In the fifteen years since Anita launched Food Connections, a networking group for individuals in every food industry niche you can think of, we’ve met some amazingly talented professionals. We want to take this opportunity to introduce a few of them, starting with none other than one of our valued food photographers, Dennis Becker.
Read on for an insightful Q&A from our fellow mushroom lover, Dennis.
Tell us about Dennis Becker Photography.
Dennis Becker Photography specializes in food photography for packaging, websites, and social media. Our studio is large enough to handle up to three sets, yet intimate enough to cater to single client jobs where confidentiality is important. I usually prefer to handle all propping needed for very specific packaging jobs, and we also have a large selection of props and surfaces for editorial content heavy shoots. We typically have an onsite digital technician for special retouching needed for most packaging jobs. All photography files are retouched, and color corrected for their final purpose before releasing them to the client.
How did you get into food photography?
After graduating with a degree in photography from Northwest College, I returned to Minneapolis to pursue a career in commercial photography. I was hired as an assistant at a studio that produced all kinds of photography with an emphasis on food. After working with a variety of clients at the studio, I realized that food photography was the area I wanted to focus on.
I began freelancing and after a while, I decided to take a full-time position as Senior Photographer at General Mills, concentrating on food photography. I shot dozens of cookbooks, packaging projects, and FSI’s (free standing inserts), those coupons found in the Sunday newspaper. Which reminds me that there used to be about a dozen ceramic Pillsbury Dough Boys, all with different hand positions that traveled around in their own little foamed-lined coolers to different photo studios, mainly for FSI shoots. They were pretty cool; the torso and head were separate, complete with a little white scarf. That was back in the film days before photoshop.
What is your favorite food to photograph?
Not really having a favorite food to photograph, I like capturing interesting food moments, whether it’s a drip of syrup falling off the edge of a pancake, steam coming out of a freshly baked broken biscuit, or sweat dripping off a chilled beverage. These moments show there’s life in the food—and usually means I have to work fast. My best food shots are when the food is fresh and alive, which in my mind’s eye is more important than getting the perfect composition or light. It’s kind of like a great expression on a model’s face. I enjoy composing editorial type images that convey a sense of place with the help of light and mood to inspire the viewer to want to be there. I also like to work in a graphic style of design where all the elements are square to camera, and the food is showcased as the only element that is organic and not square to camera (inspired by Donna Hay). Unlike most food shoot workflows, I prefer to have food on the set before the props, so I can study the food and find the best camera angle, then build a composition of props around the food to enhance the mood of the shot. If too much propping happens before the food arrives, there’s often a lot of revamping props and composition while fresh food is waiting on the set. The food is your subject not the props! You will often find me in the kitchen hovering over a food stylist making the food so I see can if there could be a better approach to photographing that food, like deciding not to cut into a pie (which was intended) and shooting it whole, or maybe showing the process of making the food instead of plating it. Studying the food while it’s being prepared helps inspire the prop and surface choices too.
What are 3 words you would use to describe your photography?
What takes a photograph from good to great?
I think what takes a good photograph to great one, are the small things that pull a viewer in.
It could be some crumbs or a sense that someone is there, like bread ripped open or something that’s a little off from perfect; it gives the shot a sense of reality. Maybe a beverage that’s partly gone, or a condiment that has been dipped into, tells the viewer there is some life in the shot. Or it can be imperfect light, like a shadow from something outside of the shot that tells the viewer there’s more to the story—like a wine bottle you don’t actually see. Those moments put the setting into context, making the shot look real and not so staged. I often look at the shot and ask myself, “…do I want to eat that and do I want to be there?”
Having a good relationship with a food stylist helps a lot, too, where I’m not afraid to go out of my lane, and they trust me in their lane once in a while. I will often ask a stylist and the client if they’re happy with a shot, and if the answer is yes, I’ll ask if I can try something else knowing we already have the shot. I might dig into the food or make some kind of mess to try to give the shot more of a sense of life—and often we will get a better shot. It’s worth walking outside the boundaries to see what more we can tell.
What are the keys to a successful shoot?
Being prepared for a photoshoot is the key to success. Having my own studio allows me to set up my cameras, computers and lights so there are no technical surprises during the shoot, and we can hit the ground running. I like to have plenty of prop choices, even if I am convinced that I have just the right ones picked out—I never want to come up short. I will meet with the food stylist and come up with a shot list, so we are on the same page as far as a shot order, ensuring we’ll make the most efficient use of our studio time. Staying on schedule is very important, and understanding the team members I work with, so we won’t get lost in time during the creative process on set. And it’s really essential to know who’s driving the team—sometimes it is the stylist, other times it’s the art director, or my favorite driver “the photographer.” This can be tricky when you have a new client and it’s hard to tell who’s driving—but this can lead to an accident. It’s always a team effort but only one can drive.
What can we find you doing when you’re not in the studio?
I have spent most of my life enjoying the outdoors in some fashion, whether it’s hunting, fishing, family camping, and most recently foraging for wild mushrooms. I co-authored, with Michael Karns (a local mushroom expert) and Lisa Golden Schroeder (a local food stylist and writer) “Untamed Mushrooms: From Field to Table,” a hybrid guide & cookbook about 13 species of Midwestern wild mushrooms that are easily identified, fun to find, and delicious to eat. The book stemmed from a blog story about foraging for wild mushrooms at 2fish1dish.com, a shared content creation site I produce with Lisa Golden Schroeder. We began 2fish1dish as a place to showcase our skills, telling visual stories about local agricultural subjects through great photography, rounded out with tales of the intriguing people behind each topic. We’re now expanding 2fish1dish to tell more of our own story of what we can do for brands—from creating inspiring photos or video and strategic recipes, to brand-driven copy that helps teach or provides important information for customers (in the case of food service) or home cooks.
If you could create the ultimate meal, what would be included?
My perfect dinner would have to be smoked ribs done just right, not quite, but almost falling off the bone with an impressive smoke ring—and of course Sweet Dixie Bar-B-Que Sauce straight from Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Nashville (I order this on occasion). A side of not- too-sweet coleslaw, and a great homemade mac and cheese, and of course a Stella Artois… definitely a summer affair that might need a gin & tonic chaser!
If someone wants to partner with you, how can they reach you?
You can reach me at:
Interested in getting to know even more great food-industry professionals like Dennis? Join us at Food Connections! To get in on the food and fun, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and join our LinkedIn and Facebook groups to stay connected.