The following is an interview of Tom Elms, a food photographer based in the UK. More of his work can be found on his website The interview was conducted by Nick Gilmartin
Pictures good enough to eat.
Tom Elms is a man with a job that I completely envy. As a food and drink photographer it is his job to make sure the apples look shiny and delicious, the chocolate sponge pudding is sticky and steamy, and the mojitos are as cool as the arctic.
Tom himself comes from a hospitality background, having been a bar manager for many years. It was here that he picked up his eye for detail, and a flair for presentation that has served him well in his new career.
Within the sphere of work he has visited some of the country’s (worlds?) grandest hotels and met some outstandingly talented individuals. He has become a firm favourite photographer among the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild, and top hotel chains.
His photography style has been described as Ëœreportage’ and he has a knack, not only of photographing food and drink, but capturing the personality of the people who create it. Many top chefs and bartenders, especially, have been captured under his lens.
So I had a few questions for Tom:
What kind of camera equipment do you prefer?
At the moment I prefer Nikon for it’s great speed and low light performance as I prefer not to use a flash.
Which post-production photo-suite (i.e. photoshop) do you use?
There are so many, right now Lightroom 3 is the best fit for me with a sprinkling of Photoshop for good measure.
What has been your most exotic assignment to date?
Last year, with Chairman’s Reserve rum, I accompanied 11 top UK bartenders to St. Lucia and the St. Lucia Jazz festival. A fantastic opportunity and experience, a location not short on atmosphere, fabulous venues and an amazing opportunity to capture the history of the Brand, not so amazing to miss the coach when I went for that extra shot! The jazz festival was pretty great too, the biggest challenge? Capturing the shot whilst all about got down to some serious partying.
How did you get started as a food and drink photographer?
I started to photograph competitions for the UKBG, one thing led to another and I never looked back.
Who are your main photography idols?
Rob Lawson is a great photographer who I admire immensely. His work on the Difford cocktail guides is second to none, he’s also great guy to talk to.
Do you photograph anything beyond Food and Drink? (weddings, portraits etc.)
Yes, weddings strictly only for friends and family at this time, I do portraits, awards and interiors as a result of my work in hospitality food and drink. I always endeavour to accept repeat bookings and accommodate bookings resulting from referrals so sometimes I find
myself capturing events where the only link to food and drink hospitality is the champagne and canapes, in just this way I ended up a launch party for a new range of rugs in Chelsea.
Amongst the guest were the iconic designer Terence Conran and great actor Richard E. Grant and then I noticed the rugs are designed by Deirdre Dyson and wondered whether she was related to Sir James Dyson, as in the famous vacuum cleaner designer. I was delighted to discover that she was his wife and when I met him I could not resist to tell him how happy I was with my Dyson, I love a great gadget!
Has this job given you a taste for the finer things in life?
I think working for Harvey Nichols and Mandarin Oriental gave me a taste for the finer things in life, you can’t work for these great companies without a little rubbing off.
Explain a little more about your Ëœreportage’ style of photography?
I prefer to reflect what is there rather than set up something that is contrived. Of course I’ll always look for the unseen angle or perspective that lends that bit more to the picture. I think the real moments have far more impact.
Have you met anybody famous?
Yes, I’m fortunate to have met a number of famous people through my work and I love entertaining my mates with sound-bites from my ‘famous meets’, Simon Cowells wink, Jeremy Clarkson’s best bloody Mary. Most recently I was shooting the Chambord Party at
Cafe de Paris, hosted by Claudia Winkleman. At the beginning of the evening I was capturing the guests arriving, standing at the door with Claudia, of course many of the guest were from the drinks industry amongst them many old friends and industry colleagues causing Claudia to observe to me ‘you are more famous than me’! now that’s a new twist on meeting somebody famous.
Do you have any tips for people hoping to get started in food and drink photography?
Have a huge passion for your subject whatever it is. Be the photographer people want to work with. Shoot too many photos rather than not enough.
Is it a career that you recommend?
Yes doing work that you love is far easier than work that you don’t.