By Jeanine Ibrahim
To say that Derek Smith loves cooking and food is an understatement. A classically-trained chef of more than 25 years, he’s cooked in restaurants and hotels across the U.K., even working for the Thai Royal family.
“I'm one of these people who if I'm sitting and eating my lunch, I'm thinking about what I'm having for my dinner,” says the London-based Smith, who grew up with a father and brother who were both chefs.
For him, cooking is the perfect outlet for creativity: “If you're an architect or something, while it's a creative job, you might not see results for 12 months, 24 months. Whereas food, it's a quick fix for your creativity.”
But for years, he’s also had another deep, creative passion brewing: a love for photography.
In 2012, he decided to merge these two passions, food and photography. Inspiration struck while he was on a photo shoot as a group executive chef for The Park Club. Smith was working with one of the U.K.’s top food photographers, Huw Jones, when he became personally inspired to make food photography more than just a hobby.
“I got the bug for it [food photography],” Smith says. “I even went out and spent thousands of pounds on equipment on lighting and the next three years really teaching myself.”
He also taught himself the art of styling food for the camera, which is wildly different than putting food on a plate for a customer, he says. To glaze things like meat and fish for a photo, a stylist might use items such as Foamex and WD-40 engine oil “and lots of tools that you would perhaps think are more suited to a dental surgery or wallpaper stripping,” Smith says.
He’s since had a few paying food photography gigs, but his main job -- training head chefs and staffs on menus he writes -- keeps him very busy. Still, his ultimate goal is to become a full-time, self-employed food photographer and food stylist.
Chef.photography: a way to market a fusion of passions
As a chef, food stylist and food photographer, Smith is a triple threat. He can literally do it all on a set. From prepping and blanching the food; to creating beautiful presentations on plates; to lighting and capturing a shot.
“It’s not just about food photography; it's understanding food,” he says. “I think that's quite rare in food photography.”
While Smith is still in the early stages of marketing himself as a food photographer and stylist, he’s taken the first step by building a website: www.chef.photography.
Rather than go the obvious route, Smith took a creative approach to naming his website. It actually ends with the domain extension ‘dot-photography’ (.photography).
“Chef.photography matches me up really to what I am: a chef/photographer,” says Smith.
He wants to become known in the industry as a great photographer who understands food, and says he’s not big a fan of adulterating a dish too much before shooting it.
“I've tried to present more naturally looking food on [my site], and not use too many tricks of the trade in terms of food not being edible once you've put it on the plate,” he says.
Besides the website name being a perfect description and fit for his entrepreneurial goals, he likes it because it’s catchy, memorable and fresh. Chefphotography.co.uk just doesn’t have the same ring, he says.
The idea to go with a descriptive approach to naming his website came to him when he got an email announcing hundreds of new extensions from a company that sells domains.
“There was a whole raft of ‘dot different’ domains launched at the same time, and I saw .photography,’’ he recalls. “It was no more than a punt, thinking "Well, chef.photography, is it available?" And when I typed it in to see if it was, I was highly surprised it was, and I snapped it up there and then.”
He’s happy with the sleek website name he’s secured, and has began developing the site. He’s posted photos to showcase his work, and recently launched it publicly.
“I've got a lot of industry contacts through various suppliers, other chefs and restaurant managers in the industry. Now I have to get out and actually drum up some business,” says Smith, who adds that he realizes the importance of linking his site to social media, and plans to better tackle that in the near future.
As a food photographer and stylist, he’s trying to remain true to his chef roots.
“Chefs are quite protective over their food,” he says. “It's quite a technical art to make food look appealing in an image. It's not a case of just having a chef plop a plate of food down and you take an overhead shot, or a 45 degree angle shot.”
Overall, he’s confident in his skills and decision to combine his talents.
“It's trying to get that balance, making the food look good and the photography look good, and trying keep that ‘it's still food’ element,” he says. “Obviously being a trained chef, is what I'm hoping will set me apart from the average day-to-day food photographer.”
Learn more about this emerging entrepreneur at www.Chef.photography.