made me happy. Out of those things, it was photographing food that me the most excited. Like fire in the belly. So I then started a new blog called ‘Two Loves’ and shared recipes and food photography. I hated it and couldn’t understand why this thing I loved didn’t make me happy.

It took me years to figure it out and 4 years later it was because I don’t actually enjoy recipe creating and food blogging. I'm good at cooking, but tie me down to quantities to make a recipe and you’ll unleash a very cranky side of me. In my style of cooking, I read a few recipes then combine them. Half of the time it works, the other half not.

I guess I felt compelled to have a food blog. It is still expected in some ways that when you see a photo of food, you’ll be able to get the recipe. I didn't know what else to do! One day I wrote a post about making pizza and share some photos, which is the main reason I blog. I got roasted on the blog and social media for not providing people with a free recipe on, my blog! People were really nasty towards me, someone they’d never met. They even had the nerve to email me and tell me I had no right to post a photo without a recipe. No right?

That’s really when things shifted for me and although it took me a while to get started in the new direction, I really feel like this is my calling.

As I am self-taught, in my own journey I found that there is a wealth of resources for beginners but not for those wanting to move into intermediate or experts. I therefore wanted to share what I was learning.

Being a full time creative is much more of a mind struggle than I thought. With the access to peoples lives on the internet and ease of social media, there is this tendency for people to make their lives much more glamorous than they really are, (which is why I left Facebook for a few years). I wanted to be real with people, share the struggles as it is something we all go through, even the best photographers in the world when through the same thing.

Two Loves is now Two Loves Studio. I want it to be a community, a place where people are connected by their journey into photography. To share themselves, their triumphs and failures. To push each other to be better and not give up.

12. When I read your blog posts, I always feel so overcome by your positive and inspiring words that for at least two days I'm on high. Is it easy for you to keep yourself motivated or do you also suffer of creative blockages? 

Right now I have big goals I want to achieve and nothing worth doing is easy. I have a lot of obstacles to overcome, just like we all do. I just try my best to take one step at a time. Motivation for me is hard sometimes and I currently feel like I have creative blocks/ creative lows daily.

These are the things I feel should be shared. It needs to be an even and realistic mix of triumphs and failures because that is the reality of this business. An uneven skew of only triumphs can risk those of us who are still new to the journey feeling not good enough, or like we don’t belong and quitting.
Whether you are a beginner or a top professional we all have the same mind battles, it’s just some of us have had more practice working through it.

I real A LOT. Read a lot of what other artists and thought leaders have to say on creating amazing things in life, I think they are what keeps me motivated, so I take those thoughts/quotes and share them with the intention of helping others just like it did for me.

13. Breaking into food photography business can be very difficult as clients hire you based on your previous work and experience. What was your first commissioned work and how did you approach it? 

I was actually really lucky in this respect. A creative agency found me on Pinterest and I just happened to be located in the same suburb as them. They liked the work I had already done, which was all personal work.
Because they wanted the style I was already creating, I didn't need to show I had been paid for the work, because I had already executed it.

It’s like the chicken or the egg. You can’t wait to build a portfolio or body of work through paid commissions. The most rewarding images always come from personal work anyway, so create what you want to create, build a body of work that way and the people who want that style will hire you.
They may not find you out of the blue like happened to me, but the main thing is that if you can execute your style, I don’t think you need experience in paid work.

My very first paid job as a photographer was in event photography and I was referred to by friend. I hadn't worked in this capacity, but I gave it a go. The client wasn't particularly happy and I ended up taking only half of the commission because she wasn't happy with the images for a number of reasons. I learned a lot from that experience and it has never happened again.

The worst thing that can happen is that you lose the fee, so it is worth taking a job so you can build skills.

14. Nowadays, there are several strategies and tools to get your work seen out and get the chance to be hired. What advices would you give to those aspiring food photographers who want to sell their photography?

This is a question I am almost getting asked daily from my readers.

I want to speak authentically to my journey into food photography and not pretend I am something I am not. Right now, I don’t know I have all the answers as I am still trying to figure that out myself.

I've read a lot on this subject, I've spoken with professionals and creative agencies on how to get more clients. It is something I surely want to share on my blog, but I feel I have to walk the walk myself before I talk the talk. It’s definitely not that I want to keep this a secret because I want all the work, no. There is enough work for everyone, we are all different. For me it comes down to being authentic on what I am creating and sharing at TLS.

What I will say though is don’t want for those skills to come to you. Go out there are get them. That may not be a paid job, but the people who are willing to through themselves out there at the risk of being told ‘no’ will go a longer way than those who wait for those jobs to present themselves. I am not naturally one of those people who can do this, so it is something I am going to have to be OK with and just do it.

15.There are photographers who capture the emotion, essence and prettiness of each food they photograph. Do you have to be born with that gift or is it something that you can achieve with lots of practice and hard work?  

All humans just are creative, by definition. If you were born human, then you are creative. What you will be creative in is really subjective.

Our society has falsely put this idea that creativity is only for those engaged in the arts, which is simply not true. Managers, entrepreneurs, teachings, adventurers, parents are all creative in different ways.

Our ability to capture images, emotions, stories is based on our experience with the world, our values and a lot of practice and hard work.

I wasn’t born knowing how to operate a camera, manipulate food or compose an image. I learned that. No one ever picks up a camera for the first time and is incredible. It takes practice, and 10,000+ photos for your style to appear.

I’d say that what you do need is a passion or love for your craft, and also a belief that you have something to offer that no one else does, because you do.

16. I have to confess sometimes when I see an image taken by one of my favourite photographers, I think; This is pretty darn good! I wish I’d had shot this photo. Have you ever felt the same thing? 

All the time!

I know they say don’t compare yourself to others, but it is so easy to do. There is always going to be someone better than you, as they are at a different place to you on the journey.

I have a confession to make,too. I can’t handle social media!

I left Facebook a few years ago as it only made me feel really inadequate about my life and the things I have/haven’t achieved. It’s simply a popularity competition and a space for creating a false sense of oneself. (I now have Facebook solely to be apart of some groups that talk about photography, but I don’t participate in posting things about my life, nor do I keep up with ‘friends’).

I have pulled back from Instagram too lately as I was spending too much time comparing myself and my work to others and feeling really inadequate. Social media is the greatest and worst thing invented at the same time. This idea of competing for ‘likes’ can be really damaging if you let it. I hate feeling jealous of other photographers and what they create so I don’t allow myself compete with those thoughts.

I think anytime one gets caught up in competing instead of being true to themselves and creating authentic work, there becomes a disconnect from what photography is about.

17. What photographers or food bloggers are you inspired by and why? 

I have moved away from keeping up with food bloggers and am moving more towards photographers. They just have so much more to offer in terms of photography for where I am at right now.

There are definitely food photographers who inspire me, but I also try to look outside the field of food photography to what other creatives are doing.

I actually find male food photographers really inspiring as the approach shooting really different to women. I don’t know what it is about their work, but there appears to be more emphasis on the technical aspects and creating powerful images. I always enjoy the work of the male photographers who shoot for Donna Hay Magazine, Chris Court, Anson Smart and Ben Dearnley.

 I love Penny De Los Santos for her real approach to capturing emotion and journalistic style food. Her personality is so beautiful and it comes across in her work. The passion she oozes is infectious and she really creates different kinds of imagery to what I’ve experience before.

I adore Kate Holstein for her ability to capture powerful minimalistic images, I mean how you can create such a powerful story with so little in the frame is really inspiring to me.

Joey L is also a fascinating photographer who at the age of 18 was shooting movie campaigns. His passion and ability to forward think is unmatched. His portraiture work is breathtakingly raw and beautiful. People like this really fascinate me!

18. Any special words of advice for those aspiring food photographers? 

Don’t aim to be a professional. Professional by definition simply means a person who makes money from their images. It doesn’t mean you are a great photographer. They are not synonymous.

Aim to be great! Aim to be your best self, the best you can be.

Be patient as it takes time and don’t believe the ‘overnight’ success stories you hear.

I always preach that photography is a journey not a destination, because it really is. There is always more to learn and more to shoot. Enjoy that journey and get your eyes off the final destination, because you should never arrive there.