There’s no denying that food is having a moment. Or maybe a lot of them. After “Alpha” and “Beta,” some of Android’s updates were named Éclair, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean and Lollipop. Cupcakes get almost as much attention in TV shows as the people eating them, and chefs are celebrities. And everywhere we look, photos of food tantalize us.
Do we ever think about the people behind the glossy photos that make us run straight to the newest restaurant (or to the refrigerator, in more dire situations)? Beyond my own Instagramming (and, indeed, a friend recently commented to my mom that, based on my Instagram, it looks like all I do is eat…awkward), I don’t—at least not very often.
DC-area folks have probably come across Moshe Zusman’s event photos and food photos in publications like DC Magazine and on local menus and restaurant websites at some point or another.
When Haifa, Israel-born Zusman (right) moved to Washington, DC, in 2004, he did not anticipate eventually opening one of the area’s most popular photography studios. Twenty-seven years old at the time, he was an amateur who had just dabbled in photography back home in Israel.
In DC, his camera became more than just that. He began by tagging along with other photographers to events, like weddings, to gain a footing in the local photography scene, eventually going off on his own. In 2011, his home-based operation gained a permanent home at the current Florida Avenue, NW, studio.
Weddings, events and headshots still form the bulk of Moshe Zusman Photography Studio’s work, but food, a special niche Zusman developed, is not far behind.
Zusman’s food photography work began with his wife, even before she held that role. Her coworker, a cocktail columnist for Northern Virginia Magazine, made Zusman her go-to photographer for cocktails and meals. Soon, area chefs were hiring him to photograph their menus. Food photography ended up rounding out Zusman’s portfolio, especially for weddings and events (where food plays no small role!) and when working with caterers.
Zusman counts Chef Art Smith’s Art and Soul restaurant, RSVP Catering in Virginia and Pizzeria Paradiso’s Chef Ruth Gresser, whose cookbook he photographed, among his regular clients, to name just a few.
The chefs he works with are usually food-styling masters, such that once a dish is ready, it takes no more than five minutes to photograph it. They know, too, that certain foods—glossy leaves, foods that are wet and shiny, steak that does not look too dry (or has, perhaps, been “moistened” with a bit of oil)—photograph better, while others—soups, flat things, color-less foods like mashed potatoes—are more camera-shy and challenging. Still, Zusman jokes, “Food doesn’t argue with you and never has a bad hair day.”
When asked for food photography tips for amateurs, Zusman offers the following:
– Start with natural light, but not direct sunlight, and build up to artificial light as needed for fill and rim on the dish or cocktail.
– Use an open lens.
– Get close to the food, and take photos at a low angle and at plate level; there’s no need to include everything in the shot.
– Add leaves, garnishes and decorations to enhance and round out the shot—for example, include potatoes in the background of a potato soup shot.
Top photo by Moshe Zusman Photography Studio.