The Principal food photographer

Our Principal food photographer known by his blog name of Bacon on the Beech (or Scott, to us) captures hundreds of beautiful food and drink photographs every month. Snapping everything from delicious dishes, to creative cocktails and chefs cooking up a storm in the kitchen, you'll see his handiwork across our social media channels and websites. While these days everyone's a food photographer (more often than not sharing a badly-lit photo taken at an 'interesting' angle), we asked Scott for his food photography tips and found out a bit more about his distinctive style.

Scott Rhodes, Bacon on the Beech
Scott Rhodes, The Principal food photographer

 

Tell us a bit about you
I studied art and design at college and then illustration at Manchester Metropolitan University. I’ve been a freelance illustrator since the early 90’s, initially as a commercial artist, painting artwork for packaging like Whittard Tea and fruit juice labels as well as for advertising, magazines (like the Observer and The Times) and greeting cards. Later I got into early Apple Macs and took to creating design digitally.

How did you get into food photography?
By accident really. I started a food blog four years ago as a hobby and started taking photos in restaurants. I got quite good at it and developed my skills further, meeting chefs and people in the industry. I’ve always loved food and eating out so it seemed a natural progression. I transferred my artistic skills over from illustration to photography where I was perhaps more inspired. I guess I have a good eye and approached photography from a slightly more creative background.

Smoky Old Fashioned, The Printing Press
Smoky Old Fashioned, The Printing Press

 

What or who influences you?
Initially as a blogger, websites like Spanish Hipster and Ulterior Epicure. Now as a professional; I like lots of food photographers such as Mikel Ponce working in Spain. Not just living photographers either; I’m always inspired (although perhaps not directly) by the great street photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Willy Ronis. I also studied fine art so the lighting in paintings by Caravaggio and Velázquez is in the back of my mind.

Oyster and The Refuge, Manchester
Natural oyster, The Refuge by Volta

 

Do you cook at home and have you received any tips from the chefs you’ve worked with?
My wife won’t let me! She likes to cook lots so I am happy to let her take over, although I am an expert in eating her lovely creations.

What are your favourite things to photograph?
Photography is all about light, so things that glisten: getting the sheen on a piece of meat or the beautiful skin on a mackerel, for example. Also for the same reason, cocktails are always enjoyable – capturing the way the light shines on the ice and on the glass is really satisfying. I also enjoy shooting chefs in the kitchen which is more fluid and ad hoc.

Mackerel at The Printing Press
Mackerel at The Printing Press

 

What would you say was your photographic style?
I often aim for simplicity, creating (what I hope will be) beautiful and striking images. I also like intense colours and contrast and chiaroscuro (extreme light and dark).  I’m not looking for ‘accurate’ colours per se, I want better than real life, not an exact reproduction – what would be the point in that?

Once you’ve come home from a shoot, what happens next?
I have to upload the files to my laptop then convert them to another format before transferring them to my iMac (which is older so doesn’t recognize the file format straight out of the camera). It’s complicated and time consuming (2 or 3 hours at least). The following day I start to convert the RAW files (like a digital light-room) to jpegs – half of the creative process will happen here. You can really polish the photograph that comes out of the camera, enhancing the colours and lighting. Then I will have a number of photos that I can edit down to a strong set.

Executive Chef Jason Wardill, The Refectory
Executive Chef Jason Wardill with steaks, The Refectory

 

Tell us about being The Principal food photographer
I had previously worked with Luke Cowdrey on photos for Volta a couple of years back and Gemma Harrison also knew my work from my website Bacononthebeech.com, specifically the photos I’d done with Gary Usher at Sticky Walnut. So they both recommended me.

Now I work with Gemma at every site: The Refuge by Volta in Manchester, The Refectory Kitchen & Terrace and Chapter House Bar & Games Room in York and The Printing Press Bar & Kitchen and Burr & Co. in Edinburgh. We started with The Refuge which was the blueprint for the way we work together, although each site is different and has its own challenges in terms of lighting and set. Gemma styles the shoots (if necessary) and edits the photos down to the final selection. We make a great team!

Chicken Caesar croquettes, The Refectory
Chicken Caesar croquettes, The Refectory

 

Food photography tips

  • In a restaurant, ask for a window seat for the best light, also good daylight in the daytime helps enormously, so go for lunch for the best pictures. Although I’d recommend avoiding direct sunlight and never use flash.
  • Try different angles and set ups - I love taking overhead shots and side on, as well as people holding dishes or tucking into them.
  • Using a DSLR with a prime (fixed) lens will also be an advantage. It doesn’t have to be an expensive piece of kit, an entry level camera and lens will do the job well. Shoot in RAW format allows much more flexibility – you can rescue photos in bad or artificial light for instance.  
  • But if you’re just shooting on a phone, then make sure you use the editing features (rather than filters) on apps such as Instagram to help you enhance your photos. Try sharpening by 20% and using the brightness and contrast features.
  • Take lots of photos, the more photos you take the better you will be and the more likely you’ll get that perfect shot.