Once the subject of satire, Portland’s cultural cache of “hipster” delights and oddities has, it seems, outlived its reputation. Although Portlandia may now be passé, the cottage industry of creators, makers, designers, farmers, and organizers carries on. A Portland Food photographer benefits from their hard work and can enjoy working in the second-best foodie city in the USA.
At Wonderful Machine, we define Food Photography as imagery that depicts consumable products or experiences. In our lexicon of photography specialties, we group Food and Drink photography together. Generally speaking, a Food photographer also often works with drinks. This type of photography is intended to arouse your sensations and enliven your appetite.
A professional Food photographer usually works with a food stylist to create an alluring and enticing scene. Wafting smoke from the grill, vegetables sizzling in a saute pan, or the quintessential image of cheese stretching from a slice of pizza — these are momentary scenes that activate our taste buds and animate our engagement with an image. Moreover, since food is still food before it hits the grill and plate, depicting all stages of food production and consumption is also part of Food photography. With an abundance of farms near the city, a Portland Food photographer will also shoot imagery of fresh produce on location.
These are the bread-and-butter basics of Food photography that we are smothered in daily. Achieving high-quality imagery is an intricate process. It requires careful planning and execution to capture before the delicious moment vanishes or gets eaten up. The 7 Portland Food photographers collected in this article have all demonstrated their ability to capture and create high-quality imagery. They represent the breadth of the genre and match the quality of the food scene that put Stumptown on the foodie map.
Dina Ávila is passionate about capturing the vivaciousness of her edible subjects. She was the winner of the prestigious James Beard Media Award for Visual Storytelling in 2016 and has worked with many top international publications and brands. She has also collaborated with chefs to create the imagery for numerous cookbooks. Dina’s use of vibrant colors and strong contrast creates detailed and highly realistic images. Carefully styled plates and scenes create a context for the qualities of each dish to shine. Her images capture the detail of artfully plated dishes and fresh ingredients. Dina has a way of accentuating the appetite-stimulating textures of the foods she documents. There is a cool down-to-earth presence in each of her photos. It’s as though you could grab one of the tacos from your own kitchen counter. They feel unfiltered and unpretentious although the lighting is usually highly controlled.
John Valis has artfully documented the work of renowned chefs across the USA for the last 20 years. Whether in the kitchen, studio, or restaurant, John crafts a warm and elegant tone in his images. His work captures the eloquence and refinement of a craft. He often shoots in the context of a restaurant, where he creates scenes that capture the opulence and repose associated with fine dining. Moreover, his images capture each chef’s dedication and attention to detail. John also documents the entirety of the dining experience. He incorporates portraits of the makers, dining spaces, and restaurant patrons. John captures more than just the food itself. He creates a rich and artful context to exhibit finely plated delicacies. It’s said that we eat with our eyes, and John’s photography draws viewers into a gastronomical world of flavor.
Michael Shay is more than just a Portland Food photographer. He is a poet and founder of commercial photography studio, Polara Studio, which has been in operation in Portland for over 25 years. Michael shoots all varieties of delectable delights, styled and framed in settings that evoke their flavor profile. Be it a carefully braised shrimp or waffle ice cream sandwich, Michael emphasizes all of the delicious details in their splendor. His extensive use of natural light creates images that are warm, inviting, and familiar. These all-important qualities for stimulating cravings and desire are present throughout his portfolio, even in his more controlled studio-lit imagery. Regardless of the subject or setting, Michael captures everyday eats as well as elaborate preparations in a familiar and enticing light.
Vanessa and Seth Weber are a power couple who run a production company, Webers Creative. Together, they have been crafting imagery for the hospitality industry in Portland and beyond for over 10 years. They oversee all stages and aspects of image production. From planning and location scouting, staging, and styling, to post-production retouching. The consistency and range of work are evidence of their ability to deliver imagery suited to the unique needs of each client. Whether they are shooting desert imagery for a bakery, elaborately plated dishes for a new fine dining restaurant, or anything in between, Vanessa and Seth deliver quality. Their portfolio has a range of styles and subject matter and shows a high degree of technical proficiency. Sharp details, crisp controlled lighting, and carefully staged scenes that tantalize the appetite all point to a photography duo working at the top of their field.
Portland Food photographer Celeste Noche’s portfolio conveys an understanding of the relations between people, place, and nourishment. Her photography captures more than just the appetizing splendor of her edible subjects. She captures the context in which food is produced, prepared, consumed, and, most importantly perhaps, shared. Images of soft natural light cascading across a vegetable-strewn countertop, detailed close-ups of simple preparations, and steam rising from pots in a home kitchen, for example, reflect Celeste’s focus on narrative and identity. Her work feels honest and down to earth. Most Food photographers strive to produce the polished, elaborate, and Instagramable imagery that has become standard fare. Celeste’s work is unique among Food photographers in that it presents the personable and unvarnished side of food and the culture we create around it.
As a Food photographer in Portland, Dean Cambray is perhaps the only one who can claim a career on the other side of the camera. Dean has 18 years of experience working behind the scenes in Mechelin-starred restaurants in London and France. He also opened an award-winning restaurant in Australia where he crafted many photo-worthy dishes. He has translated his aptitude for detail and patience, honed after so many years of dedication in the kitchen, into a flourishing photography career.
Dean’s experience in the kitchen has also made him an accomplished food stylist. Every meticulously styled and illuminated scene or plate is evidence of his vast experience in fine dining. Complimentary colors, interplays of textures, and controlled studio lighting all evince fine dining excellence. Dean has 11 self-published books to his name and numerous others that he shot and styled himself. In 2020, his book, Temple of BBQ, was recognized as one of the top seven BBQ cookbooks of the last 25 years.
Dan Saelinger’s colorful and conceptual style tastefully embodies that hipster flair that has become synonymous with Portland. He is a commercial photographer who creates a vibrant eye-catching aesthetic in every shoot. His work is heavily stylized and crafted in the studio from carefully staged props, lights, and detailed post-production rendering. He is a favorite among major brands for crafting images that captivate viewers with a surreal yet playful conceptual charm. Dan’s work shows great imagination and flexibility with his subject matter, pushing everyday objects into strange new worlds. His work is at once over the top, baffling, and amusing while remaining simple, clean, and concise. Dan excels at balancing the unexpected with the quotidian.
Any Food photographer in Portland works in one of the most dynamic and innovative food cities in the country. The seven photographers highlighted in this article capture the most delicious angles and understand how to create an image we can eat with our eyes.