One cannot help but be overcome with admiration and adoration for the work of Neil Corder. This multi award-winning international professional photographer has a long list of enviable clients, cookbooks, magazines and other publications in his portfolio. Spanning two decades, Neil has combined training and apprenticeship to develop a keen sense of diversity in his approach to photography, showing a stunning range in food and beverage, interiors, architecture, advertising, hotels and general work. He lets his images do all the talking.
As part of our ongoing I Work in Food! series on people who work in the industry, we are featuring the photography genius that is Neil Corder and picking his brain to find our how he got started and how to navigate the modern world of commercial food photography. Neil talks candidly even of personal failures which gives the rest of us hope. Kari caught up with him at his recent Food Photography & Styling Workshop at Gulf Photo Plus held alongside food stylist Fiona Archibold, which was sold out shortly after announcement. It’s never easy to get a photographer in front of the camera, but Neil was kind to play along so that he could share his experience with you. Thanks a mil Neil!
When did you pick up your first camera and start shooting and what camera was it?
It was when I was a young boy. My father had a camera and I would be allowed to shoot with it occasionally. I can’t remember what the make was. I think it was a Pentax.
What made you decide to study photography in college?
I felt a formal education in Photography would be better than just working through an apprenticeship only.
What reactions did you have, if any from your family when you decided on photography as a career 20 years ago?
They were not convinced it was a viable career but supported my decision.
You studied food photography along with other genres during school, what are the differences you have seen in food photography over those two decades?
Food photography has moved away from what it used to be, quite moody, dark with a very large depth of field. It has evolved to be more insular items rather than a collection of food items, small depth of field and much lighter in the lighting and propping.
You pride yourself on your diversity in terms of the subjects that you shoot from food, to architecture, commercial and interiors. Do you have any that tugs at your artistic heart the most?
I think being able to shoot a few genres is crucial in today’s very competitive and demanding commercial world. I like the diversity as it keeps me fresh. If one shoots too much of a particular genre ones stands the chance of becoming stale.
How important was apprenticeship back when you started in developing into a professional photographer and how important is it now?
Very important in the past and it is very important today, but it seems young photographers seem to enter the profession without going through the apprenticeship process. I think this will only degrade the profession as a whole.
How did you get your first paid job and what was it like?
My first paid job was an interior shoot and I had no polaroid to check the images. [Those were the good old days of film where you had to process the film]. My client was not very happy even though the images were used.
Does a food photographer have to understand food and how it works to direct a shoot?
I think it is pretty important as the process of shooting food does require some sort of understanding to get the best out of the food.
You shoot commercially, how do you deal with the dynamics of exacting art directors and clients?
It is the most challenging process of shooting. The lighting, angles etc are normally the easiest elements to handle. Clients can be very demanding and Art Directors are not what they used to be. They often copy work and expect you to do the same without allowing you to be creative on the shoot. Time and money do play a role here as well.
In which countries have you worked?
Middle East, South Africa, Europe, USA
How long have you been working in Dubai?
What do you think of the professional food photography scene in Dubai and the UAE?
It is improving but has a long way to go before it reaches the heights of Australia, South Africa and Europe.
Give us a run-through of your average day at work.
Meet at studio at 8am, Unpack and prepare the studio for the shoot. Discuss the project in more detail with the Stylist, Client, Art Director.Start shooting until 1 or 2 and then have a half hour lunch before shooting again. We will finish any where between 4 and 8pm and then it is pack up, home and the post production sorting. Upload the images for the client to view online. Crash at about 11 or 12pm.
Does it take additional skill sets to shoot food than other general photography subjects?
I think it is like any genre of photography, but yes one has to learn the subtleties in getting the best out of the food.
What are some of the difficulties of shooting food?
The way food dies quickly. The challenge to make certain foods look appetising. The way food changes under lights.
Natural (day)light vs Artificial?
Natural daylight is tops for me.
What’s in your kit?
Lights cameras, lenses, reflectors, knitting needles, door stoppers, glue sticks, stones. [ Kari photographed Neil for his portraits here with his famous knitting needles, which he uses as a pointer on shoots].
Photography is an expensive profession, how do you resist the urge to buy the newest and latest?
It comes down to economics. What is affordable in a business sense and not what one wants or desires. It does take discipline not to buy everything that is out there.
How does the quality of camera affect the final photo?
Very important but not the only factor.
How does the quality of the lens affect the final photo?
Crucial. Bad lenses will make bad pictures. Good lenses give you opportunity of creating high quality photographs
In an age where digital photography makes entry into photography much easier and people don’t need to learn about cameras or concepts of photography to snap a decent photograph, is there a place for the old school rules and manual shooting?
Yes I think there is. The professional always has a place and clients often learn the hard way. At the end of the day… it is like any profession …amateur work will be exposed. Fly-by-nighters will make it for awhile and then fall away, unless they are aiming at being a professional in the long run.
What advice would you give to the budding food photographer?
Hang in there and shoot as much as you can. Make mistakes and keep trying. Play with light and find your way!!!
How important is a stylist on a food photography shoot?
Very very important. I do not shoot without one unless it is a product or pack to shoot that does not require any styling.
Glamour job or hard work?
Hard work but very rewarding!!!
Do you walk around with a camera on vacation?
Yes unfortunately…. much to my family’s dismay!!I love taking photographs and catching the moment away from the commercial world I make a living out of.