As anyone who has ventured on the culinary section of Instagram can attest, we live in times when we increasingly eat with our eyes: the food should not only be tasty, but its visual representation should be impeccable, seductive, appetising. Ilian Iliev knows this well. An established photographer with broad portfolio, he is a name in quality food photography. He is now sharing his knowledge and skills as a tutor of a specialised class at the Sofia-based HRC Culinary Academy, the premier culinary school in Eastern Europe.
You have photographed war conflicts, off-the-beaten-track places, ballet. What led you to food photography?
For me, photography is not a profession, but a way of life. Regardless of whether I make a reportage of a minefield or of beautiful ballerinas on the stage, I don't try to simply register an event, but to tell an engaging story. I don't photograph objects, but feelings and experiences. I grew up in a family of restauranteurs, so well presented food is ingrained in my culture. My inspiration to become a food photographer stems from my childhood. It is wonderful to be able to create images with food.
What is the secret of creating an image that provokes the fantasy and the appetite?
I have been concentrating on food photography for more than 15 years. During this time I have learnt not only from the best; I also witnessed how the fashion in the field changed. Photographing food is a dialogue with a question and an answer: Do you wanna try it? Yes, I do. Do you?
With food photography we invite the viewer to taste the food, to order it in the restaurant, to buy in the store, to enjoy a new recipe from a cookbook or to buy an image from an exhibition. With my photographs I seek to create an open conversation which the client could be able to continue by himself.
What is the most important thing you try to teach the students in your course in the HRC Culinary Academy?
The most important thing in photography in general is to learn to see: to notice the light and the shadows, to know how to manipulate the viewer's eye and to skilfully select the backgrounds and the accessories that you will let in the frame. I am often asked what is the best camera for food photography. I answer that the best camera is the one you are familiar with. The camera is just an instrument. It doesn't matter how much you have spent for it. What matters is how do you use it. I photograph natural food with natural light, I don't use artificial lightning. This is what I teach my students: how to make natural and appetising photographs.
Is loving food a requirement for being a good food photographer?
No-one can live without food, but if the only thing you notice in food is how full your plate is, you will hardly see the beauty of honey poured over a cup of oatmeal. Yes, more specific feelings towards food are required from a food photographer. The shooting itself is just a technique.
Photographing what dish has made the strongest impression on you?
I don't recall such case. I only try to find the best side of every dish that is in front of me and my camera.
Nowadays many people photograph their food with their phones. Any professional advice for a better result?
Today, thanks to digital technologies, almost everyone is a photographer! Being a professional photographer today is wonderful, but is also much harder, as the competition is big. There is a difference between the professional photographer and the amateur. Everyone can make unique, memorable photography. However, the professional should always make good photos in a consistent style. I admit that I, too, discovered that my phone is something more than a mean of communication. Almost all of the photos I share on the social networks are made with a phone. So, here is my advice: if you dislike the photo you have made, please, don't share it with the world. The photo editing apps are created to help both professionals and amateurs to make good photos with their phones.
Do you try the food when the photo shoot is over?
Wasting food is a sin. In my practice, I shoot real food and I hope that everyone could see this in my pictures. So, almost all of the food I have photographed is consequently eaten by the team I work with.
For more photography by Ilian Iliev, visit www.ilian.co.uk