Staying Stylish in Suburbia

Fascinating Folk Interview 001

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I'm pleased as punch to announce a new feature called, Fascinating Folk, over here at Superb in the Burbs. We're kicking it off with a mouthwatering interview with freelance food photographer, Mary Britton Senseney. If you're as obsessed with food blogs and cookbooks as I am, then you are going to love this insiders look at what goes into the creative process of styling a food photo shoot. The right image can make even the simplest of ingredients look like a delectable work of art. Case and point the whipped cream below. Let's find out more about how it's done shall we...

About Mary Britton Senseney

Mary Britton studied at Savannah College of Art and Design. Since graduating, her career as a freelance food photographer has led her to work with clients such as Cooking Light, Southern Living, Weight Watchers, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, just to name a few. She currently resides in Savannah, GA with her husband and adorable little boy. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website.


1- What drew you to food photography? Did you know that was the career path you would take?
I began experimenting with food photography in my first studio course because honestly it was the most affordable subject to shoot. I didn’t have to hire models, hair stylists, or makeup artists…I could just go grocery shopping and photograph it.

When I left SCAD, my plan was to be a photojournalist. After working for a small newspaper for a year, I quickly realized I didn’t like having only one chance to get the shot. I missed being in the studio where I was able to control every aspect of my shoot. I got an internship with Cooking Light Magazine and it reignited my excitement for food photography again.

2- Savannah is such a great city. How would you describe the culinary scene there? Do you find that it inspires your work in any way?
Actually, as great as Savannah is, the culinary scene is really lacking. We have a lot of decent restaurants, but nothing that is amazing which is disappointing. However, every time I go out to eat, whether it’s in Savannah or not, it inspires me to think about food combinations and how it would look through a lens.

3- What is a typical shoot like for you?  Can you give us a quick idea of a day in the life of a food photographer?
I mostly shoot cookbooks so a typical shoot lasts 14 days from start to finish. I’ve assembled a team here in Savannah; the food stylist comes from Florida and the prop stylist is local. Our process involves getting all the information for the shoot from the publisher. They send a style guide for the project along with all the recipes we’ll be shooting. The food stylist looks over the recipes, makes her shopping list, and gives the prop stylist and myself notes about how it would be best served and photographed. Once we’ve all gotten this information, we’re ready to start our shoot.

We tend to shoot about 8 recipes a day, which is pretty fast paced. The prop stylist pulls all her dishes, utensils, and linens before each day. The food stylist starts prepping food early in the morning and we just shoot as each dish is ready. For our projects, we have to email images to the editor and designer on the project for approval. This is usually the longest part of our process.

4- How closely do you work with the actual chefs? Do you style the shoot yourself?
On most of my shoots, I don’t work with a chef. I work with a food stylist who shops for the recipes, makes the food, and styles the dish on set. When the book is about a particular chef, we still use a freelance food stylist.

5- What does food styling consist of?
I think it takes a very special person to be a food stylist. You have to be very technical in the kitchen yet very creative on set. For example, you need to know that even though a recipe has you sautéing vegetables for a long amount of time for a dish, you probably don’t want to cook them the full time for photo since they lose their color.

Although the ad world uses lots of food styling tricks, cookbooks don’t. You want the reader to look at the photo and look at their dish, and see that it’s similar.

6- What kinds of things do you have to take into consideration when composing and framing a certain shot?
It basically all comes down to what angle will best serve the food. The whole team weighs in on if the food would good at a low angle, high angle, or overhead. From there, it’s normally just what feels right to me and looks good compositionally.

7- Do you have favorite foods to shoot?
For me it’s not so much about the kind of food but more about the color and ingredients.

8- How has being a food photographer changed what you eat? What is your favorite food?
I would say it’s made me a little more adventurous, mostly because I’ve learned a lot more about different foods. I love Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican.

9- Do you have certain props that you like to use in your shoots?
I work with a prop stylist and she usually has seniority when it comes to props J BUT, I’m really into simple, rustic propping…using sheet pans as a surface, layering wax paper or parchment over wood, and nubby linens. What I think about most is just letting the props support the food, not distract.

10- What advice do you have for aspiring food photographers, bloggers like myself (or instagrammers) out there? If you had to choose three important tips what would they be?
My advice would be to practice, practice, practice. The only way you’ll get better is to perfect your craft. Collaborate with others whenever possible; you’ll learn so much from working with people in the field. Always use natural light. Be aware of what else is in your picture other than the food and ask yourself if it's supporting or distracting. Think of a unique ways to show a food that we see over and over again.

Thanks for stopping by. If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to "like" us Facebook to keep up with more fascinating folk features. xoxo


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