Jackelin Slack’s Knack for Food Portraits and Other Works
Jackelin Slack (@jackelinslack) has an extraordinary gift for bringing food, products and other lifestyle images to life, dismantling the one-dimensionality of photography as her images pop off the page. Though she has a knack for shooting a variety of items, Slack is particularly known for her “food portraits,” a term she dubbed for her food photography.
Her work as a photographer, maker and artist is inspired by vibrant tastes and colors that surround her. The “secret sauce” to her creativity really depends on the subject. “I get inspired by food photography that I see in magazines—Bon Appetit, Saveur … wonderful food photographers doing fun things with lighting, color and styling,” Slack says. Scrolling through her Instagram page or her photography site, it becomes apparent how Slack uses light to make subjects seem delectable.
“I get inspired by food photography that I see in magazines.”
Slack first launched her photography career shooting stock imagery. In 2001, she was shooting for a European stock agency and found it difficult to make a living solely from stock photos. This, combined with the birth of her daughter, motivated her to switch into portrait photography. When her daughter was born, she says, “Like any new parent, I was hyper-focused on being a mom, capturing all the little moments. My daughter was my muse.” As a new mom, Slack would gravitate towards activities with other budding parents. Soon parents peppered her with more requests for photoshoots of kids. Naturally, this is how she started doing child and family photography.
The transition into food photography was also a home-grown process. “Food has always been an important part of my life. My mother taught me how to cook and instilled in me a passion for cooking and eating well,” Slack says. Though her mom passed away a few months ago, her legacy lives on in Slack’s passion for capturing tasty meals through her lens. Whether it’s a dazzling meal whipped up by a local chef or raw vegetables riddled with imperfections, Slack weaves her technical, photographic competencies with the vivid richness of nutrients to create a wholesome, genuine look that leaves the viewer craving a bite.
“Light can’t come from the front … with a bowl of soup or cocktail, it’s beautiful when it’s lit from the back.”
Speaking about the differences between photographing people versus food, Slack points out the difficulties of shooting food photography, specifically with light. “You really have to consider what you’re shooting. Lighting is completely different,” she says. Slack had a humble beginning in food photography, admitting she didn’t know what she was doing at first. She would go outside and photograph on overcast days, but the images seemed to show up with too flat of light. Now, Slack is much more attuned to creating sharp and crisp food portraits. As she began to think about specific photos she’s shot in the past, she perked up when describing the crown of a blueberry and how to make it sparkle. “Light can’t come from the front. It must come from the side, or with a bowl of soup or cocktail, it’s beautiful when it’s lit from the back,” she says.
Slack has come to treasure the use of hard lighting. She talks about how lighting is really dependent on whatever she is photographing, and the question of how to highlight that subject is really the key to a good shot. “If it’s something that’s bright and fun and has exciting colors and texture, I’ll always shoot with hard light,” she says. “If I’m shooting outdoors on a sunny day when light is hitting the subject, I want to be at an angle with deep, sharp shadows. When it’s overcast or during winter, I use a strobe light without a modifier.” For Slack, it’s about making something pop off the page so that colors and texture are shown in their fullest, crispest form.
“If it’s something that’s bright and fun and has exciting colors and texture, I’ll always shoot with hard light.”
Slack has a few words of advice for upcoming photographers hoping to make a career out of their work. She reminds artists that everything we need to know is out there for free. “Anything you want to learn about photography is on YouTube. Be willing to learn and to practice. It takes time,” she says. Along with YouTube, Slack learns from other food portraitists, namely Joanie Simon, a food photography educator in Arizona.
Like plenty of other photographers, Slack didn’t start out with uber-expensive equipment, just a mindset that she could learn as she gained experience. Most importantly, she adds, it’s about practicing and spending a lot of time playing—playing with the camera, playing with equipment or your set up. This time proves valuable in developing your own style and practices. Photographers’ styles evolve, and that’s okay, Slack points out. She adds that as an artist, you must allow yourself to also shift and change with more experience.
Find more of Slack’s work at jackelinslack.com.