Q & A with a Food Photographer: Keith Seaman


Ever curious about the art of food photography, I jumped on the opportunity to chat with Keith Seaman, a veteran photographer of 35 years and a long-standing friend of Fleishman-Hillard’s Sacramento office. Keith’s studio is located in Fresno, California, and over the years he has produced a fabulous food and wine portfolio for some of our clients.

How did you get interested in food photography?
My friend sold me his 35mm camera. Soon after I started at the Art Center College of Design and then apprenticed with some photographers in Los Angeles.  I’ve always been a generalist, but my interest in food came later when I moved to the San Joaquin Valley.

Who comprises your photography team on the set?
The food stylist and myself.  Also a creative director who ensures that the needs of the client are satisfied.

What is the job of a food stylist?
A food stylist is someone who understands the food and prepares it for the camera. The food must look good and must faithfully represent the recipe. Food stylists and photographers work as a team—without a great food stylist I wouldn’t be shooting food!

Let’s talk tools of the trade.  Which camera and lenses do you use for shooting food?
My favorite food camera combo is my Sinar F view camera paired with my Phase One digital back and a 150mm f2.8 lens. The view camera gives me the opportunity to change the focus angle with any lens. This is useful because I can keep both the food and the wine labels in focus.

You have your own studio and you also travel?
Correct.  I occasionally shoot in my home, but I also have a 4,000 square-foot studio in downtown Fresno. My studio has a full kitchen and I also built a “Cyclorama” space, which is a seamless room with no corners, for shooting reflective objects. It’s like being inside of a white egg.

What is your most memorable food-related photoshoot?
About one year ago I had the opportunity to do a portrait of Chef Charles Phan at his Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco. It was incredibly fun! I put together a team of five people and we spent 1.5 hours taking two photos. They turned out great. Afterwards Chef Phan used my photo when he was inducted into the Who’s Who in Food and Beverage in America at the James Beard Foundations Awards.

Chef Charles Phan from Slanted Door

What is the most difficult aspect of food photography?
Well, some food needs to be shot immediately. Like soufflé. You take it out of the oven and it immediately starts to deflate. Another example is real ice cream. There’s no time once it is on the set.

What are your top 3 tips for taking vivid food photos?

  1. Be aware of the angle. Find the angle where the best parts of the food are facing the camera.
  2. Use color saturation appropriately. Increasing color saturation can brighten a photo but it may misrepresent the food. When altering color, make sure it still looks real and appetizing.
  3. Lighting is critical. You can’t shoot good food with bad lighting.  Window light is always nice. If indoors, make sure there aren’t too many different light sources, since each source has a different color.

So what happens with the food after you finish?
We try to save as much as possible. Usually we split the food and everyone takes home a bag.  When there is a ton of food left, I arrange to have it delivered to a charitable organization.  My home studio is adjacent to a Salvation Army Retirement Home.

For more about Keith, visit Keith Seaman Photography.

This interview was condensed and edited.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • David | Apr 13, 2012 at 3:38 am

    I’m surprised all the food can be saved, as sometimes non edible substances are used to create things like steam.

  • Jeff | May 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Amazing work, Keith! Looks fantastic.

  • ProductPhotography | Sep 14, 2012 at 4:15 am

    The photos are very alluring and lively. I can say that Keith Seaman is indeed a professional photographer.