In this comprehensive overview of contemporary food photography, students study the characteristics of food, concept development, as well as lighting and styling techniques. During a photo shoot, students have the opportunity to observe and assist a professional photographer, as well as a food and prop stylist, to help develop their own food photography skills and style.
ArtCenter: How would you describe this class to a prospective student?
Pornchai Mittongtare: I tell students this isn’t a class for your Instagram feed. I’ve worked in food photography for over 20 years — including at Bon Appétit magazine, In-N-Out and GE Appliances — and I want to share the skills I’ve learned from those experiences. The subject is food, but if you’re a good photographer, you can shoot anything, including food.
Pornchai goes above and beyond by sharing professional experiences and giving demos in his own studio on his own time. He wants you to give your best by creating art with food.Karina MendezPhotography & Imaging
AC: What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?
PM: In the digital age, we’re constantly bombarded with photos, especially of food. I challenge students to create images that stand out and spark conversation, which is the expertise you need to get a job. It’s never a good sign if people look through your portfolio quickly.
AC: What makes food photography unique as a medium?
PM: Food photography as a medium isn’t unique. It’s up to the photographer to make an image unique. If you Google “tomatoes,” you’ll find countless images, so the challenge with food photography, as with any genre of photography, is to capture something that’s different — something that will catch someone’s eye.
AC: What are some of the most important concepts and ideas you hope students take away from the experience/classwork?
PM: I want students to tell a story with every photo they create. Storytelling is hugely important; it’s what keeps people talking. You have to have a lot of emotion in your photography. If you don’t feel it, your audience won’t feel it either.
AC: How do students work with professional food and prop stylists in this class?
PM: We stage a professional photo shoot and students select a recipe for a dish a stylist will prepare. This gives students experience communicating with stylists, as well as insight into understanding how these professionals work, which is valuable if you want to work in this field.
AC: What are some of the assignments and materials you hope will challenge students to break new ground creatively?
PM: I have an assignment called, “Is this edible?” in which students find a unique dish or ingredient — like organ meat, chicken feet or cow lips — and create an image using food that might be unfamiliar to them. Another assignment challenges students to photograph foods that are mainly black and white, which is technically difficult to do, and pair them together in a still life.
AC: What were some of the most interesting/surprising ways the students responded to the challenges and assignments?
PM: I want to encourage students to focus on the uniqueness of a photo. For instance, it’s difficult to produce an image of a pizza that has never been seen before. But if the subject is broader, like “orange,” students have more of an opportunity to create something new. During February, students choose a popular holiday or event that takes place that month — like Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year or the Super Bowl — and create a six-page editorial spread. I’ve had students create some very surprising and shocking photographs tied to Valentine’s Day.