The pandemic has truly hurt the creative industry. Who knew that a year ago that specializing in portrait photography would hurt my career so badly?
I am living and working in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where the first wave of COVID-19 was pretty underwhelming in terms of impact to the population’s health. Maybe that’s why when the second wave hit so hard, the government assumed we’d make it through again with little harm. However, after reaching nearly 15% positivity rates, the provincial government has implemented an unbalanced code red lockdown. Anyone deemed non-essential (hard to argue photographers are essential) are not allowed to work, at all, indoors or outdoors with other people.
I do not have a lot of product photography work that I can shoot alone at home, so I’ve basically been a stay-at-home dad since November 10, 2020. While I’m certainly enjoying spending more time with my young children, I definitely miss the creative aspect of my work; finger painting just isn’t doing it for me anymore!
I really enjoy food photography, but living and working in a relatively small market, there are not a lot of big food photography projects that come across my desk. When they do, I find a lot of them follow fairly strict guidelines, with fairly standard lighting; basically I’m coloring within the art director’s lines. There are, of course, challenges, both technical and creative with these types of assignments, but it’s unfortunately not too often I get full creative control over a food shoot, to create the images that dance within my head. Enter my latest personal project, Dave Eats Winnipeg!
In a way, it’s a follow up to my last big personal photo project: “A Portrait A Day.” For this project, I shot a new portrait every single day for an entire year. I have worked on a few other long-term projects in between but didn’t make them a ‘follow along’ format, as I didn’t feel they had a consistent look or quality. By posting every single day publicly, I make sure that I share the project on my social streams, as well as with colleagues, friends, family, and clients. Sharing it really adds that extra pressure to constantly deliver quality work. This format also adds accountability, as people will be wondering if/why you stop the daily posts.
I learned a lot from the portrait project, and I’ve definitely applied a lot of those lessons to my food project. For the most part, I’m not forcing myself to shoot a new food photo every day, as not every meal is going to be photogenic; if we slightly overcook a meal, it will likely still be delicious, but may not be the best image. So some days I may shoot 2 or 3 great food shots, and some days I may shoot 1 or 2, but if they are not up to my standards they won’t make it online.
There are lots of positives and negatives to dedicating yourself to a project like this. The biggest positive is honing my craft even more and trying to take my food photography to the next level by mastering different lighting and compositions. If you want to be good at anything, you need to devote a lot of time and energy to practicing and improving. Shooting every day is a great way to accomplish that. I figure that you could very likely create a brand new 20 image portfolio by doing a project like this in 2-3 months.
The biggest challenge I’m facing, which may seem trivial, is trying to photograph meals, and still eat them warm with my wife and 2 young children, as we value eating meals together. I’m trying to pre-light whenever possible, and just throw the food in there to accomplish a
Having just surpassed day 50, I’m coming close to having photographed most of our family’s go-to staple meals, so I’m going to be forced to branch out to trying a lot of new recipes. That’s both a positive and negative, as I can whip up our regular meals pretty effortlessly, but trying new recipes is time-consuming, and don’t always work out. The other issue is, will my kids actually eat it?!?
While a lot of the project involves trying to make aesthetically-pleasing photographs of my daily meals, I’m also trying to sprinkle in some more conceptual photography involving food when I can find the extra time. These shoots are really challenging me to think differently and get the creative juices flowing. I’m still looking forward to trying new techniques on more of these conceptual shoots in the future.
As our COVID-19 numbers start to improve, I am hopeful I will be able to return to my work as a full-time independent photographer soon. Though I have several shoots lined up ready to go as soon as I am legally allowed to work (wow, it feels quite ridiculous writing that) I am hoping to continue this project for a while.
When restrictions loosen, I am planning on offering restaurants who have also greatly suffered during the pandemic a deal in which I can shoot their most photogenic meal in exchange for using that photo for my project. In return, they can also use that retouched image for their social media as well. For many restaurants, it would be an introduction to what professional photography can do for their business, and I am certain it will also earn some new clients in the process, maybe even a few that can appreciate my style, and may even give me that creative freedom I seem to be after.
About the author: David Lipnowski is a commercial photographer with a photojournalist background who regularly works for many of Canada’s top companies and magazines. You can connect with him through his website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.