Welcome to Behind the Scenes with Lucie Beck. 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: Julia Wharington from @paddock2pixel.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Julia, and I live in a small town 2.5 hours north of Melbourne, Australia. I’m originally from Germany, but moved to Australia in 2005, initially to go to university, but one thing led to another…
I got a job, then another, then met my husband, adopted a cat, and now I’m still here, calling this interesting and diverse country my home. I’m an aspiring food photographer and videographer, trained commercial cook, wannabe food blogger, passionate gardener, and my favourite thing to make is sourdough bread (although after 11 years I just killed my starter, so I must be a really bad starter mummy, haha).
I am currently trying to build two businesses. Paddock 2 Pixel is just me, working as a food photographer, recipe developer and stylist. Original Zest is my videography business for the food and beverage industry, and that one I founded together with a chef.
How did you start with food photography/videography and how did you learn?
I have done so many things in my life, one would say I’m a bit of a restless soul. I have earned a living as a dance instructor, a tailor, a sound editor, a sport event manager, a drama school manager, a dairy industry event coordinator… and now I’m trying to make this food photography thing work.
Cooking and baking has always been my second passion (number one being dancing), so my husband surprised me with an interesting gift in 2018: a food styling course. Before this course, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never noticed food photography anywhere, let alone how food is styled.
I actually never owned a camera, and really disliked taking photos! Needless to say I was pretty crap during the course. It was a completely new world. But somehow I fell in love with it.
And when I like something a lot, I can get a little obsessed with it until I’m good at it. So I bought an entry level camera and started shooting. And got obsessed with the technical side of it all. A book called ‘Food Photography – From Snapshot to Great Shot’ was my bible for a while. I watched a million YouTube videos on how to use a camera. How to shape light. I discovered The BiteShot channel and watched every single video. Then joined her artificial academy when I bought a speedlight.
I never planned on doing videography, but was thrown right into the deep end one day by a chef I knew from previous work (he’s now my business partner). We somehow were commissioned to shoot six company profile (lifestyle) videos for the Government. So I watched another million YouTube videos on how to become a filmmaker. And faked it till I made it. Still only scratching the surface with videography, but for self-taught, I’m doing ok. Others go to film school for years… which would be a dream, but who can afford that?!
Could you describe your style?
A tough question. I think I’m still figuring it out. Colour is probably a recurring theme in my shots. One main bright colour for each shot. And contrast and clarity (love that slider in Lightroom a little bit too much). But this restless mind is way too distracted by cool things it sees, so sticking with one style doesn’t work for me. Maybe one could call my style a little experimental? I definitely get excited when I see a technique I haven’t tried before, and have the urge to add it to my repertoire.
How do you continue to learn as photographer/videographer?
Seriously, is there anything NOT covered on YouTube? I certainly got (and am still getting) all I needed to know to get started and keep learning. I’m forever grateful to all those amazing creators out there who put in so much effort in creating tutorials for others to learn.
What is the important skill of a (food)photographer/videographer?
Curiosity. If you’re not curious about the craft, what’s there to drive you to challenge yourself, to try new things, to become better with every shot you take?
And just to be brutally honest: If you want to earn a living with it, yes, mastering your camera, how to shape light, how to style food etc… all this helps to become a good photographer, BUT… above everything you need to be business savvy! Understand how to market yourself. Otherwise no one with money to spend on pretty pictures or videos will know you exist. It’s the tough reality I’m currently facing and working on changing.
As a dance instructor I often get asked by students when I think they’re ready to teach. And the answer is ‘oh you’ll be teaching way before you’re ready’. The same is true if you want to shoot for clients. If you wait until you’re ready, it’ll never happen. So another important skill for a photographer is courage. Courage to put yourself out there, even if you can’t shut up that voice in your head constantly whispering ‘Am I good enough?’. You most likely are going to be just fine. And if not, lesson learned, move on.
What / Who inspires you to improve?
Everyone who is brave enough to pick up a camera, who takes the time to create their best work and then puts it out there for people to see can inspire me. It doesn’t even need to be food related. Some days nothing inspires me, and then suddenly you see something somewhere, be it another photo, a video, a recipe, a piece of art, a flower, an ingredient at the supermarket etc… and BAM!! an idea is born.
We don’t live in a vacuum, we run around in the world with our eyes open, so whatever you create is likely somewhat influenced by something that caught your attention before, consciously or not. I often browse the internet pretty randomly, looking for inspiration. I might see some lighting that I like, and try to recreate it in my scene. Or I fall in love with a colour palette somewhere. Or a subject that I haven’t shot before. Then I take the idea and make it my own.
There are too many incredible artists to mention here that had an impact on my journey. Saying that though, I want to point out a few people whose work has been instrumental in my growth as a photographer/videographer over the past three years. Joanie Simon, lady, you’re fantastic! I’d still be shooting in the dark (literally) if it wasn’t for you. Daniel Schiffer – My videos would be nowhere without your tutorials. Skyler from We Eat Together – as someone who also does photo and video, your work is on a level that I inspire to reach one day.
Would you like to improve your styling?
How do clients find you?
They don’t! Haha, seriously, I suck at marketing myself. I have no idea about SEO, so my websites don’t get any traffic. I am not confident enough to cold call or email. I need huge breaks from social media because it annoys me so much. Anyone saying that all you need to do is to build an Instagram following and clients will find you, I’m sorry, but that has not been my experience. Sure, it hasn’t been completely crickets, I have had a few clients, but dang it’s hard. Not complaining, it’s completely my fault. I’ve focussed on honing my craft these last three years, now I need to learn how to sell my services. Watch this space!! (Maybe committing here will actually get me off my ass and do something about it!)
Where do you create your photos?
Most of the time in my studio a.k.a. the guest bedroom. It’s a tiny room with a big bed that I have to stand up and lean against the wall when I want to shoot. The rest of the walls are covered with shelves for my props, so many that when guests are staying for the night, they say it feels like sleeping in a thrift store, haha. I have found a way to hang my softboxes from the ceiling so they’re out of the way when I don’t need them. The worst is having carpet in that room… I’m just saying splash shots…!
When the room is too small, I shoot anywhere else in the house. Let’s just say my strengths don’t include tidiness. It always looks like a bomb has gone off. Luckily my husband doesn’t care. Kitchen is a mess? Let’s get takeaway, honey!
Which part do you like best of being a (food)photographer/videographer?
I absolutely love editing. Both photo and video. For me it’s where the magic happens. I know it’s more time consuming and maybe when I get more busy this will change, but I don’t currently like using presets or LUTs, I always start from scratch because I enjoy the process so much.
Oh, and of course the fact that we’re the only type of photography where you get to eat the subject afterwards… hahahaaaa. Once a foodie, always a foodie!
What lessons did you learn along the way?
I’ve always been employed by others, in your average 9-5 job that I wasn’t particularly excited about, and I kept the evenings and weekends free to do the fun things. Now, the thing I do for work suddenly IS the fun thing! It’s the strangest thing!
I’ve run away from making my passion my job once before when I briefly worked as a tailor (dressmaking for me used to be everything, but once it became my job, I started hating it), but hopefully 20 years later I can make it work for me.
Would you like to improve your creativity?
How do you prepare for a video shoot?
For Original Zest we have created a brief form for the client to fill in. It helps us understand what exactly they are after, and we find that writing it down helps them understand what they really want the result to be. We then take their brief and usually do a brainstorming session with good old post-it notes or a spreadsheet where we try to create a shot list. I often add technical notes to the shot list, such as framing, lense type, slow motion, movement etc. Then on the day of shooting, I have a pack list while packing the car, because there is so much equipment to bring along on a video shoot, I’d completely miss something without a list.
Which light do you prefer (daylight/artificial)?
In the very beginning I exclusively shot with a cheap LED light panel, always at night. Natural light scared me, it was so unpredictable. Plus I best get into the zone at night, as there are just too many distractions during the day. Once I developed a liking for action photography, the LED panel just wasn’t powerful enough, so next was a speedlight, which to this day is still my main and favourite source of light for photos. I do enjoy shooting with natural light more these days, which I think comes from having done a lot of video work outside, and am consequently really becoming comfortable with natural light.
Can you tell which equipment you work with for creating videos? How do you shoot and edit video? Do you work with a team?
I shoot video with my regular photo camera, the Canon EOS R, which has served its purpose just fine, but I’m dreaming of upgrading to a more professional video camera. Maybe one day when the business has grown… I sometimes shoot on a tripod with a fluid head, but when out and about I shoot a lot of hand-held, using a mono-pod for leverage, or I put the camera on my gimbal (DJI RSC2).
For monitoring I use an Atomos Ninja V, especially when shooting in 4k. For lighting I often use a continuous light source, such as my LightPro Ultasoft round LED panel, or a tiny hand-held battery powered LED panel.
I edit all my videos in Davinci Resolve Studio. Because I shoot video in log, the software’s colour grading features are the best out there, so it was a natural pick. Also, the free version is insanely good and very much sufficient for most hobby film makers. It was a complicated software to learn in the beginning, but, you guessed it, a million YouTube videos later, I learned enough to feel at ease with it.
My team for my video business Original Zest is just me and my business partner chef Tim Hollands. While I look after the technical and creative side of the business (filming, editing), he looks after marketing and acts as producer/director, the client liaison and all the cheffy things.
Where do you see yourself in about 5 years?
I’ve never focussed on my career in the past, but this time it seems different. Finally using my creative skills was probably what I needed to feel satisfied at work, so all I’m dreaming of is having two small but stable businesses that have a regular client base that I can create beautiful work for. Delivering something to a client that exceeds their expectations is a huge motivation for me, so hopefully I get to do that on a daily basis.
I get bored with repetitive work very quickly, so my aim is to have a schedule that is a good balance between recipe development, styling, photography and videography.
And somewhere in me this very specific cookbook idea. I know, big dream, or shall we call it a goal, but something to strive for.