The “how and why”

“There were several converging factors that brought me to this amazing path as a food photographer. ”

Judy Doherty

When I went to school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, to become a chef, I took a part time job assisting the CIA’s food photographer. The projects for cookbooks, posters, marketing materials, and stock photography were all endless and amazing. My first lesson about a camera was on a medium format Hasselblad. I worked long and hard to style shots and marveled at the beautiful light from the strobes. After I graduated, I became a pastry chef with Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, and I kept photographing for myself to build a professional portfolio.

I got a promotion to one of the best Hyatt Resorts as an executive pastry chef at the age of 29. I created and styled many desserts for upscale clients, fundraisers, magazines, and books. And DuPont hired me to do a big series on desserts made with tofu that appeared gourmet and delicious. I retired from Hyatt at the age of 34 and founded Food and Health Communications where I created and photographed many editorial projects and art posters, all of which are still successfully sold online.

I chose an academic route to further my formal education with art, graphic design, and photography at UC Berkeley Extension, where I completed their Visual Art Certificate program. My favorite professor summed it up best, “you are very good at arranging and shooting food!” My graduating thesis and portfolio was about farmer’s markets and the beauty of locally grown, seasonal foods. I learned the theory of color, values, composition, and cohesion for visual art and photography. I also learned how to retouch photos from an ad agency retoucher who was helping one of our instructors with our class. It was a fabulous journey!

I accepted an offer to be a contract food photographer for Kodak, which means shooting hundreds of restaurants in the Bay Area for their clients. I was instantly in foodie heaven with all of the various ethnic dishes and local foods that I get to shoot. Plus I enjoy telling so many “visual” stories.

But the one moment that sold me on this path, and made me fall in love with my work, happened on an early morning job where I was photographing a Mexican restaurant’s menu for a delivery app. The chef worked very hard and put a lot of pride in his work. He was straining to put out ten different dishes made from scratch for my shot, on top of getting ready for his day. He said, “this is a lot of work!”

I admired his dishes because they have the aura of a chef’s hand and spirit with hand-chopped vegetables, herbs, and swirls of a simple sauce.

I styled his food using his favorite ingredients.  And when I showed him the photos in the back of my camera, his face lit up like a kid’s at Christmas and he said, “muchos gracias!!” (por nada!) So I was hooked because I felt that I made a difference in his life and business.

I still feel that way on every job.