Photographer Leslie Grow has always had a passion for food, stemming from her childhood in rural Montana where she used to help her mother in the backyard garden. Leslie’s relationship with food is about appreciating the backstory of where the food came from. “I love connecting with people who are providing the food,” she says. “When I’m at farmers’ markets I always talk to them. I love learning how to make a vivid, nourishing meal out of what they provide.”
Vivid is a key word here, because Leslie has managed to pair her two passions—photography and food—to find a successful career. While food photography was not her original plan, she would now have it no other way. It was an organic (no pun intended) path that began upon her graduation from photography school in Massachusetts. After graduation Leslie moved to New York City and after dipping her toe in various types of photography—“I quickly learned that I enjoyed working on small sets with inanimate objects,” she says—she decided to focus on product, eventually moving to Los Angeles with her husband to pursue more opportunities in that realm.
During this same time period Leslie taught herself to cook, and that is how it all came together. “I was enjoying myself so much that “I said to myself ‘well, let me just see how I can apply my photography skills .’” So, she placed the food in front of her window in her little studio apartment and managed to get 10 different varieties of images in less than an hour. “I was like, “wow, this is really kind of striking and interesting and different!’”
Discovering this niche has set Leslie off on a career path that allows her to work in a multitude of areas from food editorial to cookbooks to food and beverage product packaging and advertisements. And light shaping has played a key role in her success. “It creates atmosphere, environment, shape, shadow and texture by using different types of materials and modifiers to sculpt the light how I want,” she explains. “It brings another dimension and often helps the viewer's eye travel through the image.”
She points to an image of smoothies as an example. “I wanted the look of a bright sunny morning and shaped the light so that the top right corner would fall to shadow ,” she explains “By doing this, it keeps the eye focused on the bright colors of the smoothies. It also brings out the full tonal range in the white background so that it's not overpowering to the eye.”
Leslie, who has worked with Profoto gear since photography school, has found that the lighting equipment is perfect for her and her team. “From its ability to freeze motion to its fast recycling time the D2 1000Ws AirTTL is a workhorse monolight that has all the functions I need to create images in-studio,” she says. This is especially helpful with her shots of liquids in motion, which can be seen in her images ranging from beer pours to champagne towers to splashes of water off of fruit. “I love capturing a moment that you wouldn't be able to see with your naked eye,” she notes.
Using everything from octaboxes to beauty dishes to grids, Leslie creates the scene, mood and feeling of an image through lighting. “I shoot a lot of different styles,” she says, “but I think the recurring theme in my work is how I incorporate light, color, and texture into my images. I'm always looking at how light and shadow interact”.