find_photog find_assist join_asmp
 

Best of 2011: Tami Reed


Tami Reed took a big step up when a local ad agency contacted her to shoot food packaging for an overseas seafood client. Yet pinning down a winning look for the product — canned mackerel in five different sauces — proved to be slippery indeed. The client requested a reshoot with a looser feel, so Reed and her team went back to work. She was tossing some aging mackerel while cleaning the set when inspiration struck in the form of iridescence. The resulting image is a reminder that beauty can be found everywhere, if only one really looks.

Tami Reed, Berkeley, CA

Web site: www.nightanddayimages.com

Project: Food packaging shots of canned mackerel for an overseas seafood client, including both a shoot and a reshoot.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

TR: I started shooting food as my primary focus three years ago, though I’ve been shooting for most of my life. Deciding to shoot food is an interesting story. I had just gotten together with my guy Michael, and he has a bunch of food allergies. Dining out is tricky if you’re allergic to garlic and soy! He somehow avoided learning how to cook, subsisting on omelettes and sandwiches for years. So when we combined households, I had to cook a lot more than I was used to. I found I liked cooking, and Michael, who is a good photographer, took some photos of things I’d made. I thought, “I could do that!” and have been shooting food ever since.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

TR: I joined in 2010.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

TR: I specialize in food, but I love shooting other things, too. Wedding still lifes are fun — cake, dress details, shoes. It’s the same mindset as food shooting but guerilla style: Get in, get it, get out.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?

TR: It’s become a cliché, but I do love my 85mm tilt-shift lens. It’s my favorite and I use it in the studio all the time. If I’m shooting with a wide aperture, I can put the focal plane angle right where I want it.

ASMP: What is unique about your style, or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

TR: Maybe that I’m not a purist. I shoot natural light, studio light, or both together. Natural light is beautiful, and I love it. But you also need to have a backup plan when you live in the Fog Belt like I do.

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

TR: The fish is supported on a piece of elevated frosted plexi. There’s some metallic paper underneath, and the set is lit so that the paper’s color reflects up through the plexi to give a soft, almost sky effect.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: You were contacted by an ad agency to shoot mackerel for an overseas client. Please talk about the relationship and communications between you, agency representatives and the client. How did the agency learn about your work? Had this agency worked with the client in the past or was this a new relationship?

TR: The ad agency with the seafood client was a new relationship for me, and they found me through my Web site; we’re fairly close together geographically. The agency has worked with the parent company of the client for many years on non-food projects, but had not done any food photography for them previously.

ASMP: You mention that your team was exhausted but happy at the end of the first shoot. Who was on this team and what in capacities did they work?

TR: At the shoot were the art director from the agency, a food stylist, a styling assistant and myself.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: The overseas client was not happy with the initial shoot. What were they unhappy with?

TR: We took shots for several different products, each with a different sauce, and they felt that they looked too similar to each other — same arrangement of fish, same bowl with different sauces in the background. They didn’t like the amount of greenery that was used, and they didn’t like the way the fish was prepared. They felt the style was more traditional, more formal than they wanted.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: Please talk about your communications and relationship with the agency after the client voiced unhappiness about your first shoot. What methods did you use to maintain a positive working relationship in the face of this news? Were there any points when you found yourself getting emotional about this dilemma and, if so, what strategies or tactics did you use to overcome this?

TR: Of course I was disappointed that the client didn’t like the outcome of the shoot. I spoke with the agency at length about it, and as we worked through the specifics, it became clear that the client simply wanted to take a different direction and that it wasn’t personal in any way. The fact that the client wanted me to do the reshoot made me feel a lot better. The agency, of course, had more at stake with this client than I did, but they just viewed the client’s change of direction as one of the many issues they have to work through every day. Communications between us were open and professional; we just stuck to the issues and there wasn’t a lot of drama.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: At the point when you made your Best of ASMP submission, you were just about to do a reshoot. Assuming that this has been accomplished, how was this reshoot received by the client? Please compare and contrast the new images you created with the test shot you submitted. How did the reshoot differ from the initial shoot?

TR: The agency did a lot of work to clarify the vision of the client for the reshoot. After that, the art director and I did a test shoot together for one sauce type (which the client paid for) with lots of variations. The agency presented the shoot as stills and also comped in some images into the package label to nail everything down as much as possible. They liked the test shoot results and the images that they chose gave everyone a much better idea of what they wanted.

Overall, the reshoot style was looser and more editorial in feel. We took all the shots in a similar but not uniform arrangement. The depth of field is shallow, a trend I’m seeing more of on packaging, but this is not the traditional approach. We also split the reshoot into two days. The original was done in one day, which added to the stress of things. It’s much easier to be loose when you have more breathing room.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: Please tell us more about the usage and terms of the mackerel assignment. Has the usage or terms altered at all between your initial agreement and your current point in the process?

TR: Neither the client nor agency tried to change or add any extra provisions to our terms. The only thing that changed was the pricing, since we did a test shoot and a reshoot.

ASMP: Does the client have any interest to use your test image at all? Are there technical or aesthetic elements from this test image that you’re seeking to incorporate in your overall photographic vision or style?

TR: I don’t know if the agency has shown my blue mackerel shot to the client. It was really something I took for myself, anyway. Food photography can be very literal when you’re trying to make things look tasty — you need it to look real. I like the blue mackerel shot because it’s dreamier, a little mysterious. The food is more of a graphic element. I’d like to do more work in that non-literal vein.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: Your story of the mackerel assignment is a great lesson in harnessing inspiration. Food shots, especially in the studio, require such meticulous attention to detail. How do you keep yourself inspired on a regular basis?

TR: There’s never been a time with more beautiful photography to look at and it’s never been more accessible than it is now. It’s actually hard to avoid them! I never burn out because of meticulous details, as that’s just the way I am built; but I do need to refresh my overall inspiration for shooting. I keep an online notebook (in Evernote) of shots that really strike me or that solve problems in a creative way or use lighting I really like. I still love black-and-white photography and see shows when I can. It’s also interesting to look at non-commercial photography. Shots that people take with smart phones, for example. You think you’ve seen everything, and then someone surprises you with a fresh approach.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: You mention that canned mackerel is one of the foods that photographers dread shooting. Please tell us about your favorite foods to shoot and why you enjoy photographing them.

TR: I have a particular affinity for shooting desserts. They generally hold well on set, so there’s more time to play with angles and styling. Of course, it might also have to do with the fact that I usually get to eat the dessert after the shoot.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: Please describe your overall client base. What percentage of your assignments are editorial versus promotional and advertising work? How much of your work is within your food specialty? Are there other major types of photography or subject areas that you cover?

TR: The majority of my work is food photography, and a lot of my clients are small and medium-size businesses. I like the directness of dealing with decision makers and seeing my work have an immediate impact. Although I’m shooting for their advertising, the style is often more editorial in feel, so I don’t find myself thinking much about the distinctions when I’m doing that kind of shoot. I just try to make the shot that would make me want to eat or buy the food they’re trying to sell.

Besides doing wedding detail and candid shots as second shooter, I also like shooting dance and skating (two personal interests of mine). You need a great sense of timing and a good understanding of how to capture movement under low light conditions. None of that comes into play while shooting food, so shooting dance and skating keeps me sharp.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: How easy is it to adjust your thinking between editorial and advertising or promotional clients? Did you ever have to stop and reboot a project because it was leaning too much into another genre?

TR: Technically, depth of field is an area I discuss with the client, and of course I don’t go hogwild with blown highlights or deep shadows for an image that needs to show the product clearly. But artistically I don’t think much about the distinction between editorial and advertising if the goal is just to make the food look as mouth-watering as possible. I think those lines are blurring across the board. I see lots of advertising now that looks much more informal and loose than in the past.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: Within the specialty of food photography, do you find much variance in terms of budget and expenses when shooting for different types of clients? How widely does your fee structure vary in this regard?

TR: Budgets are always a concern in this economy. When the client has a tight budget, I suggest ways to make the shots simple, so they’ll take less time to produce. For example, closeups with minimal propping and styling have a lot of pop but are of course quicker than wider table shots. So while some clients bring less revenue to the table, I make those shoots quick so that it still works for me.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: When you need to achieve a studio look on location, such as in a restaurant or test kitchen, what kind of gear or accessories do you take along?

TR: I’ve shot minimally with available lighting; my Nikon D3 with a fast lens is great for this. I’ve also shot with my studio strobes set up around a dining table. I’ve been doing some shooting with speedlights lately and plan to do more of that for location shoots so I can stay nimble while controlling the light as much as possible.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: How do you handle clients who want to look over your shoulder when you don’t want them around? Also, the opposite scenario: What do you do when you wish a client was present, because you know they’ll second guess you later?

TR: I like client involvement in the shoot, and most clients are more reticent than they are intrusive. I like to ask them to sort heroes, make minor lighting adjustments, look through the viewfinder at composition and make suggestions, that sort of thing. They get a kick out of it, but they also quickly see the challenges that food photographers face. It feels much more like we’re a team when we work this way, not just a client and a photographer.

I do shoot for a lot of clients who aren’t present. Lots of repeat clients trust me and it’s not a big deal to show them the work after the shoot is over. For a shot or client I’m unsure about, I arrange a time for remote viewing if they can’t be present. I shoot tethered in the studio with Aperture and can easily email a shot with a few clicks for review.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: What’s the latest photo gizmo you’ve found to help you create beautiful food pictures? What are your favorite kitchen tools for making food look perfect? Are there any tools, gadgets or tricks you work with that you feel are totally unique?

TR: I don’t have a lot of photo gizmos. I like having a third arm around but am just as likely to improvise solutions to problems with whatever I have on hand.

During food shooting, my best friend is the wooden skewer. I use them constantly to nudge food around. Next in line are medical forceps to pick up tiny things, medical grade scissors to trim accurately and tiny shims to prop things up.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: Your Web site portfolio is broken down into categories of savory and sweet. What made you decide to present your work in this way? Do you find this structure to be popular with prospective clients? Are there other conceptual subdivisions or food categories that you’re considering adding to your site?

TR: Whenever I’m hungry, it’s for something specific, like something sweet or something savory. It’s one or the other, not both. If a potential client is a little hungry when they look at my portfolio, I think they’ll naturally gravitate to the category that suits their hunger, and they see an array of images that look especially delicious to them.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed

ASMP: How did you come up with the business name Night and Day Images? Is there anything you do to market your business that relates this name to your specialty in food?

TR: To be honest, I just didn’t like the sound of Tami Reed Photography. At the time I was making the transition from film to digital studio, and it seemed like I was either shooting or studying all day and all night, just eating it all up. So the name was a natural fit.

© Tami Reed
© Tami Reed