Kimberley Davis is an Austin-based photographer specializing in food and interiors. She shares her tips for starting out in food photography, her inspirations and more.
Kimberly, do you have any tips for aspiring food photographers? I know some food photographers use a lot of trickery. How do you make food look so appetizing on a shoot?
Working with a skilled food stylist makes all the difference in making the food look as appetizing as possible. They usually have a range of tools, from tweezers in various sizes, q-tips, make-up sponges, spray bottles, dowels, etc. I know sometimes food stylists use artificial ingredients to make food look good, but in my case, the food has always been edible-unless it’s a Thanksgiving turkey.
Lighting is absolutely key to shooting food
Lighting is absolutely key to shooting food. Lighting can create texture in even the most boring dish. For those just starting out, I would recommend working with someone in culinary school to do some mutual portfolio building. Also, don’t touch the food! Let the food stylist do that, they don’t pick up your camera!
What are some of the keys to making an interior look beautiful? Do you get decorating envy when you walk into some of these homes?
Definitely! A prop stylist is always helpful to work with in making a home look inviting. Even adding flowers can make a big difference. When I shoot interiors it is usually a focus on the interior design elements, vs the architecture of the space. For me, the beauty is in the details, and that’s why people hire me.
What’s been one of your best career decisions so far?
Working for a magazine publisher gave me a ton of experience.
Best decision since going freelance?
Hands down is joining ASMP! The contacts alone have been an invaluable resource.
Favorite thing about shooting in Texas?
It’s Texas! I am grateful every day to be in Austin, especially after moving out of state for four years.
One of my favorite TX themes to photograph is of course, Texas BBQ. If I only take pictures in BBQ pits for the rest of my life I would be fine with that! I love those sexy smoky walls! And of course all my gear smells like BBQ for weeks!
One of my favorite TX themes to photograph is of course, Texas BBQ
Do you have a dream assignment?
On one hand I’ve already had my dream assignment. I photographed Paula Deen and her sons for their magazines. I got to travel with them, photographed other celebrities, more than I ever dreamed of actually.
There are several magazines I would love to photograph stories for, and collaborating with other photographers is on my bucket list too. I love to work as a team, especially when everyone brings something different to the table.
What was working with Paula Deen like? She is such a character!
Working with Paula Deen was great! She is exactly the same as she is on TV, like the southern aunt who cooks that I never had. I had amazing opportunities shooting her for her magazine, including trips to New York, Key West, South Beach, Cashiers, New Orleans, and several to Savannah of course. Paula even let me try on her amazing and huge diamond ring once! Many great memories there, definitely some of my favorites!
Weirdest thing in my camera bag?
I have a few of those round shiny cardboard take out container tops in my bag because they make great reflectors! I can fold them and set them on a table, they cost nothing and they’re handy. Be resourceful!
Latest gear obsession?
I have a little shoe mount bubble level that my friend Andrew Pogue gave me and I love it!
I stay motivated because I really enjoy my work
How do you stay motivated?
I stay motivated because I really enjoy my work and there are busy times and times that aren’t busy, so that keeps me motivated too.
Did you have a big break?
My big break came from Mac Jamieson, the Creative Director at Hoffman Media. He saw the potential in my work and was patient. He gave me advice and I took it, built a new portfolio and he saw my dedication. He taught me a lot and had a lot of faith in me too. I got a ton of experience there in 4 years working for 8-9 magazines.
How did you develop your personal vision?
My personal vision came with practice really. It is definitely possible to achieve the same look with different lenses and of course I have a favorite, but lighting is everything. I use strobes and I use natural light, it depends what it is and what it’s for. The point is that I am conscious about how I am lighting, even with natural light, I will light the same as if I use strobes. It has to be a thoughtful process.
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by Jody Horton (ed. note: read Jody’s ILTP interview here). Even before I moved to Austin I followed the Farmhouse Table blog and I knew his work from that. I love Debi Treloar’s work and her book Food for Friends. Sang An, Katie Quinn Davies (What Kate Ate) her sort of messy/dark food images are gorgeous, Wyatt McSpadden, Maren Caruso has an inspiring portfolio, I especially love her conceptual food work!
All time favorite photo books?
Most are cookbooks…Food for Friends, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home, Wyatt McSpadden’s Texas BBQ
How do you define success in your own career?
Being brave enough to put yourself out there and then making and keeping happy clients is rewarding.
What’s next? Exciting projects in 2012?
Texas Photo Roundup was pretty exciting! The first quarter of 2012 has been a good start and hopefully that momentum will keep going throughout the year. I have a new website, starting email promos, really marketing myself this year.
Advice for someone starting out?
Join ASMP and most important, show up! Let people know who you are, make friends, and it will make a huge difference. Assist and you will learn a lot. Learn the business side, it’s crucial to making it! Don’t take no answer as a “no” answer. Just keep trying –respectfully- and don’t give up. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, associate yourself with photographers who work hard and have a positive outlook.
Learn the business side, it’s crucial to making it!
You asked the right person! Franklin BBQ chopped beef/Tipsy Texan is so good it doesn’t even need sauce! The pies are really good there too by the way. My other favorite is Cele Store in Manor. It’s truly a special place, historic building, as casual as it gets! They’re only open Thursday and Friday for lunch and Friday nights I think. The BBQ is great, and you definitely want to get extra white bread for dipping in the sauce. Yum, I want some now! I also love Rudy’s.
Favorite breakfast taco?
Dan’s Hamburgers believe it or not! They make great breakfast tacos!
What do you collect?
I collect notebooks. I have one for everything…there are five sitting on my desk right now! One is a large sketchbook I use for making notes about each job. I love the little notebooks books from Wiley Valentine the most though. Beautiful paper is one of my favorite things!
I love to garden, and also love to photograph flowers. It’s not something I usually do for work but I just added a Flora gallery on my website because I think it’s still worth showing. My once a year hobby is baking Christmas cookies for friends and clients. I look forward to it and enjoy sharing them.
How do you stay sane?
Who says any of us stay sane? Just make it work, ask for help when you need it, and keep going.