If there is one thing I have learnt in life, it’s to follow your heart. How else can I explain the drastic shift I made from macro-economics to the macro lens of a camera? Never in my wildest dreams could I have thought that this is where I would be today.
I discovered food blogs over a decade ago. They had me absolutely smitten. To think someone in some corner of the world could create food, shoot it beautifully, and share it with the world was inspiring. So, I too started a food blog, my little journey into this world of food, food styling, and food photography. That was 2007. Time flew by, my images on the blog, Twitter and Pinterest were noticed and appreciated. I found the motivation that I was hitting the right chord somewhere, then eventually began investing all my energy in this direction. I would style and shoot in all my free time after groceries, laundry, kids, and school runs.
That I had a blog to feed (and also a family) gave me something to do every single day. I interacted with a rich diverse community on Twitter, which was my playground back then, and virtually lived on Pinterest. My lucky break in food styling came when late one night in 2014 the phone rang. It was Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna, asking me if I would cook, style, and shoot his next cookbook. Very unsure of my capabilities and equipment, quite nervously I agreed (even though in the back of my head I thought it was a spam call).
My journey had begun. That book, My First Kitchen, got published 4 years later, but more importantly, it made me grow as a food stylist and photographer. I had been developing a style that people were noticing and pointing out. It was rustic, earthy, and in many ways, my own kind of art. It dawned on me that I had an interest in all things vintage, natural and rustic, in elements that culturally spoke of India. I was easily weaving these into my frames, and the aesthetics appealed to a wide audience.
Plenty of styling assignments followed. The tea subscription company, Teabox, was being given a new identity by a design consultancy Pentagram in New York. They saw my work and figured my aesthetics were a match for the brand story. This was followed by work with Borosil, Chumbak, Hyatt, California Walnuts, Foodhall, Google, Dubai Tourism, Canon, KitchenAid, PepsiCo to name a few.
There are no shortcuts to quality content. I usually only style on a commercial basis, and rarely do both styling and photography commercially. Also, it’s important to build a style and be known for it; styling and photography go hand in hand and must be able to build a story in continuity. You can emulate a style that isn’t yours, but that doesn’t help you grow or develop. The challenge is to develop a personal style and a body of work that comes to you naturally. I shoot only in natural light and believe in minimal post-processing.
Content will always be king, no matter what. With the reach of the internet, things have rapidly changed in the last few years; social media and digital content exploded in popularity. That gave rise to a very content-hungry audience and in turn influencer engagement. A visually-driven platform like Instagram is a great place. Currently, a large percentage of my work comes via Instagram; my feed doubles up as my online portfolio. That it is a verified account with an organic following really helps. Fresh and quality content is the key to keep the engagement going. While it’s important to post every day, it’s equally important to study analytics and listen to the audience. Investing in yourself and working on what you are good at is the path to success.
All images: Courtesy Deeba Rajpal