Erin Parker is an award-winning photojournalist based out of Dallas. Aside from being a demanded photographer by local and national media outlets, she is also an active food blogger. Check out Erin’s blog The Speckled Palate for plainly delicious food recipes and inspiring food photos.
“Give your viewer an interesting perspective of something they already know.”
Q. You’re an award-winning photojournalist covering all aspects of everyday life. What made you choose food photography as a focus for your blog, The Speckled Palate?
Ever since college, I’ve been a little obsessed with food, and I wanted to share my love of it with the world. Since I was already photographing a range of assignments, I wanted to do something different on my blog. The idea was a shaky one at best, as I had absolutely NO experience in food photography, and it showed. The Speckled Palate became a photography experiment for me, and it just grew from there, becoming a natural outlet and something I have a blast with!
Q. Living in Dallas, Texas, do you have any favorite local dishes that you could share with our readers? And better yet, can you share any blog posts of these dishes for inspiration?
Living in Texas has reignited my love for all things Mexican and TexMex. My personal favorite dish is mixed steak and chicken fajitas on fresh flour tortillas. It is SO. GOOD. And there are SO many restaurants that serve this and do it well. Before we moved here, my husband and I developed a pretty interesting Caramelized Onion Guacamole recipe, and I’ll be sharing my own Taco Seasoning blend and Beef Tacos in the near future on the blog!
Q. There has been a lot of buzz around photo taking in restaurants. In fact, many restaurants are banning it altogether. Do you ever sneak photos of your food while you’re out to eat? Any recommendations on being discreet?
I can’t say that I have ever felt the need to sneak photos of my food when I’m out to eat, though I am certainly aware that some restaurants recently have banned and frown upon it. Personally, I think it’s silly to ban food photography, especially since I think it’s something that could bring other patrons in the door after seeing what the food looks like. But that’s neither here nor there. Should someone approach me as I’m photographing my meal and tell me it’s banned, I’d stop photographing out of respect for the restaurant’s and the owner’s wishes. And as far as sneaking images in a place where you know photography is banned? That’s playing with fire, and personally, I’d rather have a nice meal than get kicked out of and/or banned from a restaurant… even if their rule is dumb.
Q. Do you have any tips on food arrangement? How do you “stage” your photos?
Food styling was never my forte, and I didn’t really pay attention to it when I first started The Speckled Palate. After all, I’m a photojournalist, so I photograph things the way they are.
… I quickly realized that a little staging in these photographs was necessary, especially if I wanted to communicate the overall feel and look of the dish. One of the things I like to do when styling an image for The Speckled Palate is to create layers in the photograph. I want there to be the main element — the dish or a bite/piece of it — but I also want other clues in the image to show people what went into the recipe or what it should be served with. Give your viewer an interesting perspective of something they already know. Offer them something different. And always photograph your dish from all angles, as you won’t know which is the most flattering at the end of the day.
Q. What is the most flattering light for food photography?
Personally, I think natural light is the best. However, this doesn’t mean I won’t light an image if I need to. The trick is finding a way to illuminate your subject in the best possible light without making it appear artificial.
Q. What is your favorite kind of food to shoot?
I don’t think I have a favorite kind of food to shoot. Maybe ice cream, simply because it’s delightful to eat?
When I was photographing food for a magazine where I freelanced, one of my assignments, I kid you not, was to photograph a steak right as it came out of the kitchen, eat the steak, then photograph the final, empty plate with the leftover juices. So THAT was pretty awesome.
Q. When practicing photography professionally, do you get to eat everything you shoot?
Sometimes. It really depends on the chef and the dish I’m shooting, as well as who I’m working for and their ethics when it comes to accepting anything on an assignment. Coming from a photojournalism background, I was taught to turn down anything offered to me for free because it could be viewed as a breach of ethics or an endorsement on my part, so I am always cognizant of this while out on assignment, speaking to my editors beforehand should I be offered the food after the shoot is finished.
Q. What other sources do you go to for inspiration?
If I’m looking for general inspiration… I’ll put my iTunes onto shuffle, and let the music take over or listen to an interesting podcast. I am subscribed to podcasts that range the gamut of cooking to photography to history and everything in between, so they are always fascinating and can spark my imagination. Another thing I love to do is find an interesting book and sit down to read for a while. To me, there’s nothing like getting lost in a good novel, and I have been consuming them like crazy recently!
If I’m looking for photographic inspiration.. There are so many gorgeous food blogs these days that I’ll peruse those to find some food photographic inspiration. (Some of my favorites are Joy the Baker, Shutterbean, A Cozy Kitchen, and How Sweet It is, and that’s not even listing my top 10. And I have about 50 that I read religiously!) If I don’t want to look at food, I have the best time going through other photojournalists’ professional and personal work, as well as the images of notable wedding photographers. And if I don’t want to look at any specific photos, I’ll allow myself to fall down the Pinterest rabbit hole for a while, just basking in the beauty there.
Q. If you weren’t a photojournalist, what career path would your creativity lead you down?
I think if I weren’t a photojournalist, I would be working in an art field — as an artist, graphic designer, or something similar — or a novelist.