The Vejle Food Photo Festival 2017 was amazing. Every other year this small city in Denmark hosts the world’s biggest food photography event. It sounds like an odd combination but it is in fact a really good one.
Some rainy and cold day it must have been, I was surfing the interwebz looking for a food photography masterclass. A lucky coincidence I found out about this. Exhibitions, portfolio reviews, conferences, workshops, and network dinners; attend them all at the four-day festival.
So there I was, having a ball, and I learned a thing or two! Or five, as it happens.
1. You get what you pay for
First of all, it is not cheap. There is the festival ticket, workshop tickets, and network dinner tickets. Although I am hitting my thirties next year, I am still a student (post-graduating in Digital Marketing) and I could get a generous discount. Nice one! (Update: the student discounts are no longer on offer)
Although I am hitting my thirties next year, I am still a student (post-graduating in Digital Marketing) and I could get a generous discount.
Then on to the flight: 80 euros for a return ticket… High five me!! It wasn’t until I had to pack I realized this price was for hand luggage only. I am an optimist (sometimes) so I put together 4 smart outfits, squeezed them all in my cabin-size-suitcase with an extra pair of shoes, put on a jacket and a raincoat and had a backpack as ‘extra item’ where I could fit my purse in when needed. There. Fixed it.
By the time I got around to booking accommodations, half the hotels were already booked. I was not going to pay over 100 euros a night so I booked an AirBnB just outside the center for 48 euros a night. Only a 20-minute walk from the festival! Well, downhill yes. Uphill, walking home at 5 AM after a night out, not so much.
What do we learn from this boys and girls? In 2019, I am booking all of the workshops because seriously: worth it! This year I went to one network dinner which was a bit disappointing for the people who got to compare so I am leaving this option open for now. Also, I am booking a hotel room in the center and booking early! As for transport, who’s in for driving the Belgian bunch to Vejle in a minivan?
2. Make friends, not competitors
A few months back I was at the Foodprint book launch in Ghent. One of my photos got published in this years’ edition! I was a bit wary of bumping into other food photographers there. Ever since I graduated from photography school I got the impression The Photographer is this self-absorbed species that doesn’t share food. I am not sure why. Maybe it is because I left my pack to become a graphic designer and I lost touch of my natural habitat.
Anyway, turns out I was wrong. Imagine yourself looking up to and at the same time despising that competitor of yours a bit. You see their picture on Instagram and you’re all like “Shit, good stuff. I wish I could pull that off. Wait. I can pull that off. Whut?! I’m-a-show them! Just you wait and see girlfriend…”. Something like that. And then! There they are, right next to you! “Uhm, excuse me are you like, that food photographer who worked for that insanely awesome brand?” And you’re dying a bit inside, wanting to smack yourself for being this childish. “Yeah that’s me! You are Eveline right, from French Beans?” “Uh. Yeah. Yes, I mean uh, I am definitely! Wait YOU KNOW WHO I AM??”.
“Uhm, excuse me are you like, that food photographer who worked for that insanely awesome brand?” And you’re dying a bit inside, wanting to smack yourself for being this childish.
That day I met half the Belgian food photographer population and they’re not all that bad! On the contrary, they were all there in Vejle (of course), I got to hear their stories and find out we all struggle with the same things and we’re all human. Partly. Food photographers are half superhero.
3. Know your onions
Mary Valentin, an accomplished food stylist lectured at a conference about composition in food photos. I was about to skip the conference. For all, I am a graphic designer. I know composition. I know layout. But no, I don’t. You know who did? Irving Penn. And Edward Weston. Ring a bell? Weston was a food photographer long before it was a thing. Food in black and white, who does that now? Ok, he didn’t have any other options but still, nobody can make a chunky red pepper look so sensual as old Edward here.
Nobody can make a chunky red pepper look so sensual as old Edward here.
Irving Penn is a whole different kind. His photography is a lot more direct, rude even. Hence the frog leg composition. What is that?! This one image of two spoons with dressing and a crop of salad is copied so many times. It is funny because it looks so easy. Place a couple of spoons, throw in some pepper. Some salt. Salad. There, same thing, right? Wrong again. Just google it and see how the internet fails.
In photography school, there was a class ‘History of photography’. I had to know all the Great Ones by heart, from Niépce (no Daguerre was not the first) to Robert Frank and Sally Mann. I am terrible at names so I flunked but I remember these college hearings, just watching and enjoying their work.
Conclusion: buy this guy and learn.
4. Practice makes perfect
You can only be great at one thing. Strolling around at the MET in NY a few months back, getting all emotional from that art stuff (yeah… I know, wtf), there was this old man with a baret sketching the ballerina statue by Edgar Degas. He was explaining to a couple of art students it’s not talent that got him to draw the statue so perfect. It is passion, patience, and practice. At that point I kind of teared up a little so I ran off.
Strolling around at the MET in NY a few months back, getting all emotional from that art stuff (yeah… I know, wtf)
He was right though. Those three P’s are the essence of anything you want to be good at. It takes focus, and time and perseverance too. I saw that in the work of many photographers in the exhibition and it gave me some kind of renewed energy to go for it and just get better and better.
5. A road trip is always a good idea
After only four days already heading back to Belgium is a bit of a downer. In 2019 I am going on a little road trip. Taking that minivan for a spin along Hamburg, towards Vejle and on to Århus and Copenhagen.
So going to the Food Photo Festival, is it worth it? Yes. Definitely.
See you there!