Kelly Cline’s images are colorful, contrasting and different. Kelly loves food and her unique ability to harness light to highlight food naturally without any artificial means becomes apparent when one sees her images. But Kelly is not just a photographer, she is also the food stylist, prop stylist and recipe author and working so closely with all the aspects of the process means she profoundly understands food and is able to bring that to life in her photos.
Kelly is a Seattle based food photographer and stylist and has been working with and shooting food professionally for over 10 years. Her photography has been seen all over the world in advertising and in magazines such as Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and Oxygen.
We are really excited to welcome Kelly to the Plate to Page blog as she shares some of her valuable tips and takes us through her career. Thank you Kelly for joining us!
How I got started?
I became interested in photography at a very young age. My grandfather handed me an old Kodak Brownie, the gray kind with the flash bulbs you had to replace that were filled with steel wool. He would take us up to Mt Rainier where we would take photos of nature landscapes. My Uncle was also a factor, as he was a pilot and photographer during WWII, he taught me how to make a pinhole camera out of a Quaker Oats box and how to develop the film in the darkroom. After that, photography was deeply seeded into my creative interests, which also included drawing, painting and sculpture.
Sometime in my 20s I saw a Gourmet Magazine cover with an Apple Tart on the cover. The cover has an apple tart on it, the apples laid out in a spiraling pattern with a sprig of thyme laid across the top. I came from a home of simple, but delicious, comfort food. My idea of an apple pie was a crust on top and a crust on the bottom. I had never seen apple slices laid out naked with no crust to cover them before, it threw me for a loop. A wonderful loop that began my plunging headlong into a world of discovering everything that is wonderful about food.
I bought the magazine and began re-creating the recipes like crazy. I started making monthly visits to "upscale" dining establishments, the kind of places where the food came to you as a plated work of art. The artist inside of me was impressed by the fact that food could be made to look so pretty and still taste amazing.
So now I had a decent amount of what I would call "Amateur Gourmet" cooking under my belt. I would entertain friends and use them as guinea pigs for my latest creations. I would try my hand at re-creating my own versions of the sculpturesque foods that I had fallen in love with. It was one evening over one of these dinner that a friend said to me "I can not eat this, it is too pretty. You have to take a picture first!"
And so I did.
I began taking pictures of most everything that I cooked and ate from that point on... long before the internet and long, long, before blogs. I mostly used my clunky old Polaroid, as digital cameras were not around at that time. I also made use of my 35mm from time to time as well. I did not pay so much attention to lighting, focus or the little details early on, as I was really just trying to chronicle my culinary explorations.
Then one day, after perusing some more food magazines I decided to try my hand at actually "staging" a shot. It was a silly shot of an apple pie, one of the few old food photos I have left from so many years ago. And that is how it began.
Why you choose this field?
After 9/11 there were a lot of businesses that were hit hard. The high-end Lithographers that i had worked for had to roll up their doors and I was left unemployed. I felt that I was standing at a crossroads. I could take a left and get in the employment line and try to scratch out a living in a time when jobs were scarce or just not paying enough because everyone was in the same boat. Or I could take a right, and give photography as a career a go.
I chose based on my passions, food and photography. I was a foodie long before the term was popularized. I love food, I love cooking it, discovering new ingredients and most of all photographing it. I live by the motto: Do what you love, Love what you do.
Set small realistic goals for yourself, prepare for adjustment to your goals and even a little disappointment here and there. It's completely normal to experience a few set backs about our own expectations, but just stick to your goals and re-evaluate them on a regular basis making changes where necessary. Also, understand that you have to spend some time doing it, it won't happen over night. Just remember to give yourself and your goal time to catch up to your expectations.
What has changed over the years in your point of view?
I think television and the Internet has really revolutionized the food industry in general. The topic of food is readily accessible to a much broader audience than it was back in the 80s and 90s. The amount of content on the web available that focuses on food casts a long shadow on publications in the days of old. More people are talking about food and more people are interested in food. If all these people were interested in the 80s and 90s, we didn't really know because we had been disconnected from our fellow food loving populace. With the internet and modern technology in photography, we have an actual community that shares, teaches, gives and enjoys food together.
From a styling and photography point of view - REAL food. Fake food and overly styled food are slowly dying off and making way for images and styling that showcase the beauty of food in its natural state. And this is a good thing, because the viewing audience is wise to tricks of old and just about anyone can tell the difference between a real ice cream cone and one made with mashed potatoes or non-melting sugar lard.
How has your style changed or developed?
I have certainly embraced natural light over the years. It suits my style best. I would say that although I have always styled my food "green" and do not use inedible additives to my photos, I would definitely say that styling using this method really has made an impact on my photography. All-natural food styling forces me to think on my feet, because food has a very small window where it looks fresh. With every new ingredient, I learn about it's window of freshness and how best to capture it.
I started out styling food this way because I didn't have a money tree growing in the back yard and could not afford to waste food by making it inedible. It all goes back to shooting what you are passionate about. If I were shooting a stack of pancakes covered in motor oil, I would be hard pressed to be motivated to make it look appetizing and delicious. I would KNOW what it REALLY is and I can not... no scratch that - I will not make my camera lie about food.
I am constantly learning new things every single day. It's one of the things that I love about what I do, there is always something new to learn and I am constantly changing and developing as I go.
One or two things you learned along the way:
Shoot what you have a passion for. If I were passionate about cars I would shoot cars. My passion is food, I truly believe that if you lack passion for the subject you shoot it will show in your image. You cannot fake an interest in something. It has to be there and it has to be from the soul.
Learning to kill your darlings. Not every shot you take is going to be a winner. You need to step out of your own head and take an objective look at your own work and know when to cut your losses and move on. It happens to everyone. Don't waste time trying to fix a bad shot in post-processing. Cut your losses, kill your darlings, learn from your mistake and create something better.
Props are important. Linens, rustic pieces of silverware, glassware, plates and dishes. But you must remember to keep props relative to what you are shooting. A pair of boxing gloves, a hair brush and a kid's toy have no place being used as props in a photo of say, a plated Steak dinner photo. Pay attention to your props, you don't garnish a stuffed Thanksgiving Turkey with Strawberries and Watermelon wedges, for instance.
Biggest lesson learned: Attention to detail. Every little drip, splash, smudge, dust and hair will be seen by the camera. Keeping paper towels, cotton swabs and a bottle of glass cleaner on hand is a must.
Photography and Styling: Kelly Cline