Christina Peters is a food photographer with decades of photography experience. Peters has shot mouth-watering food for Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt, Dominos Pizza, Whole Foods Markets, Burger King, Bumble Bee Tuna, Weight Watchers, McDonald’s, and Walmart among many others. Along with food stylist Denise Vivaldo, Christina teaches food photography courses for food bloggers, chefs, and culinary professionals who are curious about getting into the field and want to learn more about food styling and food photography. Find out more about her classes here.
You’re taking something that we can all taste and smell, but when you’re looking at a picture of it, you don’t have that there, so the images of food have to represent your senses. I just think it’s such a beautiful thing.
How did you get your start in photography?
I started taking pictures when I was eight years old, because my father was really into photography, so he taught me how to use a Minolta manual camera (obviously!). When I was in 7th and 8th grade, I took some photography lessons and that’s when I started doing more technical work and dark-room work. Then in high school, I kept studying it, and when everybody was deciding what college they were going to go to, I decided to go study photography.
When did you make the transition to specializing in photographing food?
I always knew I was going to be working in advertising, so when I graduated from the Art Center College of Design in 1993, I worked with product and still-life. Shortly after graduating, I assisted many different photographers for a couple of years, like an apprenticeship, and during that time, I assisted several food shooters, so that was really my first experience with photographing food. And I really liked it.
When you first start out, creating a food portfolio is very difficult: it’s a total catch-22. So I continued doing product work while I shot food stuff for my portfolio. When I was assisting, I met a couple of different people who asked if I could photograph food for them, even though I didn’t have a food portfolio, so I started doing a little bit of everything—the product work, food stuff, portraiture. I decided to concentrate in food 100% about 12 years ago. So for half of my career I was doing everything (which I don’t recommend because then you don’t become known for anything specific) and then the other half, I cut everything else out and just did food.
It’s hard because when you’re a food shooter, nobody’s going to hire you unless you’ve done some work, but if you don’t get hired then you don’t have work to show to get more work. It’s a total catch 22—it’s really difficult. So that’s why I kept doing pretty much anything that came my way—product stuff, corporate portraiture. Really what helped me with the transition was a photographer’s rep found my website, which had everything on there (food shots, the products, the still-lifes) and she said, “I’d like to rep you, but it’s only going to be food,” so she helped me with branding myself completely just for food.
Is a “photographer’s rep” essentially an agent?
So you don’t have a background in cooking food. Do you usually need to be a chef to be a food photographer?
Not at all. In my world, I never style the food—there’s no time for that. I have to work on the lighting and the set and then the food stylist is the one working on the food the whole time.
In the editorial world and in the food blogging world, there are a lot of chefs who start taking pictures—they don’t have a photography degree—but they end up learning photography on their own and they make their own food. [But] in advertising, it is not physically possible for me make the food and photograph it—we wouldn’t even get one shot done. There’s a team of people making the food and then I have a team of people out front in the studio. So there’s really a divide between advertising and editorial/magazine work—it’s just such a different thing. In advertising, food is a product and we’re shooting it like a product—we have to make it look a specific way: all the ingredients have to weighed, it has to be as accurate as we can make it but still look appealing. In the editorial world, it’s a lot more open: you’re following recipes and trying to create something to inspire somebody to cook a particular type of recipe. It’s a very different type of approach than when you’re trying to sell the food.
You’ve photographed a wide array of objects and subjects, so what is unique about photographing food that you particularly enjoy?
I’m always fascinated with produce and nature and the stuff that naturally grows. It’s kind of like creating a painting with color. You’re taking something that we can all taste and smell, but when you’re looking at a picture of it, you don’t have that there, so the images of food have to represent your senses. I just think it’s such a beautiful thing.
And I do love cooking, but when I make stuff it never looks as good as the way my crew makes it—-so it really is an art what the food stylists do to make it look so beautiful and