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: Marta Grabowska from @foods_by_marta.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Marta Grabowska, I’m a commercial food photographer and recipe developer based in the south of Poland. I left my corporate job and went full-time with my business in February 2020, just a month before the pandemic started which turned out to be a real test!
How did you start with food photography and how did you learn?
So this first bit may seem off but please stay with me! 🙂 I grew up in a house that smelled of freshly baked cake. I was regularly in the kitchen with my mum and my grandma and that shaped me, my love for food and creating recipes.
I studied in the UK and wanted to document my life and share it with my family and friends who stayed in Poland. This is when I discovered my passion for photography, got my first DSLR camera and found that there is a whole world of food photography which combines my two passions.
I started off by making friends with the photography department at my university and was sneaking into their awesome photography studio to first learn about things like the importance of manual mode, test shots, light tests and so on. I then went on to learn from content available online for free (Rachel Korinek’s blog, Joanie Simon’s videos and general photography related content).
When I was able to afford it, I first invested in a food photography course. I soon came to realise that a generic online course is not enough so last year I invested in a mentor and it was one of the best business decisions!
Could you describe your style?
I usually like shooting with shallow depth of field, unless a project requires otherwise. That being said, I consider my style to still be at a stage where it’s evolving and changing.
I try to consciously avoid sticking to labels such as ‘light and bright’ or ‘dark and moody’. I feel that photography and food have so much to offer that I want to focus on exploring their possibilities. This is why I play with different set-ups and moods for my shoots and focus on enjoying the process 🙂
How do you select the appropriate props with your style?
To me, photography is a very personal experience. I want it to reflect me and my personality. That’s why when I shop for new props, I always ask myself ‘Does this feel like me? Can I feel seeing this in my images?’. If the answer is yes, I then think about whether I already have something similar in my collection.
I also love incorporating pieces that I haven’t seen elsewhere, especially vintage plates and cutlery that I have from my mum and grandma. They are such a wonderful part of my story and personality!
Do you have special tips about food photography?
The one thing I wish someone had told me when I first started building my food photography business is ‘Don’t be afraid to take your time.’
It’s not a sign of weakness if it takes you 2 or 3 or 5 years to build a food photography business. We are all so different and someone else’s story is not your story. That’s why it’s so important to take it one day at a time, without the stress of comparing your work and where you’re at to others.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself if things don’t go as you would have hoped them to and trust the process. It’s important to have a bigger picture vision of where you’re going, but don’t be too fixed on stressing out when something changes. This is the beauty of creative work – things change and no two days are the same! Know your strengths, focus on them and enjoy the process 🙂
How do you nurture your creativity?
I try to dedicate at least 1 full day each month to doing things that fuel me, that make me feel good and that feed my soul 🙂
I also find that having a good routine in place helps me stay more creative. To me, a must in my routine is morning yoga and reading a few pages of a book each evening before bed.
Last but not least, rest is also really important for my creativity. By rest, I don’t only mean getting your 7 or 8 hours of sleep (which isn’t always possible!) but also making sure to regularly take time off during the year.
Would you like to improve you foodphotography?
Which photographers and/or artists inspire you?
There are so many! Starting with food photographers, I absolutely love the work of Bea Lubas, Rachel Korinek, Linda Lomelino, Claudia Goedke. They are big inspirations!
It probably won’t come as a big surprise when I say that I also admire Ansel Adams’ work which, to me, is incredibly calming. In terms of art more broadly, I find so much joy and inspiration in art by baroque and romantic masters (Caravaggio, Francisco Goya) but also in more contemporary work (Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dalí, Frida Kahlo).
What is the important skill of a (food)photographer?
Staying curious and being open minded. I think it’s so important to have the mindset of wanting to learn. Not to chase unrealistic goals, but to improve your skill and the quality of service for your clients.
How do you continue to learn as (food)photographer and/or blogger?
There are two parts to this. The first is that each year I try to invest in at least one course or a coaching programme. The second one is that I read photography/business related books and try to attend a few conferences/seminars where I can learn something new and expand on my skills 🙂
How do clients find you? What is your ideal client?
My clients find me through my email proposals 🙂 I first do my research and then reach out to clients by email with my pitch. I love working with a variety of clients. However, projects that I do with local businesses and smaller brands where they want me to help them with creative direction are the ones that are closest to my heart.
Do you have good tips regarding a portfolio? What do you think should be in it?
I feel that having a dedicated page with your private domain is a must if you want to pitch to brands, agencies or publishing houses.
A good portfolio should also show a variety of work to demonstrate your capabilities. That being said, I think it’s important to understand what type of work is most appealing to you, what type of clients you want to attract and allow that to be the starting point for building your portfolio.
How much time do you spend on social media and which channels do you use the most?
I usually have 2-4 dedicated days during each week when I go on social media for around 30-45 minutes to post but also to interact with other photographers and photography communities 🙂 I rely on Instagram, Pinterest and Adobe Discover (if we count it as social media).
Would you like to improve you foodphotography?
Do you have good tips regarding blogging?
I don’t really blog. Over the last year my main focus has heavily shifted to food photography only. The one thing I do know though is – invest in understanding SEO! It’ll DEFINITELY come in handy to make your page rank higher on Google. And that also relates to your Portfolio page 🙂
How do you make sure you find a balance between leisure/home and work?
This is the trickiest part of my work and I think that many solo business owners struggle with this. Two things have proven useful to me.
Firstly, good communication with my husband and my family. I let them know in advance when I have a busier schedule and explain that they’ll be seeing less of me but it’s just a period of, e.g. 2 or 3 weeks.
Secondly, creating a routine. I use Asana to group and plan my tasks. At the end of each day I review my tasks for the next day. It puts me at ease and makes it easier to relax and end the day.
What lessons did you learn along the way?
Being patient is key. This was the most difficult lesson as I’m naturally a very impatient person. But in this wonderful business of food photography patience is key. Many things take time – building a skill, creating a photoshoot, or pitching, planning and executing a project with a client – and it’s important to learn to be okay with this.
Would you like to share you camera and lens details? what’s your favourite lens?
Sure! I shoot with a Canon 5d Mark IV. I have 3 different Canon lenses that I use interchangeably: 50 mm f/1.4, macro 100 mm f/2.8L and 24-70mm f/2.8L. The macro 100 mm is hands down my favourite lens!
Where do you make your photos, at home or in a studio?
I’m lucky to have my own photo studio at home which is where I shoot the majority of my client and personal projects. When needed I also shoot at a client’s location.
How do you prepare a photography & styling set?
I always start with making sure I understand my client’s vision. If I work on a personal project, I brainstorm what my vision for the shoot is.
I then go on to thinking about what colours will work best with that feel. Based on that, I plan what backdrops and props I’ll use. I also like to sketch out a few of the takes as it’s a great starting point for when I’m on the set and helps me to ‘warm up’. When I have all these ideas in place, I prep the dish a day before (unless the shoot requires process shots).
That way, when I walk in to the studio on a shoot day I know exactly what steps to take and can focus purely on making the food looking most appetising!
Where do you start, do you use a moodboard?
Overtime I created my own pdf that I call ‘Photoshoot Planner’ with things that I know I need to consider for each shoot (such as colour palette or list of angles and takes).
I organise my ideas and create a moodboard in the process. I’d say that 99% of the time I have a moodboard that I rely on. I find that organising my work like this helps me think sharply, remember all ideas and gives me the peace of mind to create. It also makes my work go so much faster, and leaves me time at the end to play around and create something extra that wasn’t in the initial plan.
What tools in a photography setting can’t be missed?
To me that’s a tripod and a tethering setup (a good tethering cable and software) – it helps to maintain creative freedom.
I first search for the frame with a camera in my hands and then mount it on the tripod. This way, if I have to step away from my camera to change anything with the food styling or light I don’t have to go through the process of searching for the right frame again.
Another tool that can’t be missed are light modifiers – bounce boards, black foams and diffusers. They help make or break the feel of the image.
Which light do you work prefer (daylight/artificial)? What’s your favourite artificial light setup?
I shoot using natural light only. The one thing I can say is – make sure to learn and understand natural light and it’ll make all the difference during those short, winter days.
What is your dream…..?
My big dream is to, one day, be able to open a photography studio in the centre of my town.
How do you see yourself in about 5 years..?
I’d love to continue growing my business and, with time, expand my offerings but I’ll share announcements when the time comes 🙂 I also plan to expand my skills and learn using artificial light for more freedom on those long shoot days!
Tips and tricks?
The biggest tip – do not give up and be stubborn! Every job or hobby requires time to gain proficiency and the right knowledge. Keep that in mind whenever moments of self-doubt come. Trick – you don’t have to own an impressive cake stand collection. Flip a bowl upside down and place a plate in a matching colour on top.