This month I'd like to introduce you to a fantastic food photographer & explorer, dreamer, and educator Jenni Helin.
Can you introduce yourself? How and when did you start your food photography journey?
My name is Jenni Helin, I'm a commercial food and lifestyle photographer based in the United Kingdom. It all started in 2018 in our small flat in Brighton. Around this time I was really into cooking and buying many recipe books and I remember looking at the images and being absolutely amazed at how someone could make food look so beautiful.
Some of my first DSLR pictures were taken when I was only 12 years old so picking up a new camera in my late 20s felt really natural. It was all the other technical things about food photography and lighting that I struggled with in the beginning! My first commercial job was with a Nordic bakery in Brighton and I remember being so nervous and massively undercharging to the point where the owner told me to charge more money haha.
When I was younger, I used to collect magazines and stick my favourite pictures on my wall, hoping that one day I would be able to take beautiful pictures for someone to look at. For a long time, I was looking for my "dream job" and it was quite magical when it all came to me that this was it - food was my editorial dream as a kid, I just didn't know it back then!
Where do you get your inspiration from? Do you adore any specific photographers?
At the beginning of my career, I would seek inspiration from other food photographers, but now I actually feel it's not helping or improving my own creativity so I tend to seek inspiration from movies, interior design and paintings. I adore other food photographers' work, but I don't use it as a source of inspiration anymore. One of my food photography idols is Chelsea Kyle - her style is so unique and I love the way she incorporates colour into her artwork.
What do you think should be in a good portfolio?
I feel that a great portfolio should showcase your strongest skillset if it's stills or video/stop motion work, sometimes both! And also the subjects you're specialising in. Some of the greatest photographers I know are able to tell us stories through props, lighting, colours and the subject without explaining anything. It's the type of work that makes you think and analyse the story further, instead of just seeing a pretty picture. They say you have 6 seconds to impress someone who lands on your front page, so having a strong sense of style really helps to get noticed.
How do you prepare a food-styling set?
I usually work with a food stylist who prepares the styling side for the shoot. We would have a couple of meetings to go through the specific project in more detail and make sure that everything is thought through before the actual shoot date. The food stylist is usually in charge of the ingredients, cooking and styling, while I'm looking after the concept, photography and lighting. With smaller clients, I sometimes help with styling, but it's really not my strongest suit so whenever I can I would have my stylist working with me.
What is your favourite subject to capture?
Aww is so hard to pick one! But last year I got really into desserts. We shot so many cakes and I just love all the reflections and movement we could create on desserts. I’m also a big fan of Italian food so have loved all my pasta projects.
Do you work with natural or artificial light?
I used to do a mixture of both, but now I only use artificial lighting. I love to be able to control and shoot any time of the day. When you’re working in a studio or with restaurants, lighting has to be consistent for many hours so artificial lighting makes my life so much easier. Currently, I’m really into that gorgeous hard lighting!
What is a must-have in food photography?
To have a voice that people remember and recognise. I think this is so important in any creative industry. I have seen that people hire you for your style and expertise and when you have created something so unique, it helps you to be more selective about the work you take on. Also, every project feels more fulfilling when it has your signature on it, at least for me.
Can you tell us what’s your favourite colour theory and composition? And do you have colours you don’t feel comfortable with?
I love using complementary and triad colour theory in my work. One of my favourite composition angles is 60 degrees, both in portrait and landscape! I feel it creates this illusion that you’re falling into your food, head first haha. I have found that yellows and skin tones are sometimes tricky to get right in post-production!
Do you have some photography tips and hints?
Always search for the “juicy” spot in your image. We often get so caught up by all the technical stuff that we forget to look for the magic that creates a delicious-looking image. Also, practice editing weekly if you can - it has made such a difference in my work over the years.
Thank you, Jenni, for this interview and a chance to get to know you better. Your insights on the importance of lighting, styling, and composition in food photography are invaluable. I appreciate how you shared your knowledge and shed light on the artistry and technical skill required in this field.
If you have any questions or struggle with any subject, send me a DM on my Instagram or email me. I will do my best to answer and help.