One of the best parts of looking at food websites and recipe books--bar none--is the pictures. A compelling food photo can draw the viewer in, evoke taste memories, and create new appetites. But what goes on behind the lens? Who could tell us better than Ryan Nowell, a Portland-based photographer with a great eye, and a penchant for sweets (as evidenced by the collaborative blog, The Chef and the Photographer, which he writes with his pastry chef wife).
CakeSpy: What was the last sweet you ate?
Ryan Nowell: Well the last baked good was the Chocolate Bundt cake from this post on our website. I actually ate the piece in the picture the evening of the same day. I may be biased but it really was wonderful! Nice and dense but not too chocolatey. We missed out on taking a photo of the whole thing.....wanted to eat it too much! The outside was nice and shiny and would have made a great shot. Oh well, good excuse to make another.
CS: Tell me what photography means to you.
RN: Photography is really a great way to show people what I see in everyday items and moments. I always feel like there are so many wonderful images that we are surrounded by but most people are too busy to notice. Food especially is something that everyone enjoys and by taking photos it makes it easier to explain how all the ingredients came together.
CS: As a photographer, how does food stack up to other subject matter (people, landscapes, etc)?
RN: Food is just about the easiest and sometimes the most challenging as compared to people or landscapes. People are really great to work with but it can sometimes depend on the person. I like to shoot candids which can sometimes catch people off guard and not everyone, in my experience, likes to have their photo taken. Landscape is another of my favorite subjects. Living in the Northwest really gives you so much to shoot but can sometimes be a challenge when its raining most of the year. With food, you have complete control of everything in the image but then some elements can be tricky to control and light. I like to mostly use natural light when its available but other times I use a light box I made at home to mimic natural light and to help with shadows. Shadows in food can be tough since each object will have so many angles, textures, and colors. Sometimes shadows can really take away from what you would normally see with your eye which has the ability to adjust to light in a fraction of a second. I don't use any flash at all at the moment which makes me work a little harder to work with what I am given.
CS: Tell more about your blog, Chef & Photographer. How did it come about?
RN: Our blog came about with my love of photography and my wife's culinary passion. Its a great way for us both to work together and to then enjoy her creations and share them with family, friends and anyone that may come across the site. It's also a great way for my wife to document a recipe that she has created and reference it later if she needs to. She also really enjoys the challenge of the setup of the shot and really does most of the styling of the food since she is sometimes looking for a specific look or detail in the food.
CS: Your wife is a pastry chef (!). What is your favorite dessert that she makes?
RN: Yes, my wife is a Pastry Chef and teaches at a local culinary school. I am not sure if I have a favorite since she hardly makes the same thing twice but a few of my favorites are her Cheesecake and Pumpkin Pies. Luckily many recipes have been created and tested on me which I thoroughly enjoy!!
CS: It seems that the desserts featured on your blog seem to honor seasonal ingredients. How does it change food to keep your ingredients seasonal/local?
RN: We do try to use as much local ingredients as possible. We have a modest garden in our backyard and sometimes we end up with more then we can eat which gives my wife some more inspiration to try and create something savory or even desserts using vegetables.
RS: You recently did some photography for the Coco and Co. Chocolates site. Now, chocolate seems like it's a particularly hard food to shoot and make look good. Any tips for getting sexy chocolate shots?
RN: The main issue with chocolate is lighting for sure. For the chocolate truffles for Coco and Co., I used the light box I mentioned earlier. It really cancels out the shadows nicely and helps to light up all sides of the truffle and works well with any textures that be present.
CS: Where else can we view (or purchase/ commission?) your photography?
RN: I am about to release my website which will be coming soon! It will be ryannowellphotography.com. In the meantime, check out Ryan's photos via Flickr!