How to create mouthwatering images Oliver Brachat and his journey from chef to food photographer

From chef to full time photographer, Oliver Brachat’s images are as exquisite as the food he takes pictures of. With the advent of the smartphones, selfies, and instant gratification on social media, food photography can be seen as something that everyone can achieve. However, Brachat’s approach to this artistic endeavour encompasses precision, patience and dedication. Very much like cooking itself, food photography requires detailed attention in order to make the images speak for themselves, and in this case, make them as mouthwatering as possible. Oliver Brachat did a food photography workshops not too long ago at the Cafe Leitz. He shares with us his experience in food photography as well as 6 key tips for those of you who want to achieve the perfect food image!

You are a professional food photographer, in addition of being a trained chef. Both are precise arts and require patience and discipline. How can you compare the two?

As a matter of fact both professions do have a lot in common. Both working as a trained chef and working as a food photographer you have to work precisely, practice a lot to gain experience. You must be passionate and be willing to work many hours in order to create the exact dish or photo you have in mind. In addition to that a curious, open-minded spirit and character as well as a sense of aesthetics is certainly helpful. A chef is expected to cope with much pressure, stress and heat, and has to deliver a tasty dish at any time. In comparison a food photographer has to deal with different light situations and has to figure out which colour and style of the plate, silverware and napkin to choose from to create a mouthwatering image of the food or dish.

After purchasing a second-hand Leica in the US, this camera can almost be considered as a sous-chef, being your partner on every photographic endeavour you take, how has your photography evolved over time? 

While working as a chef in the United states twenty years ago, I traded my Canon Camera including all my equipment for a used Leica, manufactured in 1967, the same year I was born. Back then, my focus in photography was mainly on landscapes and people. I was often working 14 hours a day and did not have much spare time, but going into the woods and taking the camera with me had a very relaxing effect, almost like meditation. Being a pastry chef in New England, I was able to enjoy the beauty and colours of the Indian summer at its peak. Although I found my work to be very satisfying, I hated not having enough time for my hobby. So I started taking my camera to work. One day there was a photographer coming to the place I worked at, his name was Joshua Greene. He was working all over the U.S., taking pictures of hotels, resorts and food. I remember I really thought what a great job this man had. I think, that special day got deep into me and left a strong impression.

Taking pictures with my Leicaflex during that time was indeed a real revelation, there was no comparison of the quality of the slides I took. From the first moment I was using that camera, taking pictures was so much fun. I took it wherever I went and one year later I had my first photo exhibition in Charlottesville, Virginia. So photography became the biggest and most important aspect of my life and as a consequence I wanted to become a professional photographer after returning to Germany. I applied at Christian Teubner food photography, worked as a food stylist, before I became a self- employed food photographer.

In the past choosing the right film was as important as using the right camera, today you look for the camera with the perfect digital sensor. I am using Leica SL, Phase One digital backs and several analog cameras.

Oliver Brachat's Chili Cheese Steak Sandwich recipe
Oliver Brachat’s Chili Cheese Steak Sandwich recipe

When converting into a full-time photographer, you started to focus on street food photography. Tell us more about this type of environment (street food) and how you deal both with chefs, the food they make, and the people who eat it!

Street food was just one of many different photo-projects , I worked on. Although street food is one of the most interesting projects I worked on so far. Street food is very international and of topical interest. Street food festivals are all over the place, at least here in Germany, while in many other areas like in Asia, street food is part of their lifestyle.

The industry of food and food photography has been growing over the last years thanks to the advent of technology, social networks and globalization. Where do you think it is going now?

Nowadays, almost everybody can afford to buy a digital camera, take images of food and share it right away in social networks. Meanwhile clients follow these blogs, Pinterest and Instragram because the images they find look different. They have a special character and are often done without much technical and professional know-how. But they look good. Publishers of magazines and cooking books love them these days. A cool thing about globalization is to present oneself worldwide, via Instagram or Pinterest. But that means a lot of competition. I have to be careful not to fall out of the loop.

One may say that food photography is a balance between food styling and proper conditions for lighting and equipment. Can you share with the readers your top 6 tips (or tricks) how to achieve excellent food photography?

– Shoot with a real camera, not a smartphone

– Get used to your camera, know what it’s able to do

– Get started with easy and picturesque things you already have at home, like tomatoes, garlic, apples, etc…

– Imagine your image before taking it. Organize everything before, because possibilities are endless. Some examples: what kind of background? light wood? dark wood? metal surface or tablecloth? on a plate or cutting board? with knife or without? depth of field? lens? taking the image inside or outdoor? etc.

– Look at other photographers or photos you like, but do your own style

– Last but not least, be patient and practice a lot!

Please share your experience during the recent workshop at the Café Leitz. What were the goals and outcomes of the workshop?

In my workshop it was my main goal to show people that it is possible to create good food photos with natural light. My second goal was to show people, how to create moodful photos without much post processing. And that’s my philosophy: try to solve as much as possible while creating an image.

On a more general basis, how do you conceive photography? What does it mean to you?

Photography means a lot to me. It is my way to be creative. It is a part of art and the challenge to capture the moments in in a picture or a series of pictures to tell a story. At the moment I can’t imagine to live without it.

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share with readers and any other projects you’re working on that you may want to talk about?

Recently I have been working on a cooking book about cooking with insects. That was very interesting and totally different from mainstream. I had to get involved with it very much. But if you are open for new things, everything is possible.

While I was working in the States I met a photographer, who was working for National Geographic. His name is Michael (Nick) Nichols. And the biggest advice he gave to me was, always think in projects. Never focus on one image alone if you want to be a professional.

Thank you Oliver!

To know more about Oliver Brachat’s work, please visit his official website.

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