Carol Hart is an amazing food photographer based in Seattle, WA. She has a great eye for composition, but more importantly, she loves food. Food is one of those simple (though essential) pleasures in life we sometimes forget to pay attention to. Great food photography, like Carol’s, celebrates this big part of our lives and reminds us to savor the little things.
Here’s a selection of Carol’s food photography, along with a few questions we’ve asked her.
How did you get into photography?
In 1977, I was about to give birth to my first child. At the baby shower my sister-in-law gifted me a Nikon F2 Photomic AS SLR camera. Most of the pictures I took were not good, but every once in a while I had a lovely image but couldn’t remember what I did, so I couldn’t repeat that success! One day, while walking my baby in a stroller I found myself in front of the local community college. I walked in and found that they were offering a summer photography 101 course so I signed up with the goal to learn to take good pictures on purpose! All was going well until the first DSLR cameras came out. The quality was terrible and at the time the idea of “developing” my pictures through some software application did not appeal to me. Seeing that this was the future I stepped away from photography and pursued gardening and cooking. Then, in 2011, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. While going through a year-long chemo treatment I was feeling rather depressed most of the time. Trying to figure out how to pull myself out of the funk I was in, I suddenly found myself in a camera store one day and decided to by a Nikon D600. I signed up for an online course on Photoshop. I’ve been taking pictures most every day since then.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
When I’m taking pictures, time slows down for me. I notice the details, take them in. I so enjoy the stillness of those moments.
About to Dig In
What are some of the main challenges of food photography?
Food photography can be challenging if you are wanting to actually eat the food you are photographing! If it is hot food, then the pictures need to be taken rather quickly before the food gets too cold to eat! I manage this by planning ahead. I decide what background I’m going to use, what props and dishes and I set those things in place and take several test shots to be sure my lights and camera settings are right. Then when the food is ready and can just put the food in place and take a few pictures.
What do you think makes a dish ‘photogenic’?
For me, color is important. Slight warm tones help create an appetizing image. Also, including texture helps the viewer think about mouth-feel. For example, I made a cauliflower soup, which was delicious, but in the photograph a plain bowl of off-white soup just didn’t come across as appetizing or interesting so I drizzled a bit of truffle oil on top, added a few micro greens, lemon zest and chopped nuts for texture and suddenly I had something that looked intriguing. It also made the soup taste better!
What advice would you give people to improve their food photos?
I think it’s important to really, really love food; looking at it, cooking it, photographing it, and of course eating it. It also helps me to have an idea of how I want to photograph something. I tend to visualize compositions, that’s my way of seeing. It helps give me a start base. I also keep a “shoot book” – whenever I get an idea of something I want to photograph, I write it in the book. I might even sketch out a composition. This helps get the ideas out of my head and onto paper, and then my mind is clear enough to work through composition ideas. Most important is practice. Taking pictures most every day has honed my camera skills. Knowing what my camera can do so that I’m not struggling with the technical stuff allows me to focus on the food, the light, and the composition.
Another View of Pear Tart Ingredients
Blueberry Apricot Pear Tart
Which photo are you most proud of? And which photo was most delicious?
Gosh, how to answer this one! I feel like I’m always learning, improving so in that sense the picture I’m most proud of is the last one I took! If I need to choose one from my Flickr feed right now it would probably have to be my top down photo of the 5 pears in a metal bowl with a tattered towel. I feel like I nailed the light on that image and the towel placement also adds nice movement and texture.
Pears Lay in Wait
As far as delicious, I have to tell you that I feel I’m a pretty good home chef so I like my own cooking! A recent simple dish was a bowl of spiced pumpkin steel cut oats with a cashew crunch topping. The photograph was taken top down with the light coming from the left side and the oatmeal looked as warm and comforting as it tasted. I’ve made that breakfast for myself several times since and find it totally satisfying. Not a big fancy dish I know, but sometimes it’s the simple things that bring the most joy.
Spiced Pumpkin Steel-Cut Oats with Cashew Crunch
Strawberry Rhubarb Tartlets
Rosettes for Two
Blueberry Pear Sorbet
Top Down Blueberries
Lemon Creams w/ Blueberries & Gingersnaps
Carol has a blog where she shares other things besides food, but there’s a lot of food there too! She also writes a monthly post on food photograpy on Kim Klassen’s site. You can find more of Carol’s work on Flickr and Instagram. She currently uses a Nikon D800 and her favorite lenses for food photography are a Nikkor 35mm f/1.4, a Nikkor 24mm f/1.4, and a Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro.