This month I'd like to introduce you to a great photographer and story teller Haniyeh Nikoo.
Can you introduce yourself? How and when did you start your food photography journey?
My name is Haniyeh Nikoo and many simply call me Hani. My love for food and cooking goes way back to my childhood but my passion for photography only started when I was studying graphic design as an undergraduate and had to pass some photography courses. I simply fell in love and for years photography was my artistic medium to express myself. But it took 15 years for me to connect my two passions together and make a career out of it.
Since 2018, I’m primarily focusing on food photography and video making. My vehemence for cooking and baking has served me well to be able to develop exciting recipes, beautifully prepare, style and photograph them myself. Since summer 2021 I have been full Time stylist for HelloFresh the biggest meal and recipe subscription company mother to 6 other brands offering service in 17 countries. I work alongside over 50 other creatives to create images for all these 6 brands all around the world (excluding US). Yes that means I am styling every hour of everyday but I also kept my freelance work on the side to satisfy my own creativity and freedom in work as well as doing projects I feel personally passionate about.
Where do you get your inspiration from? Do you adore any specific photographers?
There are many photographers I adore their work. The list keeps getting updated with some I move on from and some newly founds I find inspiring. I personally find my inspiration every where. Sometime a recipe brings images to my mind. Sometimes certain colours or textures inspire me to create a recipe for.
What do you think should be in a good portfolio?
I would say a good portfolio is not too long. It should have the best representation of the work you have done and you are proud of. Possibly including some clients work you love yourself, some product photography, restaurant, recipe etc. The versatility creates more credibility but only include them if they are in the same quality as other images you are including. In other word do not sacrifice quality for versatility. Also if you are sending portfolio to a brand you already know they are interested in certain mood or style then include more images according to their interest.
How do you prepare a food styling set?
I first think about my props and backdrop selection. I look at what size or shape works best for the food. Then I look at how I can layer the set with extra ingredients or props. Once all is decided I arrange the set, fix the light and angle and at last would plate the dish. Of course the angle and light can change after the food is in the plate. I also usually have a few tools handy to make styling easier. A long tweezer, some cotton swabs, water spray bottle, oil and brush.
Do you work with natural or artificial light?
I work with both but my default light is always natural and I only use artificial if I feel it will have a better result.
What is a must have in food photography?
Knowledge comes before any gears and props. A good understanding of light, composition, colour theory, story telling, and food styling is what one should invest in first, then updating gears, a good selection of props and backdrops etc.
What’s your favourite subject to shoot and why?
Raw ingredients gives me so much joy. I believe there is so much beauty in food in their basic natural form that never gets old or boring to shoot them. I also love soups. I love how playful garnishes can be.
Do you have your favourite colour palette? And do you have colours you don’t feel comfortable with?
I can't tell I have one or two favourite colour palette as there are many I truly enjoy working with. But I can say hot pink and red are challenging for me to shoot if they are the dominant colours.
Do you prefer creating busy scenes or minimalistic and why?
Generally, I prefer busy scenes, with many props, plates, and glasses. However, I feel comfortable with both and it really depends on how I feel that day.
How do you incorporate shapes in your photos?
I think about what I have to present (is it a dish? a Jar? A box) If a dish is it a baking dish? a bowl? a plate? a tray? Then based on the size and shape of my main subject I try to layer with some other shapes. I try to use different shapes in a way they would emphasis my main hero. They should not be bigger or more in attention than the main subject for example.
Which shapes are the easiest and the more challenging to shoot for you?
Round shape I found it the easiest to work with and squares and rectangular the hardest.
My October challenge is about Mixed shapes. Do you have some tips for the beginners about this theme?
I would recommend to pay extra attention how the shapes would guide the eyes in the frame. Each shape itself can point to certain area or create weight or a combination of some shapes together can create an unseen guiding line that is important to see where the eye would go with them and do the composition intentionally. It is also important to make sure they work in harmony and don't create chaos.