Edible Images

Words by J’aime Cardillo

Jacs Powell is a professional food photographer and all-round creative. Spend a few minutes with her work and you begin to see the world through her lens: splendid and full of light. Her striking images span food, lifestyle, portraiture and destination.

We sat down with Jacs to chat about the food photography industry, where it can take you and how to get that Insta-worthy shot of your Saturday morning smashed avo.

How did you get into food photography?
Close to almost ten years ago I started a food blog titled something along the lines of ‘my superfood revolution’ and I used it to document my favourite vegan and wellbeing–inspired recipes. It was because of the blog that I started to take an interest in learning how to photograph food. It was a slippery slope resulting in lots of my time and any available money being invested into my kit, as well as attending photography workshops by the likes of Luisa Brimble, Billy Law, Eric Ronald and Oli Sansom. For a few years I remained a hobbyist, taking photographs for The Urban List Sydney and featuring some of my work in the Collective Magazine and Marie Claire, all while working full-time as primary school teacher. A lot has changed since the inception of the blog. I ended up studying photography full-time and I graduated almost two years ago, photography is now my full-time and I’m no longer a vegan. The blog itself is still out there in the ethers of the interwebs and yeah, it’s cringeworthy. I’ve considering removing it, but I actually still refer to it for old recipes.

Have you had any mentors along the way?
Heaps. I reached out to and assisted photographers Ming Nomchong and Kat Parker a handful of times. I’ve also had Graeme Teklenberg, an underwater photographer, and Chris Prestidge, a wedding photographer, mentor me with some of the technical side of things. I then studied photography where I had access to a wealth of amazing lecturers and buddies who I still lean on when I need to.

What is different about food photography as opposed to other forms that you work with?
A huge difference is that I am super passionate about photographing food and I love working with food and the food industry in general. I’ve dabbled in fashion photography and it requires a whole different skill set of energy. I like the autonomy of food photography and I enjoy working in the smaller team environments it requires.

What are your favourite foods to shoot? And do you get to eat the food afterwards?
Colourful and fresh dishes and yes, I definitely get to try most dishes after I’ve photographed them. Perks of the job!

How long is the process from concept to shoot to the final image?
It can take as little as half a day to a week, but it really depends on the client and the brief and how much of the creative direction I’m taking on.

What is your dream food photography job?
It would be to work with an amazing publisher working on project based cookbooks and I’d love to be a contributor to Condé Nast Traveler with regards to food and lifestyle assignments. 

If you could collaborate with any famous foodie/chef/photographer who would it be?
I’d love to collaborate with Chelsea Kyle, senior editor of Epicurious. I’m also in total admiration of Lee Blaylock’s work as a food and prop stylist. Both of them are on point amazing.

Has food photography taken you anywhere unexpected?
So far I’ve photographed and eaten my way through most of Sydney. I’d love to unexpectedly photograph a cookbook in Portugal; that’d be amazing. I have a feeling the best is yet to come! 

Any tips for those of us who like to Insta our meals?
Be inspired to do something different and play with styling up different compositions other than overhead — it’s been done to death. Have fun and actually enjoy the meal too!

Being that our magazine is about Melbourne, do you have any favourite food spots?
It’s pretty hard to find a bad feed in Melbourne and I think you’d have to be pretty unlucky to do so. My mum is Filipino and my dad was Papua New Guinean so Chin Chin is an all-time fave because the flavours remind me of my childhood in Papua New Guinea and of my mum’s cooking growing up. I love their crunchy deep-fried shrimp paired with their lychee cocktail followed by the wok fried spanner crab omelette and the coconut sago always hits the spot at the end of a meal. Next time I'm in Melbourne I’d love to try the food at Sunda Dining; I’m a huge fan of Khanh Nguyen’s work.

Photo by Jacs Powell.

Photo by Jacs Powell.

I like the autonomy of food photography and I enjoy working in the smaller team environments it requires.