Rae Apodaca on segueing from motherhood to food photography

27 August, 2018

Every once in a while you cross paths with somebody you have little doubt will meet, if not exceed his or her goals in life. Rae Apodaca graduated from Santa Monica College this past June. Since then she's been piecing together a game plan for marketing her skills as an emerging food photographer while working a day job to pay the bills that inevitably pile up regardless of one's goals and game plans. As a single mother of four children ranging from late teens to middle twenties, Ms Apodaca is no stranger to stepping up to life's challenges, and that includes establishing oneself as a professional food photographer.

Rae began taking photographs many years ago, mostly with 35mm and medium-format film cameras. Why film cameras? Because even after factoring in the costs of film and processing they were cheaper to buy and use compared to a decent digital camera. The trick was to think before pressing the shutter button and make every exposure count.

Her love of the art and craft of photography lead her back to school with the goal of learning everything she hadn't been able to learn on her own, especially lighting, which is critical for commercial work. Though a well-respected photography school was located not far from her home in Orange County California, it was geared more towards fine art photography. She ultimately applied and was accepted to the photography program at Santa Monica College, which offered a more commercially-oriented curriculum.

At SMC she photographed all sorts of subjects, but soon became enamored with still life and product photography. Making good use of the school's library of lighting gear, Rae began exploring the subtleties of studio lighting - how moving or perhaps adding an additional light (but only if needed) until it her subject is lit the way she imagined the photograph in her mind's eye.
Rae was quick to discover the power of good lighting, which she began applying to her favored subject matter - food.

Tight framing and balanced compositions are readily noted when looking at Rae Apodaca's food photography. Her subject is prominent and she understands how to arrange support props, which often trail off beyond the frame lines. She prefers keeping her lighting simple and prefers to light her subjects with a single main light, and secondary lights only if needed and typically for rim-lighting, backlighting, or adding an accentsaccent the background.

It's worth noting Rae's sense of thrift, economy, and maximizing the abilities of one's tools holds forth to this very day. The accompanying photographs were captured using a Canon DSLR, specifically, a Rebel T2, which proves it's not the camera; it's the person at the controls.

Rae Apodaca's influences include Edward Weston ("It amazes me how he made food look sexy") and Anthony Nex, a commercial photographer specializing in children and product, and a faculty member of SMC - a "wonderful mentor" who pushed her when she needed a push while offering "spot-on critiques" of her photography skills as they evolved.

When shooting in the school's studios Rae uses Profoto B1 battery-powered monolights, and Profoto D2 monolights when shooting at home or on location. Her go-to light modifier is the Profoto RFi Softbox 2x3’, which she frequently uses with Profoto Grids and/or Profoto Gels to emulate the look of diffused window light.

Rae's current plan is to pay off her college loans and other bills while continuing to shoot and further hone her skills behind the camera with the goal of shooting food full-time for magazines such as Food & Wine and Bon Appetite ("I would love to see my pictures on the covers of supermarket newsstands").

Her dream assignment - shooting a cookbook with a world-renowned chef - or perhaps several chefs from around the world, that celebrates food, the people who enjoy preparing food, and the lifestyle that goes along with it.

To see more of Rae Apodaca's photographs visit her website and Instagram pages.