Hello, I am Maja, originally from Poland, I am a food & product photographer and stylist based in the Netherlands.
How did you start and how did you learn? Do you have tips for online courses?
My journey into the world of creativity and food photography has been largely self-taught, this is how I developed my uniquely intuitive style.
Practising with photographing one subject repetitively, trained my eye for finding the best light and understanding how it works but also studying the work of the creatives I admire and different aspects of their photos (light, mood, composition) allowed me to train my eye to understand what a ‘professional & good’ photo entails.
I have explored multiple free online tutorials and courses, rather than completing any paid content. I really recommend and learned so much from Joanie Simon from The Biteshot and Lauren Caris from That’s Sage. Also Fanette Rickert from Frenchly is full of amazing tips regarding building a successful photography business!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration comes to me from all different directions/sources, simple things like a vintage prop, nature walks, observing the light surrounding me, architecture, textures or even a visit to a local farmer’s market can spark a lot of creativity in me. Instagram and Pinterest are my top inspiration platforms, but also studying the work of other talented creatives usually sparks a lot of ideas in my head.
Which photographers inspire you or where do you get your inspiration from?
There are so many photographers whose work I adore and get constant inspiration from. I am a dark and moody photography lover so Linda Lomelino @linda_lomelino, Stella Andronikou @stellaand, Viola Virtamo @violaminerva, Eva Kosmas Flores @evakosmasflores are among my all-time favorite ones. For beautiful and honest food photography I always reach out to Bea Lubas @bealubas, Kimberly Espinel @thelittleplantation, Bella @ful.filled and Rachel Korinek @twolovesstudio just to name a few.
Do you work with brands?
Yes, I do. In general, I prefer working with holistic, purpose-driven businesses and brands that improve the planet and people’s well-being. Being a vegan myself, I love collaborating with honest brands that promote a plant-based lifestyle and contribute to a better world. I am always open to new projects whether it involves photography, recipe development or creative collaboration.
Do you have good tips about your portfolio? What do you think should be in it?
I think the most important thing is to have a portfolio that reflects who you are as a photographer, your unique style and vision in order to attract specific clients or brands you would like to work with (if, of course, your main goal is to attract potential clients).
I personally try to keep my portfolio diversified to show the potential clients the range of skills and capabilities I have. Different camera angles (flatlays, macro) action shots, lighting conditions (bright and moody) but I also try to shoot different things i.e. raw ingredients and produce, process shots, ready dishes, drinks, savoury dishes but also desserts to demonstrate that I can work with different products and can make your brand stand out.
Having said that, I believe it’s important to showcase your unique style and don’t try to please anybody and everybody. From my own experience I can say that the brands that you want to attract through your unique style will eventually find you 🙂
How much time do you spend on social media and which channels do you use the most?
I spend most of the time on Instagram as this proved to be the most valuable social media platform when it comes to building relationships with like-minded creatives but also attracting new clients. I usually spend around two hours throughout the day, getting inspiration, commenting and responding to DMs and people’s comments.
I also use Pinterest although I am quite new to it and am still learning how to best benefit from it from a business point of view. I have my small presence on Facebook too but I know I have to invest more time into building some meaningful engagement with the audience there.
Do you have 1 good tip for Instagram and 1 good tip for Pinterest?
As far as Instagram goes: be honest, genuine and welcoming. Engage and respect other people, remember there is a person behind every account. Try focusing on building a community and relationships with other creatives instead of being entirely focused on the number of followers and likes. I try to interact with people as much as I can, when I post a new photo I stay on the platform for a while to respond to people’s comments.
In terms of growing your account, quality and consistency of content is the way to go. There is no other way that other creatives will find you other than posting beautiful and meaningful content on a regular basis (ideally everyday). My motto is: what you give, is what you will get in return and the Instagram algorithm seems to work according to this too.
As far as Pinterest goes, I am still new to the platform, but using the meaningful keywords in the description of your pin will definitely help you to get noticed. What’s interesting about Pinterest is its opportunity for discoverability, a lot of small business owners and DIYers are on the platform and with the ability to add a link to your pin (unlike with an Instagram post), you can generate inbound traffic to your site or blog. Most people on Pinterest are there with the aim of looking to find inspiration or buy something, so it’s a great platform to increase your brand awareness from that perspective.
Who are your clients and how do they find you?
So far I have been lucky to work with holistic brands whose products were a pleasure to work with e.g organic green tea companies, kombucha and fermented products, spices or vegan start-ups. I also work with local restaurants, shooting their menus and interiors. I get contacted via Instagram mostly but also my website.
How do you make sure you find a balance between leisure/home and work?
As a small business owner, working from home a lot, it’s easy to cross the line and work ALL the time (literally). Having worked for many years at international corporations I learned my lesson the hard way, so now I know how to prioritize my work, remember to take breaks during the day and go for a walk for instance.
Taking breaks from social media and switching my phone off has also proven to be very effective. I use visits to the farmers markets, grocery shops, take the time to source ingredients or go hunting for new props as a leisure activity even though, in reality, it’s a part of my work 😉
What else would you have done if you had known this at the beginning of your career?
Get organized. Being a freelance photographer means you will be most likely juggling between many small projects, shooting at different locations and keeping up with many deadlines. It’s important to have a system that helps you stay organized and informed.
And as far as photography goes, focus on mastering your camera and learning everything there is about light. Don’t go crazy on the props (that was my mistake) without having your defined style yet. Practicing and perfecting your photography style is more important than having a beautiful prop collection.
Where do you make your photos, at home or in a studio?
I have a studio at home. I converted one of the spare rooms into my shooting space where all my gear, props and lights are. I am very grateful for that space as it saves a lot of time to always have the camera set and just bring the food and shoot.
How do you prepare a food styling set?
I always prepare the set before the food or any of my subjects gets to the shooting scene. I first decide on the mood I want to create and then set my camera accordingly. I aim to find the optimal angle for the best light and the subject to be photographed. Then I decide on the backdrop and the props. Afterwards I position my subject and play around with the composition. I have my camera connected to my phone via the Canon app where I can clearly see the whole scene, which helps me adjust the composition and decide on the best positioning of my subject(s).
I like to use the human element in my photos, either including my hands or myself in the scene so having the camera connected to my phone allows me to shoot from a distance and focus exactly where I want to. You can compare that to tethering but then you don’t need the cable and special software, just the phone and the app.
Which props do you use the most?
I am a vintage girl, so over the time I’ve assembled a collection of beautiful props (old cutlery and vintage kitchen utensils) which I hunt for regularly at thrift stores and flea markets here in Holland. But I also love modern crockery and ceramic pottery. Depending on the subject and client brief and their brand identity I choose the most appropriate props. Usually for my private shoots I tend to use the vintage props, whereas for client shoots I usually go for modern clean looks using minimal props.
What backdrops are you using?
One of my favorite backdrops is a heavy old wooden top which was gifted to me by my neighbour. I find it difficult to find the right vinyl backdrops that imitate wooden surfaces so I am super pleased to have that piece. On top of that, I am a big fan and own a few vinyl backdrops from @clubbackdrops and I recently tried the vinyl backdrop from @myluciebackdrops which I am also fond of. Last but not least, I have a few floor tiles which are perfect as backdrops, if only they were a bit bigger.
With which light do you work (daylight/artificial)?
I love working with natural light and that’s the light I’ve mostly used so far. However, I am exploring and investing the time to learn about artificial light as it can save so much time in the post production of photos and when shooting in big volumes, not to mention that during the winter time there’s so little daylight, so even more reason to master that part of photography!
What camera and lenses do you use and/or tripod?
I use Canon 6D Mark II.
As for the lenses Canon 50mm f/1.8 , Sigma 35mm f/1.4 art and Canon Zoom lens 16-35 F/4
Tripod: Vanguard Alta-pro 263AT
Which program do you use to edit your photos?
I use Lightroom for basic editing and Photoshop for more advanced retouching.
What can’t you work with without?
Definitely a tripod! A steady tripod with a long arm (to shoot flatlays) is an absolute must for me, not only for crisp sharp photography, but also for when the availability of natural light is scarce.
Tips and tricks?
Be the student of light! You probably heard that many times but it’s really crucial in food photography (in any photography really), even with the most ugly food, lack of props and bad composition your dish will look good and you will end up with a decent photo if the light is right.
Practice, practice, practice, take a photo every day! Only by doing that you will improve your shooting skills, figure out what works for you and ultimately develop your unique style.
Learn to edit your photos at an early stage, invest in learning how to use your editing software, there are countless free online sources out there and they can help you transform a dull photo into something great.
Participate in Instagram challenges. You can observe how other creatives approach the challenge theme and learn from the best by learning to work with limitations. The #eatcaptureshare challenge by @thelittleplantation is a popular one – you can check out past entries by searching the name in Instagram hashtags. What’s more, such challenges push your creativity and make you think outside of the box but also expose your work to other creatives.
Last but not least, be gentle with yourself in your photography journey. Don’t give up if you feel dissatisfied with your work. It’s natural, and we have all been there. Don’t compare yourself with other creatives in a competitive way, but observe their work and learn from it. The best thing is that anybody can learn photography and become a pro if you invest enough time and are willing to continuously learn and improve.
Want to see more of Maja her work?