San Francisco food photographer Elysa Weitala is playing with her food, and doing it well. By carefully blending art and advertising to create images that could go from a marketing campaign to a framed piece of art, she’s upping the “steaks” in commercial food photography. We recently got to ask Elysa a few questions about her process and passion.
First off, tell us about your process when planning and executing a shoot:
Whether a shoot is for a client, for personal work, or a test with a new stylist, the first step is always getting a loose grip on the subject matter and what needs to be said: the message to convey. This can be as simple as a feeling or as complex as a mission statement. Once the subject is defined as well as the message, I pull inspirational images for the subject, styling, propping, lighting, or even general feel. If I’m working on a personal shoot, I tend to set up the composition in my office so that I can live with it for a while before shooting it.
I also take great pride and detail in preparing my production documents. Time is money and when you’re well prepared, even prepared for the unexpected, you are setting yourself up for success. Having a well outlined production document allows me to give more attention to the creative side of things while on a shoot instead of fussing over small details. During the shoot, what I value most is collaboration; I choose to surround myself with dedicated and passionate professionals. We are a team working towards one goal and whatever I or the team needs to do to achieve that is most important.
Do you have a food stylist that you work with regularly? If so, why do you continue to work together?
Yes, I do have a handful of food stylists I work with regularly. There is one amazing food stylist I work with quite frequently, Nicole Twohy. She is a rockstar! We both jumped from our assisting positions to lead stylist and photographer at about the same time. We bonded over this, having been through some of the growing pains together. Having a solid community and support system to lean on is invaluable. In addition to client work, Nicole and I also have a blast shooting personal/portfolio work together. It gives us the chance to be really creative in our images and to test out different scenarios we may encounter with clients without the pressure.
Do you have a different process when taking a more artistic image as opposed to a purely commercial image?
Yes and no. I strive to put the same dedication and effort in regardless of who the client is or what the project may be. If it’s commercial work, you have to take on with full authenticity the message your client wants to convey. It may not have come from you but that does not mean you cannot make it your own. When working on personal imagery, I really try to push my boundaries as a photographer, i.e. trying new lighting schemes or diving head first into a conceptual image.
What is your favorite part of the process?
Although I truly enjoy the production and organizing of a shoot, it’s the moment the image comes together that is my favorite. When the puzzle pieces are just about put together to form the larger image. Like when you have a word just on the tip of your tongue and have to be inventive and creative to coax it out. It’s also the problem-solving that makes this point my favorite. How can we convey our message in a way that lets the audience discover it on their own? That goes back to my love for enveloping the audience in each image.
What do you find to be your biggest challenge?
Time and time management. It’s all about the work/life balance as well as the balance of creativity and business within my work. My business cannot thrive without nurturing my creativity and vice versa. I have to be smart and forward thinking in how I run my business but not lose touch with what has brought me success.
Do you have a favorite project/image that you have worked on?
Last month I worked on a personal shoot and am absolutely head over heels with what we created. Not only is this a very recent project, I just love the conceptual direction we took with it. They are also just simply fun and we should never take life too seriously!
Elysa sent us a sneak peak of this recent project below! It’s safe to say we can’t wait to see what’s next from her. Until then, it’s time for second lunch.
To view more work from Elysa, visit elysaweitala.com.