Kelly Sterling: Food is artwork. Food is beautiful.
“I am amazed when a restaurant doesn’t have beautiful pictures of the food they serve. Some of them will invest in a pricey chandelier instead of pictures of the food they are selling.
I don’t understand.
Burger Fi understands my philosophy.
For them I spent hours lighting a plastic cup of Coca-Cola to get the ice cubes, carbonation and condensation right. Same thing with the french fries: I got an empty cardboard basket and one by one arranged each french fry to show off its golden sturdiness and bronze edges. I moved the parsley around with tweezers. I placed the parmesan cheese where contrast was needed.
When I was in California Culinary Academy, my favorite thing to do was arrange food on a plate. I have an inherent sense of how it is supposed to look. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a pastry chef father and a restauranteur mother and started cooking at age 11.
Today I am a Food Photographer and food stylist and this is where being a trained professional chef sets my skills apart from other photographers who photograph food.
When I start a job, I bring a suitcase full of props to the location; plates that will look good in a photo, wood cutting boards to add texture, natural linen napkins for more texture.
Although each client has different needs, this is basically how I do food photography:
The style now is to have dishes look relaxed and inviting. Lemons are cut open, glazes have occasional drips around them. Powdered chocolate spills over on the linens. Old style food pictures had everything looking unnaturally perfect. I want the food to look as if it were in your kitchen.
Natural light shows off food best but it is not always possible to coordinate food preparation and perfect light. Instead, I mimic natural light with my battery powered ProPhoto light system and softbox. Its design makes it perfect for shooting food because the truest color tones are enhanced. Look at my website, kellysterling.com and you’ll see examples. Lighting must be perfect.
I’m self taught in both food styling and food photography. I followed tutorials and studied the work of the best food photographers, there was a lot of trial and error.
I am different from other food photographers in some important ways. Although I can lead a team, I often work alone. That way, I can choose the food I want to cook, grocery shop for it , cook it, style and prop it, plate it, make it beautiful and make sure it is in the right position to look its best in a picture. From concept to finished to finished photos sent right to your inbox.
Look, I have worked for years for Nobu Matsuhisa, Daniel Boulud, Mary Sue Milliken. I toss around these names because they are the best of the best. When I worked for them, I learned to quickly make each plate a piece of art.
I like working/photographing for chefs in their restaurants. This feels like home to me and I’m thrilled to capture their works of art. Sometimes the chefs will plate the food and sometimes I build the dish from the ground up carefully keeping the integrity of their dish.
Sometimes beautiful food is the dive bar’s special of the day. Sometimes it’s the club sandwich I created for President Bill Clinton when I was a chef at the Biltmore in Coral Gables. That day, I had a large security staff and the secret service in the kitchen.
I have learned over all these years is that beautiful food has little to do with its cost.”