Interview with Aran Goyoaga – All About Great Food Photography

We recently had the opportunity to interview Aran Goyoaga, a renowned food writer, stylist and photographer. She is the creator of the amazing food blog Cannelle et Vanille, a finalist for the 2013 & 2012 James Beard Award for Best Individual Food Blog, and author of Small Plates and Sweet Treats: My Family’s Journey to Gluten-Free Cooking. She’s been featured in countless press outlets, where her work stands on its own.

Aran Goyoaga

We invite you to visit her blog to see some of her work for yourself.  And now, here’s the interview…


First, we’d love your photography advice…
1. Professional photographers always talk about lighting. Let’s start with some simple lighting questions for our amateur food photographers… Is natural light always better? What time of day is best? I’ve heard that it is best if the light source is behind you, is that true? Any other lighting advice?
I shoot with available daylight, but this of course is not to say that studio lighting is bad for food. Studio lighting can recreate the most beautiful natural light. But my approach is very simple, spontaneous and I want light to convey the time of year and place. When you are starting out, you want might want to shoot around in different areas to see what happens with shadows, color temperature…. I love north facing windows as light can be soft all day long. Make sure that you focus on one key light and block any other windows or skylights. This will give you better contrast. In general, avoid all vertical light. I tend to shoot between 10am and 3pm as before or after the light begins taking on strong blue or gold casts. Also pay attention to the colors of walls and floors or buildings outside your window as those will also cast colors on your subject.

2. Many of our customers are taking food photos on their iPhones or smart phones, any special advice for them?
The same principles of photography apply to phone photography with the characteristic that phones are equipped with wide angle lenses, which can distort lines sometimes and it might be harder to get really close into the food. But in general the same principles of composition and lighting apply. I actually love shooting with my phone.

3. Can you share any tips for styling food to be photographed?
I think the best approach is to be very simple and realistic. I don’t like food that looks overly styled or fussy. There are a few things I feel are important. One, get raw ingredients that are naturally beautiful and close to nature if you can. Two, texture can be such an important thing when styling for camera so make sure you are maximizing texture and showing elements of the recipe that have lots of it. Three, use garnishes that are truly edible and make sense in the recipe. Four, when prop styling make sure you are using elements that truly make sense in the context of that recipe.

4. Under what circumstances do you think it’s better to photograph raw ingredients vs. a finished dish?
When either one of them has more visual interest. Although of course I would choose to photograph the final recipe when the focus of what I am doing is more about showing the actual dish rather then visual storytelling.

5. How should people decide when to do more of a closeup vs. a more far away shot?
Again, that really depends on the objective. Sometimes we are just focusing on the recipe and a close up might be the best way to get that point across. Other times it is more about the environment of the food and we pull away to show elements of this context. Both are very valid and when used together, very effective.

Now, we’d love to learn a little more about you…
1. How did you become a photographer, and how did you come to specialize in food photography?
I came to photography via food. I was a pastry chef for years, then started a food blog and the blog itself forced me to work on my photography skills. But it was always about food.

2. You’re known for photographs that are simultaneously unfussy and astonishingly gorgeous, how would you describe your style? How has it evolved?
Well that is very nice and if it comes across as such, I feel I am on the right track because those are the two things I want to convey. Unfussy, slightly messy, but beautiful without seeming too contrived. It has definitely evolved. When I started with the food blog, I was still thinking as a pastry chef. Everything was very symmetrical, perfectly built, never messy… but then as I started to realize the power of photos in a storytelling context, I also saw the importance of imperfection to highlight beauty. Beauty and imperfection must go hand in hand.

3. Canelle et Vanille has a phenomenal following… you must be so proud. Where do you think it will take you next?
I don’t know. I have never known. I hope I can keep doing what I do but much, much better.

4. What’s your favorite food to photograph?
I love raw ingredients and anything with lots of natural texture.


Where to find Aran…

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