Expert Interview: Nicole Franzen, Food Photographer

If you're coming to The Kitchn, you're coming for the food — but did you ever stop to think how much the image of certain foods plays into your interest in said food? Are you drooling over this gorgeous photograph flatbread with vanilla lemon salt and flower petals? I know I am!

A picture really is worth a thousand words, and today we have the privilege of hearing from an incredibly talented food photographer, Nicole Franzen, about how she makes that food photo magic happen.

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About Nicole Franzen

Nicole's blog, La Buena Vida, has captured my imagination for some time now and was recently noted by Saveur as a "Site we Love". In her blog and on her portfolio site, Nicole captures the emotion, mood and prettiness of each meal she photographs. It's interesting to me to think that a vegetable could have a personality as distinct as a human being's, and Nicole manages to capture the essence — dare I say "personality" — of all the edibles in her photographs. She makes radishes and fennel bulbs into large-scale portraits. I love this about her work.

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Another wonderful characteristic of Nicole's eye is she not only shows you the food, but where the food comes from. She locates almost all meals with the market stand where she bought the produce and the restaurant where she was served the stunning meal. She moves your eye and imagination beyond the plate and into the surroundings, showing you the bigger picture in every way.

This contextualizing of environment makes the food sing. As a viewer you appreciate it more, learning how the food was prepared and who made that dish come to life. It's this sumptuous combination of time, food and place that make Nicole's photographs so unique and fantastic. Nicole joins us today for an informative interview about her work and her techniques.

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8 Questions for Nicole Franzen

1. What are your initial thoughts when you are conceptualizing an image (or series of images) of food?
To be honest I would say it's mostly instinct. I try to not overthink shots. As cheesy as it may sound, I base my inspiration from nature. I like things that look organic. I love combining both city and nature shots. I try to find the beauty in all things. 

2. What do you think about in regards to composition and framing the food within the picture?
I like to create height and I will commonly shoot from above. I try a wide variety of different angles and when I put the images on my computer I can get a better sense and choose what I like most. Also certain images seem to work better with others. So I play around with creating layouts in Photoshop. Its a little like a puzzle. Sometimes the images work really well together and sometimes I just leave them alone. Once again it's based on instinct. It's based on a combination of colors.  

3. What sort of props do you use, if any?
I am slowly collecting more and more props. I have an old vegetable crate which I love and use in a lot of shots. Its grayish hues work well with the design of both my website and blog. I regularly hunt for special treasures at local antique shops and flea markets. I look at everything with the potential to being used as a surface. The bottom of old wooden boxes, old drawers, etc. It's a hunt to find the right things and they can be ridiculously priced here in the city. I also have a collection of bowls in wide variety of colors and patterns. I am always drawn to them. Love Anthropologie. 

4. How do you approach food styling? Do you spend a lot of time on this aspect of the image?
To be honest styling isn't my strongest area. I am getting better with practice but I still feel very challenged by it. When I shoot food in my home I try to keep things simple. I like the food to speak for itself. Every time I try to over style something it doesn't suite me. I have found that adding little details and layers of depth make the photo more interesting or add that extra touch of elegance. Adding little bits of herbs, sea salt and olive oil can all be nice. I love bright colors and contrast. I am a vegetarian so I shoot mostly veggies. I find that vegetables in there original state are really beautiful.    

5. What is your post-production (editing) process?
I try to keep the photos in their natural state. I may alter exposures, brightness, contrasts, a little color to make things pop. But I really am getting better at not having to edit to much. I have been teaching myself to create better lighting scenes so I can get exactly the image I want. 

6. Words of advice to new food photographer/bloggers?
Try new things and practice. Look at other photographers' work and get inspired. Shoot in different ways, play with settings on your camera. Try under exposing or over exposing a shot. Play with light, and don't be scared of low light conditions. Be true to yourself. I personally use blogging as a way to share my work/life in a creative way. Ask yourself what you want to gain from blogging? Gain inspiration from others but try to be original and make it your own. Keep it simple.  

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7. Whose work, photography or otherwise, are you inspired by and why?
I am inspired by a good handful of photographers. They have all taught me great things. Some of my favorites are Ditte Isager, Gentl & Hyers, Mikkel Vang and John Cullen. Those are photographers whose work I strive for. They always amaze me and inspire me to be better. They are true artists and masters of our craft. They use light in way that is magical. Their photos are vibrant and rich.

I also have a handful of photographers with blogs that I love. My friend Katie Quinn Davies in Sydney is a huge inspiration and she challenges me in a good way. Her work is truly spectacular and I love seeing her growth and the direction she is taking. I really love Aran's work on Cannelle Et Vanille her bright and vibrant images are beautiful. Her styling is elegant and I feel many people are inspired by her. I also love the styling of Nikole Herriott from Forty Sixth at Grace. She has great taste and I love the rawness of her images. Rick Poon from à la mode, is fabulous. I feel we have a similar look on life and I completely relate to his images. I adore Matt Armendariz not only for his work but for his personality. He brings such a fun twist to our industry. He makes me laugh and I respect him. I could keep going, as for I have a ton of people that inspire me. If you want to see more blogs that I read regularly see my favorites on my site.  
 
8. What's your favorite food to photograph?
Vegetables! I love shooting farms, markets, chefs, restaurants, anything food related.  

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Visit Nicole's Site: Nicole Franzen
Visit Nicole's Blog: La Buena Vida

Related: Best Food Photography Tips from 3 Pro Photographers

(Images: Nicole Franzen)