Scott Suchman Feeds Readers Delicious Images for Washingtonian Magazine’s “Where to Eat Cheap”
You hungry yet, dear reader?
How about now? These images were crafted by D.C.-based Scott Suchman, who makes subscribers hungry every summer for Washingtonian Magazine's popular feature “Where to Eat Cheap.” Scott has been a contributing photographer for Washingtonian for nearly a decade and is responsible for all of the publication's food and restaurant stories. He approaches this annual assignment full of excitement, ideas, and, in fact, food.
First rule of food photography is to always eat before you go — it can be too distracting otherwise. I rarely eat any of the food I shoot. Everyone thinks that's what I do all day, but I’d be as big as a house if I did!
Because he’s a tenured veteran of food & drink photography, Scott receives a healthy serving of creative control from the magazine.
'Where to Eat Cheap' is a favorite of readers that runs every summer, usually in the July or August issue. I pretty much have free rein on how I shoot it. I receive a list of restaurants and menu items and then take it from there.
One of the most appealing aspects of the final results is how the backdropping colors enhance the dishes as opposed to overshadowing them. Scott credits the staffers at Washingtonian for this, lavishly praising their artistic vision for the way it ties everything together.
The creative director at Washingtonian is Jason Lancaster, and he is the man behind this awesome layout. He has an amazing eye for color and putting things together, so the food jumps off the page. I pretty much go out, shoot everything, and compose and light as I like. Then he sifts through it all with the help of photo director Anna Savvidis (who also has an amazing eye) and puts it all together. I really think the hot primary colors complement my shots so perfectly.
The continuity born of this longtime partnership helps give the series an identity — a specific look as comforting to the readers as the food itself. What also lends credence to the work is that Scott is familiar with most of these restaurants. In fact, he regularly frequents this year's number one choice, as it's just a stone's throw from home.
I was so happy to see Lucky Buns get chosen as the favorite spot. It’s in our neighborhood and we often walk over there for great burgers and drinks. The owner and staff there are all such good people.
I also love the chicken sandwich shot — it’s just the right amount of juicy and a little messy. Plus, the pink flamingo embroidery really makes it, as far I’m concerned.
Scott is always keen on keeping the presentation of a dish authentic to how it’s actually served to customers. During this shoot, he spent as little time as possible fixing up the meal and instead focused on taking pictures.
In terms of styling, most of the food just comes straight from the kitchen to me. That chicken sandwich [from Lucky Buns] came to me without any primping or fuss. Everyone does like a little mess, though, so I often play around just a bit. But I try to do as little as possible.
Part of the reason Scott creates such mouth-watering images is his top-tier setup. Since he has a ton of equipment at his disposal, Scott needs to make sure he’s at a restaurant during off-peak hours so as to avoid a crush of foot traffic.
Everyone has their own style and way of doing things. For me, it’s always important to get in when the place is closed or slow. You want to be able to have room to move around and also not have the kitchen staff too caught up in service.
There are dozens of spots featured in the piece, meaning there was no possible way for Scott to shoot at all of them. Of the 75 locations highlighted, Scott got to around 12 over the course of a month. Within those dozen or so sessions, he had to figure out a way to mix things up by getting shots in the restaurant that don't necessarily focus on the food itself.
Obviously, in a food feature, the food is always the star. It’s what the readers want to see, but there needs to be balance. A great creative director like Jason knows this, and he nicely peppers in some of my informal portraits and space shots.
I love the starkness and geometry of the Chiko pic and how the human form breaks up the lines but still manages to balance the shot and give it weight. I don’t think I had an agenda behind making it beyond the graphic nature of it and feeling that shots like that look great on the page with copy.
Although Washingtonian granted Scott a fair bit of creative freedom, the magazine sent employees — including a food stylist — to the places that were contenders for the cover.
The impossible burger [shown below], the cheesesteak, and the hummus shots were all done as possible cover shots and were all shot on one day at three locations with a design team. We spent about two hours shooting each of those dishes.
In the end, the editors actually went with the Lucky Buns spot — the publication's choice for number one — as the cover. They just took it in a slightly different direction and had to go back to the restaurant multiple times as a result.
The cover took us three tries due to weather. The district can be quite rainy in the summer and that makes planning an early-evening exterior pretty tricky. But we kept at it and eventually made it work. Third time’s the charm!
Once shooting wrapped, Scott hunkered down and put finishing touches on the images. Some photographers don't like to do a lot of post-production and, generally speaking, eschew retouching, but such is not the case with this man. Scott takes great pride in this part of his work and goes to great lengths to ensure his setup is conducive to productive editing sessions.
I do all the processing myself. I use Adobe Bridge, Photoshop, and On1 applications. I do like to spend a lot of time on my images when I’m at the computer. For me, a comfortable desk chair is as essential as sharp lenses.
Creative Director: Jason Lancaster
Food Editor: Ann Limpert
Photo Director: Anna Savvidis
Food Stylist: Nichole Bryant
Photo Assistant: Travis Marshall
Photo Editor: Lauren Bulbin
Designer: Jenny Rosenberg
Check out more of Scott's work at suchmanphoto.com.
Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page!