A Conversation with Food Photographer, Dennis Prescott
I hope you're not too hungry because photos by the incredible photographer and ShareGrid member, Dennis Prescott, will give you plenty of reasons for a cheat day. I was lucky enough to have a conversation Dennis about his process, his story and why he loves photographing food for a living.
With over 400K followers on Instagram, Dennis is becoming a big authority in food photography on the "Gram". However, his style is unique and incredibly encapsulating. Not to mention downright mouth-watering and beautiful. Almost all of his photos are what we call a tabletop perspective. Which means he takes the photo directly facing down on the food and the layout of the table. This offers a birds-eye view of not only the food itself, but the scene in which Dennis has carefully laid out.
Primarly shooting on Canon now, here is some of the gear that he shoots with:
To dive deeper into his story and advice, here is my conversation with Dennis Prescott.
You can create the most cinematic scene but if there’s no story or no connection then it’s just pretty pictures.
BB: How did you get your start in photography and how long have you been a photographer?
DP: I was a musician for 10 years and lived my life in a 15-passenger van and travelled all over America and Canada and Europe. I photographed on the way. I was taking photographs for fun. I got really into it, but I wouldn’t say I was a photographer, I was just having fun taking photographs.
Then I moved to Nashville in 2008 and while I was there I became obsessed with food. I became obsessed with cooking food, but more specifically feeding people. That specific aspect of orchestrating in dining, in the sense that you’re spending another hour at the table, I really wanted to invest in that as someone who lived on the road.
I was cooking up to a dozen dishes a day for bandmates, studio mates or anyone who would eat. I started to lose track of what I was cooking and purely for document sake, I started taking pictures with my phone of the dishes I was making so I could catalog my process and not forget anything.
Then this thing called Instagram started. From then going on, until really today, almost every photo on there was a food photograph but initially it was really the only content I had on my phone at that time. I became a photographer because I wanted to document a process but through that, fell in love with the act of photography.
BB: What camera, lenses, and lights do you use? Does that change or is it consistent?
DP: It definitely changes on the situation. I shoot natural light, I always have. I did commercial photography in a time of my life and in those scenarios, I’d often be in a massive studio complex. There were all these makeshift kitchens and studio lights, but in the food photography world, I have yet to find a light that gives the same kind of look the sun does. To me there’s a quality of the sun that I really love. The problem is the sun is not your friend all the time, its cloudy, it rains, its finicky.
In terms of gear I’m a Canon shooter. I shoot a lot on a 1DX Mark II. I’ll use a 35mm f/1.4 or a 100mm macro lens. I’ve shot on a lot of cameras, but in terms of lenses it’s really shot specific for me. The benefit of shooting in the food world is 99% of the time I can use a prime lens because I’m shooting in a studio space. I can move tripod arms and everything to adjust so I don’t need a zoom.
BB: Speaking of light, how do you manipulate it? Are you diffusing natural light?
DP: Of course. That again will change on the day. I live near Canada so anywhere northern hemisphere a north facing window going to be your most consistent window for natural sunlight all day long. So, I only shoot with a north facing window, because east and west windows lighting just change all day long. For me in the food world, it’s just really nice to know that from 8:30am to 4:30pm, the light is going to pretty consistent. So if I’m shooting throughout the day I’m not going to have to go chasing light. On a big shoot day, I’m shooting 6-8 dishes a day so I need the light to be consistent. In the food world, bad highlights are your worst friend. So, diffusing that light with help make your bad friend your good friend.
BB: Your tabletops have texture but are pretty dark, which is unique because a lot of food photography are bright and light but you don’t do that, which I love.
There are moody shots I want to have more contrast and darken out. We use blot cards and remove light. Then, if I want to create a beachside picnic with friends and burgers, then you are recreating light on the beach. Food is still storytelling, so you want everything to be styled, lit, photographed in a way that it transports you to the situation. So that’s kind of how I go about it. I tend to go toward the dark and moody cause it’s more my personality and I prefer it more. In terms of lighting situations, I love dark light jazz bars and Radiohead, but there’s something about high contrast moody photographs that speak to me.
BB: Your composition and overall setting looks more real. Nothing looks too placed which I love. It feels real and situational. Can you elaborate on that style?
DP: I really appreciate that because honestly, if someone asked me "what is the number one thing you should do to create great photographs You need to create what I call “Peek-a-boo” moments.
You can create the most cinematic scene but if there’s no story or no connection then it’s just pretty pictures. But when you get "the connection" you get something that really creates something that changes that person. It’s about creating this moment. With food it’s the one thing we all share no matter where you’re from or where you live we all have a connection with food. So it’s a really unique way to share that with social media.
BB: You talk about moments; how do you capture a moment with food? What is it that when you photograph food that you go after and it’s a moment, not just a perfectly placed piece of food.
DP: For example, ice cream cones. Most people have had ice cream cones. So, if you photograph ice cream, number one, use real food. Real food will always look better than not real food. So, if you make ice cream from scratch, it’s not easy, it takes some time to get the hang of it. Then you get your perfect ice cream and then you put it in the cone and put it in the freezer to freeze up cause then it will melt on you. You set up your camera, light, diffusers, props, make everything perfect and do a test shot. Then if it’s perfect you take the ice cream out of the freezer and quickly shoot it. Is that photo going to change somebody’s life? Probably not.
But, what’s the one universal thing everyone connects with ice cream cone? The drip. The drip that runs down your cone in the summer in July when it’s really hot outside and you lick it before it gets your hand. Food photography is creating drip moments for people. Whatever that drip moment is for you that people are experiencing. That’s the connector and will universally connect to someone looking at that and that’s what makes it a great photograph.
Are you drooling yet? Check out more of Dennis' work either at his Instagram page, @dennistheprescott or his website: www.dennistheprescott.com.