Kenyans are finding a new career in food photography

Food and drinks

Kenyans are finding a new career in food photography

Nairobi-based food photographer Sakina Mapenzi during the interview at her home on May 9, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG


  • Sakina Mapenzi is a Nairobi-based food photographer who is obsessed with taking pictures of burgers.
  • With a background in journalism, she started out shooting portraits and landscapes.
  • Food photography grew on her as she experimented with different types of food.

We eat with our eyes first. Long before a steak or a salad lands on the lips, it has landed (or not) in the stomach through the eyes.

Perhaps that’s why food photography is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing genres. In Kenya, restaurants, chefs and food influencers have started hiring food photographers.

One of these people is Patrick Gitau. Shy in front of a camera but bold behind it, Patrick has been a food photographer for six years. Not once did he imagine that his love for food, details and images would converge in such a unique setting.

“Cooking has always been something close to my heart, but someone needed to bring it out. That someone was a chef at the Windsor Hotel where I worked as a kitchen steward,” the 37-year-old explains. year.

However, it wasn’t until 2016 that he thought about food photography.

“My wife, Reginah, is a phenomenal baker. She used to bake and decorate the cakes, and I took pictures with my phone and posted them on social media. Our business grew. That’s when I realized that photography was a worthwhile profession.

After saving for five months, they bought their first camera, a Nikon D32 at Sh50,000. Soon people started noticing his food photos and the work started coming in and hasn’t stopped since. . Her work has been on billboards, banners, menus and cookbooks.

Why food photography?

“Because taking pictures of food is like cooking it. To get the perfect picture, you need to create the plan just like you would prepare the meal. It’s very rewarding and exciting for me,” says the photographer.

He charges between 70,000 and 200,000 shillings for a full day of shooting around 20 food items.

When Patrick started, people laughed at the mention that he was a food photographer. The space has since opened up thanks to social networks and the emergence of e-commerce.

Sakina Mapenzi is another Nairobi-based food photographer who is obsessed with taking pictures of burgers.

“They have good color contrast, they always look juicy. They also have depth. You can take the photos from many different angles and they will still look great,” she says.

With a background in journalism, she started out shooting portraits and landscapes. Food photography grew on her as she experimented with different types of food.

“I grew up skinny because I was a picky eater. As I got older and cooked more, I discovered a whole new culinary world and decided to document my journey on Instagram.

At first, she was shy and lacked the confidence to see the potential she wielded.

“My first gig was a friend’s pastries. I remember how stressed I was during this shoot. However, the photos came out so well and her sales skyrocketed. I pushed past my fears and adjusted my prices to reflect my worth,” the 25-year-old says.

Food photography is more than “taking a picture”. It’s an alchemy of many different factors.

“Colours, textures, light, quantity of food, quality of ingredients, and much more. When shooting, I don’t take a picture. I design a product,” says Dodman Mirikau, food photographer.

This means that everything you see in a photo of food – the juices flowing, the color, the positioning of the fork or even an onion ring – every little detail is intentional and carefully thought out to deliver the results you expect.

A design graduate from the University of Nairobi and majoring in product and industrial design, he took up photography with the encouragement of his parents.

“They bought me my first camera, a Canon M50, and I immersed myself in learning the craft,” he says.

Since joining the industry in 2020, he has worked with 40 clients. His springboard was a food photography contest where he emerged in second place.

“First place went to an Ethiopian who, when he contacted me for a job here in Kenya, recommended me. He didn’t see the need to fly to Kenya when there was already talent here,” notes the founder of Mirikau Foods.

This opportunity has led to many more and he has seen himself in the industry for a very long time.

This type of art also requires speed and precision, as some foods look best when hot or lukewarm or straight out of a freezer. Wait too long and something wilts, cut too soon and the juices go away, hold badly and the ingredients fall out.

“Let’s not forget the light. Light is essential, which is why I like to photograph in natural light. It makes or breaks the image,” Sakina says.

Food is the greatest commodity in the world. Businesses are always looking for new ways to advertise. So why are many local food photographers still struggling with the lack of paid, underpaid, and unpaid work?

“At school, we are taught the technical elements of photography, but not the business aspect. So people have all of these skills but don’t know where or how to apply them for productive employment,” Dodman says.

“In the real world, few professionals are willing to share their industry knowledge with newbies.”

Taking a picture of food requires scenery, a camera, editing software and skills, as well as supporting equipment such as lights.

“So even in the age of smartphones, food photography is still an art. Not everyone can get away with it. So it saddens me when companies refuse to pay for work, offering ‘exhibition’ instead,” Dodman says.

On the lack of paid, underpaid and unpaid work, Patrick advises,

“I always ask a food photographer who is struggling to find work if he knows how to cook. You have to know food because photography is a business based on trust. If you know the product you are photographing, it gives a customer confidence because it shows that you value what they value.

Second, invest in learning the art. People who pay for food photography know this. They travel a lot and know what to expect.

“Distinguish yourself by having the passion and drive to do more of the groundwork to deliver value. It can be as simple as being able to create an exceptional ensemble, mixing the right shade of paint, or having the right cutlery set It’s all in the details.

Also, know your worth to the point of walking away when your work is undervalued. To encourage payment, he asks for a 70% deposit explaining that a financially committed client will show up.

“Our photos leave a lasting legacy at some point. It’s only fitting that our work be valued accordingly,” says Sakina.

Any advice for those considering joining the domain?

“Start now with what you have. Rent a camera because these options are available now unlike before. You can watch all videos and read all articles, but until you take a camera and take photos, it will not work for your good.Perfect your craft to gain confidence.

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