Talking With Jan Bartelsman


At the Dining in New York City tasting event, we talked with food photographer Jan Bartelsman, the man behind the book who’s been shooting food for over twenty years. Our chat with Bartelsman is after the jump.

Are you surprised about how much food photography has taken off in the blogsphere?

Yeah, I’ve followed the whole thing [the rising popularity of food photography]. A lot has to do with digital photography coming up, so everything is a lot quicker and faster. On the other hand, with the foods on the plate, a lot has been happening in the past years with El Bulli and Ferran Adria and all the different food layouts. It’s actually a very exciting time for a food photographer since all this new food is coming out and being done.

What are some of your favorite foods to photograph?
Oh boy, that’s a hard question. What’s not easy to photograph is meat because of the color. If something goes wrong with the color of meat it looks terrible and you don’t want to eat it. What makes for a nice photograph are fruits or lots of fish is nice. It’s actually the way the whole plate is made; if there are nice color combinations, you get a nice photograph. Usually I make a nice photograph if the chef does a good job.

Do you shoot digitally or on film?
I’ve been shooting digital the last 4 or 5 years. I used to shoot on 4×5, the big film negatives. The turning point was a few years ago when digital got so good. There’s no reason to shoot film anymore. Then nice thing about shooting digitally is you can help the chef and fix it up in the computer without him having to redo the whole plate.

Are you talking about just changing color or would you, say, move an entire carrot?
No, what I mean is a sauce that runs a little too much to the side, you can sharpen and change that a little bit. Or if there’s a little brown spot on a green leaf, we can retouch that. Those are details that you couldn’t have done in the past.

What advice would you have for amateur food photographers?
Take pictures of good food.

What do you think of food photography as “food porn”? Would you rather take a picture of a beautiful plate or a naked woman?
I’d photograph the naked woman.