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Food Photography as You Have Never Seen It


Shire Lyon

The restaurant world has never been camera shy; in fact it tends to revel in it. Elaborate food photography quickens the appetite, attracts the eye and garners the attention of the commoner and connoisseur alike. Now step that up a notch to extreme food photography. Ryan Matthew Smith started his career thinking photography would be an easy way to get through his art credits, and stumbled onto a hidden passion.

“As I was nearly all the way through a BA in graphic design, the house I was living in burned to the ground. The only thing I really cared about losing was those first black and white photo prints. I transferred to focusing on a career in photography weeks later.”

Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography
Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography – Exploding candy.

Accidents Are Not Always A Bad Thing

With this newfound direction, Smith answered a Craigslist ad that would set the tone for his career. “I actually first ended up in food photography by answering a craigslist advert seeking a photo editor with experience in photo compositing. The job turned out to be working for Nathan Myhrvold on a cookbook project.” Lo and behold an eager young artist was born!

Muses Come In The Form Of Carrots

The inside world of extreme food photography is creative and inspired, it also requests long hours and hard work. Smith says he often keeps notes so that he does not forget any ideas and concepts he comes up with. His job, making food intriguing, eye-catching and mouth-watering is far from easy. These shots are not just random, serendipitous masterpieces, but rather a carefully planned production. One “picture” can take as much as 6 hours or more to produce. That is about an hour of shooting and another 5 hours editing. A picture is not just one shot, but rather something like 50 shots layered in a technique called compositing. Many of Smith’s pieces are photo illustration which involves very heavy compositing.

Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography
Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography – Photo illustration of root vegetables growing.
Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography
Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography – Salmon BLTA sandwich.
Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography
Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography – Grilling hamburger modernist cuisine.

Great Undertakings Have Great Rewards

When Smith began to work for Myhrvold, the project was a small book on sous vide cooking, but it quickly grew to the Modernist Cuisine. This body of work is a five volume, 2400 page book on the art and science of cooking. The photography as conceived by Myhrvold was unorthodox and creative from the start. Smith was often allowed to follow his imagination or the imagination of the creative minds around him.

Tools Of The Trade

Smith’s tools of choice are Cannon 5D Mark II couple with various lenses. Some of these lenses include canon 24-105 L series, 100m 2.8 macro, 70-200 2.8, 17-40 f4, 50 1.4f and a 20 2.8f. He also uses flashes and lighting which include a Profoto 7b pack. Photoshop CC, Adobe Bridge CC, After Effects and Final Cut X make up his editing toolbox for both photography as well as video and high speed shots.

Moving Forward

Since his first undertaking, Smith is now moving on to new concepts. He says he is working on rotational images and constructed portraits. “One involves replicating and rotating images with certain blending modes to make radial designs that are also symmetrical. Another that I am starting is working to make what I call constructed portraits, where I will make a portrait using an object, element or multiple isolated objects somewhat in a mosaic style. For an example, a portrait where the picture is made up of many small photos of say, gears. So, there might be 100+ photos of gears light and arranged to appear as a portrait from further away.” Smith continues down the imaginative path to new and ever changing concepts to keep his viewers engaged.

Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography
Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography – Rotational images forming radial design.
Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography
Ryan Matthew Smith Food Photography – Replicated, rotated images form a radial design.

Just Do It!

Smith’s advice for those just starting out: “Do it more refined than anyone else or do something that no one has ever seen before. You will either need to stand out by being different or having perfect technique. Shoot for yourself; do not wait around for assignments, I see too many photo school graduates who have decent books; they are almost over the hump of being marketable. As soon as school is done; they stop shooting and never make it. KEEP SHOOTING! You will get better; you will have more to show; you will have more to choose from. Push the envelope; do not be afraid to try wacky things or something new. You can always pull back but it is hard to know how far out of the box you can go without going too far.” Food photography can be far more than just pictures of food.

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