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Photography Week

First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? How long have you been doing food photography, why did you delve into this style of photography, and how has the experience been?


First of all, thank you Nina for this opportunity. I hope that I can shed some light on my creative process and inspire others to also pursue food photography.

My name is Theresa, I live in San Francisco Bay Area. Before I began food photography, I worked in customs regulations for years. I am 100% self-taught. I have always been interested in nature and food, and I started down the path I am on today by simply taking pictures on a small point-and-shoot digital camera I had.

Let's talk composition. Your photographs always have stunning composition. How do you decide which props you're going to use for a shot, what color scheme to use, and more importantly where to place the objects in the frame in order to create a clean, yet dynamic composition?


Honestly, I have no set plan. My creative process is very natural and ideas and thoughts come to me naturally. I tend to edit my photos as I go based on the subject matter I am photographing. However, I do a lot of research everyday. It's nothing specific, but just looking at how others stage their creations and I take inspirations from all facets of my research. Also, by simply doing the work itself has helped me figure out my style and how I take photographs.

Do you perhaps have any "do's" and "don'ts" of food photography? Anything that beginners should try their best to avoid, and anything they should try their best to improve on?


Like it or not, we all know that people eat with our eyes, therefore the lighting, staging, background, and angles of great food photography can turn an average shot of food into a delicious plate of mouthwatering cuisine (to lure you in...)

In terms of "Dos" - do dive in and get the hands on experience. Even if you research a lot (which is a good thing), nothing beats just getting your hands messy and experimenting yourself.

As far as "Donts" go - I don't think individuals who are serious about food photography should post something online simply for the sake of posting it. Photographers should take pride in and stand behind their work. If something isn't done to the best ability of the photographer - then it shouldn't be presented to everything else. My philosophy is to do something the way I want to the best my ability, even if it means sacrificing posting it if I don't believe the quality of the photo is good.

What would you say helped you improve as a food photographer? Was it learning via tutorials, just plain old practicing, or were there other things that helped you figure out the best ways to portray and highlight your subject?


Practicing every single day has absolutely been the best means of improving my skills. Since I take my photography pretty seriously, I also try and take pictures everyday, even I don't post it. For example, i take photos of flowers/nature daily, for the sake of practicing my photography skills.

Also, I find that making my own pastries, cakes, desserts, etc. is the only way to ensure that I have 100% artistic control over my subject matter. I can control the color, height, width, and any other countless factors as opposed to buying a pre-made dessert.

How do you find inspiration and ideas on how to make creative photographs of food/drinks/other still life elements?


I find inspiration in everything I do. I find it in nature, flowers, interesting shapes and colors I come across. Look outside - the world is filled with things that can inspire anyone. I also try to find a classic dessert or pastry and put my unique twist on it to make it my own style.

What lighting do you use for your photographs, natural or artificial? Which would you recommend? What lighting methods are most efficient for you?


I only ever use natural lighting. My ideal location is to get ambient lighting from a nearby window. Soft light is always the best lighting since the subject matter won't cast a harsh shadow, making the picture seem warm and inviting. For example, trying to take a picture of a cake outside in direct sun would create a hard shadow making everything contrast greatly and come off as harsh. But by having ambient light, the cake will appear soft and more appealing to the eye.

Could you select 1 or 2 of your own photographs and tell us a little bit about the "behind the scenes" process on the creation of them? What did you do to set everything up, what camera settings did you use, how did you come up with the composition?


Cookie Monster Cupcakes by theresahelmer
I will use my Cookie Monster Cupcake Cookie Monster Cupcakes as an example. This cupcake was something that I had been wanting to do for a long time. I find that the classic blue/brown combination works very well. I had seen online how others have presented their Cookie Monster Cupcakes, but something seemed missing. In my photo, I really wanted to create a narrative and give it more charm. The decision to add cookies and cookie crumbles was done to give the appearance that the Cookie Monster himself enjoyed these cupcakes. It added more character to the overall photo. Furthermore, by not using a white background, I took away any harsh shadows which made other pictures I have seen look too manufactured and not visually appealing to me.

You stand out within the Still Life community here on DA, and the Photography gallery as a whole. What do you believe makes a Food/Drink Still Life photograph original, unique and creative? What makes them stand out from the crowd?


I admire many other food photographers online and after years of following others, I found I am drawn to photographers who focus on their staging. I believe that staging is the most important part of the photo. You might have the most delicious food in front of you, but if that is not accurately conveyed to the audience, then it doesn't really matter if the food is good or not. Like I said, we eat with our eyes. Photographers who are able to capture the essence of the food and leave me wanting to eat it have done their job.

Furthermore, I admire and follow those who challenge themselves and simply do not to different iterations of the same exact thing. While everyone's circumstances may prevent them from having a more diverse portfolio, I admire those who push themselves to try new things. I am bored by those who do not develop their skills and simply repeat cupcake after cupcake on the same 2 or 3 backdrops. I think that everyone needs to challenge their abilities and move out of their comfort zone otherwise no one will ever grow.

Mojito Lime Cupcakes by theresahelmer Pineapple (flavored) Rainbow Jello by theresahelmer Lavender Honey Cupcake by theresahelmer

Please take a moment to thank Theresa for her time! :clap:

Learn about still life photography, or more specifically food/drink photography, from the perspective of one of the best photographers within the field here on DA!
Add a Comment:
tokyo-lover2 Featured By Owner May 10, 2018  Hobbyist Writer

sorry but i don't think she did ALL those sweets and cakes. she must have bought many of them then took the picture before she ate them ^^
Mrs-Durden Featured By Owner May 10, 2018  Hobbyist Photographer
tokyo-lover2 Featured By Owner May 13, 2018  Hobbyist Writer
serel Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2016
A great interview. Theresa Helmer is one of my favourtie food photographers and I admire her works. It's great to see her recognized this way and to read some of her advices and tips.
ov3 Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Thank you for sharing your experience. Nice interview :)
craftsbyblue Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2016  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Fantastic interview! I want to eat the gallery ABSENCE OF MIND. 
Talty Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2016   Artisan Crafter
fascinating interview :clap:
TomFawls Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2016  Professional Photographer
Thank you to both of you for the informative interview. Did I miss the link to Theresa's DA page or website? 
theresahelmer Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2016  Professional Photographer
TomFawls Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2016  Professional Photographer
Thank you!
StargazeAndSundance Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Great interview, again I learned a lot by you, Theresa. I look up to you and your photography. Although I don't want to recreate your works I still get a lot of inspiration from them. Thank you, Mrs-Durden for taking this enlighting interview.
Lintu47 Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2016  Hobbyist Photographer
Oh I admire her photography a lot :heart:
theresahelmer Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Professional Photographer
Thank you Nina, for the opportunity again ;p
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Submitted on
June 25, 2016
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