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Behind the scenes with @gastrostoria

Welcome to Behind the Scenes with Luciebeck. A blog where behind the scenes knowledge is shared by various photographers around the world. We are all connected by our passion for food and photography. This weeks guest: Darina from @gastrostoria.

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I’m Darina and I’m a food photographer based in Vancouver, Canada.

In addition to working with a variety of editorial and commercial clients, I teach food photography at a local art college and also online via my eBooks and signature online course CaptureOne Deep Dive. I create technical and creative resources to help photographers elevate their food photos.

How did you start and how did you learn?

I came to photography in a roundabout way. Initially I started as a food writer when I was laid off from my teaching job in the economic downturn of 2008. Having an MFA in Creative Writing I decided to combine my love of writing with my passion for cooking while I decided what to do next with my life.

I started a food blog as a way to create a writing portfolio to send to food editors. My blog was focused on personal essays, which was popular at the time. I wanted to be the next M.F.K. Fisher.

However, I quickly found that I enjoyed taking pictures of food more than I liked writing about it. I really struggled to teach myself the technical side of photography. Although I had the creative vision, the mechanics of taking a good exposure was challenging for me. In those days, there wasn’t much information on the Internet, so I decided to go to photography school. This turned out to be a good decision, and helped in the development of my career.

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Do you have tips for online courses?

I think online courses are an amazing tool to learn new skills and they have been—and still are–an important part of my journey. While in-person courses can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars, online courses can give you the same information in less time, in the comfort of your own home.

The problem is that most people who purchase online courses don’t actually finish watching them. They buy them because they want to learn the skill and the course is new or being offered at a good price. But people are very ‘time poor’ these days, especially freelancers like bloggers or photographers who already have so much on their plate, like trying to run their businesses and meet the demands of life. Sometimes I am also one of those people. What has worked for me is to schedule time into my weekly calendar to sit down and go through some content. If things are not scheduled in, they often don’t get down, so on Friday afternoon before I clock out of my day, I’ll spend a couple of hours studying. It doesn’t even have to be that long. I believe it’s the consistency that helps you meet your goals, even if it’s a little bit at a time.

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It’s the consistency that helps you meet your goals

Where do you get your inspiration from or any specific photographers?

I draw inspiration from a variety of sources, such as the textures found in nature, to the light in the works of the Old Masters. Although I’m really inspired by beautiful cookbooks and glossy food magazines, I also take the time to study other forms of art. You can learn a lot about composition by studying still life painting.

Some of the food photographers that I most inspired by are Gentl + Hyers, Ditte Isager, and Laura Edwards. I’ve also been influenced by the Australian food photographers and stylists from the beginning of my food photography journey. Donna Hay revolutionized how food photography is seen globally.

Where do you start, do you use a moodboard?

Yes, I definitely use mood boards as a starting point, for client work as well as my own personal projects. I think it’s important that your mood board includes other shots besides those of food. Once I got a mood board from a client that included images of the inside of jazz club, a winding Art Deco staircase and a whiskey sour. I immediately understood the mood they were wanting for their brand.

Once I have my mood board, my next step is to roughly sketch out the shots I want to take, It keeps me from creating images that are too similar and ensures that I’m not just flying by the seat of my pants while I’m working.

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Could you describe your style?

My style is quite minimalist, but I still try to tell a story with every shot I take. I want the viewer to have the sense that there is a wider narrative going on beyond what they can see in the frame.

I would characterize my style as moody. However, this doesn’t always mean dark. A lot of my light images are moody, too, with prominent shadows. I focus on the shadows as much as I can because I love the mystery shadows bring, and the feeling of the light being low. In my opinion that is where you really see the skill of a photographer—in how they control their shadows.

How often do you blog?

Typically I now post a blog once a week on Mondays on my food photography blog Gastrostoria. I write about a variety of topics pertaining to food photography from lighting, to styling, to composition and business.

Recently I started writing on monthly themes. Focusing on one subject for four blog posts allows me to go deeper into teaching on the topic, which benefits my readers as well.

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What are the best tips and tricks for blogging?

I think the most important factor in succeeding at blogging or quite frankly, at anything you do, is consistency. It’s something that I myself have struggled with because like most of us, I do so many things. But I definitely see the pay off when you show up with consistency. More than anything, it is what builds trust and allows your audience to grow.

My big tip for achieving consistency is to batch content. Sit down for one or two days and write all your posts for the month. Use an Instagram scheduler like Later and do the same. You’ll be amazed at how much time it saves you. And as soon as you can, hire someone to help you. I spent years DIY’ing everything, buying all sorts of expensive online courses and masterminds to help me figure out stuff that I knew I wouldn’t even be good at it. I eventually found it more cost effective to pay a virtual assistant to do some of these tasks for me, and it freed up time in my schedule to do things that actually made me money and moved the needle in my business.

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You are a commercial food photographer, could you tell me more about it?

I started working commercially very early on in my business. This was the result of spending months in laying the groundwork with my marketing, setting up my website and portfolio, and reaching out to my network. I also took business training and went aboutstarting my photography business in a very structured way.

I hired a photography coach, who taught me about pricing and how to estimate jobs so I was able to present myself professionally, and no one ever suspected that I was a newbie.

In my first year of business, I started working with marketing and ad agencies, shot a cookbook, worked for newspapers and magazines and on product packaging. I continue to work on these kinds of projects today. Looking back, my work wasn’t anywhere near the level it is now, but I was able to do all of this because I hired a mentor who taught me how the business works. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have been able to succeed on my own.

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Which light do you work with?  (daylight/artificial) 

I shoot with artificial light 99% of the time. I usually work with flash, but enjoy using continuous light for editorial beverage work because I like the look it gives the photos.

When you’re shooting commercially, you need to be able to create the light that the client wants at any time of day and consistency from shot to shot is crucial. Living in a climate that is rather grey much of the year, I enjoy the control artificial light gives me for my personal work as well. Because I went to photography school, I started using flash very early on so that is what feels most natural to me.

Can you tell which equipment you work with?

I use the Elinchrom Pro 500 strobe lights for my flash. I have a couple of Godox SL60W for continuous light that I also use as work lights when I’m shooting in Live View using flash. As for my cameras, I have always shot with various iterations of the Canon 5D.

You are offering online courses about food photography; how did you start making these?

At the moment, I have one course, Capture One Deep Dive for Food Photography. It’s an intensive masterclass on the tools and feature in Capture One, with over 70 lessons and more coming. I taught this course live over the summer, releasing a new module every week over eight weeks. I’m currently making tweaks to it and adding new material. It will be available for purchase again in October.

Although Lightroom is the most popular program for food photographers by far, Capture One is an indispensible tool for studio work and crucial if you want to work commercially—at least for tethering. Art directors will give you composition overlays for product packaging or magazine covers that you need to be able to use in Live View, which Capture One allows you to do.

What I hear from my students is that once they give Capture One a go, they much prefer it to Lightroom for the powerful tethering and color management it provides, as well as certain features that Lightroom doesn’t have, like the ability to export various file formats at the same time.

How much time do you spend on social media and which channels do you use the most? 

I am not a big user of social media as it doesn’t help me find the work with the kind of clients that I typically shoot for. I use my gastrostoria Instagram account mostly to post photography tips and I enjoy connecting with other photographers there. The community aspect of social media is something that I find beneficial.


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Do you have 1 good tip for Instagram and 1 good tip for Pinterest?

For Instagram, give more than you get. Like and comment on posts and engage in a sincere way. For Pinterest, I highly recommend working with a Pinterest professional who understands food photography and blogging as a niche. Pinterest can be a huge driver of traffic to your site if you know how to use it properly. I don’t, so I work with Katerina Reotudis and she’s amazing.

Do you have good tips about your portfolio? What do you think should be in it?

Different teachers have different approaches. I think what is most important is that you present the kind of work that you most want to do in order to attract those clients. However, I also think the images should represent a range of skill within your style. For example, I’m known for my moody work, but I’m also careful to have a lot of lighter work in my portfolio as well. You don’t want potential clients thinking you can only do one thing.

You also want to spend a lot of time on the pagination of your images. Images need to flow together in terms of tones, colors, shapes and lighting. I have a photo consultant work on my site now, but when I used to do it myself, I’d make small prints of the images I was considering including in my portfolio and put them up on a wall and move them around and remove images that weren’t working until I felt what I had fit together

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Never stop learning.

What are your dreams, how do you see yourself in about 5 years?

In the last couple of years I have been scaling back my commercial work and focusing more on editorial photography, as well as teaching in-person and online. I am a lifelong teacher and always planned that teaching would be a big part of what I do, even when I was just starting out in my business. As photographer, I think it’s also important to have multiple income streams to help you weather the lulls in business. Teaching gives me the freedom to pick and choose the projects I want to work on. It gives me the added benefit of connecting to a wider community. In five years, I want to be doing what I’m doing now—creating products that help other food photographers on their creative journey and shooting projects that excite me. I would love to shoot a lot more cookbooks!

How do you make sure you find a balance between leisure/home and work?

I honestly find this very difficult. Because I teach and am a working photographer, I feel like I’m running two separate businesses and splitting my attention much of the time. I have to do double the work I see other photographer friends doing. In order to have enough down time, I need to make an effort to have boundaries around what I say yes to and to schedule in time off as if it’s something I need to do for my business. I find if I work too long and hard one day that I’m more tired and ineffective the next. So there is no point in running myself into the ground because it all evens out the same.

Tips and tricks?

Never stop learning. I am always studying and feel that photography is something that one doesn’t ever fully master. I have had teachers who have been shooting for 30+ years say they are still learning about light. Take the time to really observe your light as you work, and take notes. I have a shoot notebook where I record the details about every shoot. Where I placed the light, the settings on my camera. I even measure the distance of my light to my set and my subject and make note. This helps me better understand my light as well as to recreate it when I want to.


Instagram: @gastrostoria

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