Exploding pizzas, high-end restaurants, challenging ambient light. Professional food photography goes far beyond filters and flat lays. Just ask Nadine Shaw, Nikon ambassador and principal photographer of Feast Photography.
With a career spanning two decades, Nadine has shot for countless clients ranging from Gourmet Traveller magazine to local farmers and leading restaurants. And as her work shows, she’s as passionate about food as she is adept with light and lens.
Find out more in our Q&A with Nadine below, and discover the food flat lay ‘recipe’ for Nadine’s shot (pictured right) workshopped at our last festival.
Please note: All images shown are the intellectual property of Feast Photography, paid for by clients and strictly copyrighted.
Professional food photographer Nadine Shaw | Image courtesy of Feast Photography
I was born in South Africa into an artist’s family and naturally studied fine art. I switched to focusing on photography whilst living in London and working in a photography lab, meeting and learning from the pros. I returned to my early roots and formally studied photography before I committed to a move to Australia.
Here, I was lucky to assist many talented and highly skilled advertising photographers in the peak of their careers. I did this for several years before branching out on my own. I relished commercial, advertising photography and held my own, particularly in a male dominated industry.
As I grew personally, I also became interested in permaculture, sustainability and our connection to what we eat. Naturally this unearthed my passion for food in all its tastes and forms along with an interest in recording it via photography.
In this way, my specialisation in photographing food was born out of heartfelt purpose – way before food photography itself became a burning trend. I’m proud to be at the forefront of this amazing niche.
I have had the pleasure of shooting a wide variety of food and related photography—from the farmer and manufacturer to the plate. That’s where my tagline—Pollen • Plate • Pixel—came from.
These days the majority of my time is booked shooting for the foodservice and hospitality industries, along with major food chains. The mix of clients ranges from manufacturers and farmers direct to editorial for magazines like Gourmet Traveller and Brisbane News.
I also have had the pleasure of photographing at gorgeous high-end restaurants like Donna Chang’s, Detour, and Matt Moran’s Riverbar & Kitchen, along with big players like Taco Bell, Sizzler, Pizza Capers, Michel’s Patisserie, Donut King, Domino’s, and many more.
It depends what is being photographed and the needs this dictates. Generally there is a client, agency/marketing team, me, and the food stylist.
While the agency often comes up with a general concept, I find that the best outcomes happen when I can facilitate development of these ideas. Doing this allows the group as a whole to lean on each other’s experience and deliver some delightfully original results.
I used to have Hasselblad gear; now I use Nikon cameras and Nikon lenses (see below), along with flash gear and a selection of C-stands, mirrors, reflectors, scrims, etc. – whatever I need to tell the story.
Each scenario is so particular, therefore the range of gear that is selected is carefully tailored to each shoot. That’s why I love shooting in my own studio; everything is available at arm’s reach.
Food stories can be told in so many ways and are affected by trends, so I invest heavily in a constantly updating catalogue of props and surfaces. I also always have my procurement team working on it to source quirky, one-off finds. You can tell when a photographer or stylist has a limited range, so I work hard not to be pigeonholed like that.
It would all be easy if the answer was as simple as a cake recipe!
Amateur-grammers will aggrandise the use of natural light and while this is of course useful, a professional needs to be able to cope with shooting under less than optimal lighting conditions (say a factory lineup or test kitchen) as well as be able to consistently repeat the lighting and story design for subsequent shoots.
Again, each client has different needs, so it really comes down to knowing how to visually illustrate the personalities and mood of each brand.
One of my favourite shoots (for many varied reasons) was the blazing pizza for Pizza Capers. The theme was ‘inferno’ and the brief was to create an exploding pizza, on fire and exploding into pieces, but still have it looking delicious and edible.
Needless to say the studio looked like something out of a scene from (TV show) Dexter, and clean-up was a nightmare – I think I found pizza sauce in my gear for days. But the shoot was so creatively rewarding and so much fun.
When the client trusts the team to translate their thoughts into visuals it opens the door to delivering fresh, original content every time.
There’s a magical moment with creative freedom when everyone is on the same page working hard to build a shot. These end up being the images that take their customers’ breath away and make them salivate.
While I never stop learning or trying new things, here’s some advice I recently gave my assistant:
Nadine used artificial light sources to mimic natural light – a method that allows the effect to be replicated anywhere. For the main light Nadine used a studio strobe (flash) inside a large soft box diffused by a scrim (held in place on a stand) to replicate soft window light.
Positioned at an angle to the main light, a second strobe ‘skimmed’ light across the subject to add highlights in specific areas.
A third, bare strobe was aimed at the (white) ceiling to cast soft fill light over the entire subject.
To get a secure overhead perspective for this flat lay, Nadine mounted a Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G prime lens on the arm of a C-stand so the camera was directly over the subject. An aperture of f/16 was used to create maximum depth of field, keeping every element in focus from foreground to background.