Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to spend the day with Béatrice Peltre, photographer, blogger and author of La Tartine Gourmande. When I think back of the people who inspired me to start blogging, she’s at the very top of the list. She was in Montreal for a food photography workshop organized by Mayssam, from Will Travel for Food, and I didn’t hesitate to register, knowing I needed lots of help in the styling and photography departments. Béatrice, or Béa as we all quickly ended up calling her, is one of the most talented food photographers right now, part of a new generation of bloggers turned professional. She has been blogging for seven years now and she’s turned a passion into a career: her work has appeared in such prominent media as The Martha Stewart Show, The New York Times, Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, The Wall Street Journal, and many, many more.
The workshop was very profitable for me: not only did I have the chance to (finally!) meet Béa in person, but I was able to learn more about her technique, to see her actually put a picture together (yes, I saw some of those cute, colorful signature spoons in person!), and to style my own pictures (with her help, of course). Overall, I was extremely happy with the workshop; I felt like some notions finally clicked inside me. Although the pictures I made that day were Béa look-alikes, I feel like I’m better equipped to take what I learned and work on figuring out what’s my own style now.
The props table: accessories to make your photographs look better.
At the end of her long day, Béa had the generosity of sitting with me to have a chat about what brought her to food photography and blogging. She was every bit as lovely, authentic, open-hearted and generous as I thought she would be. It’s a day that I will remember for a long time – big thanks to Mayssam for putting such a great event together! As I’m sure most of you probably like Béa as much as I do, I thought you’d like reading the conversation I had with her. Please keep in mind that this conversation happened in French, so I had to record, transcribe, translate and edit it for this post! I hope you’ll enjoy.
Marie: I’d love to hear about how you became a blogger and photographer. I was very surprised to learn that you only got serious about photography when you started your blog in 2005! You’ve since managed to become a reference in food photography and you even published your first book earlier this year. When you began writing your blog, what was your initial goal? Photography, cooking, or writing?
Béa: To tell you the truth, when I first started, I didn’t have a specific goal in mind. All I knew was that I loved cooking; in fact, I always have. People from high school, college, and university all know me as the one who always wanted to cook. I was always talking about food! I’ve also always been attracted by the visual arts.
When I started my blog, I didn’t have any intentions, but I had a passion for cooking that guided me and it became my driving force. In a way, I created my blog for it to look and feel like my home. Someone once came to my house and told me: “it’s funny, visiting your house feels like visiting your blog”. It came naturally: I’ve always loved plating food in a beautiful way, because I think we eat with our eyes first. The aesthetical aspect already interested me and then I transposed this interest to food photography.
For photography, I had to learn everything! I must be honest, I worked a lot; it didn’t just come to me. I think I had a dormant talent inside of me, and my love for food and cooking triggered the rest. But, if you look at the first pictures I published on my blog, you’ll see that there’s been progress in the quality of my work, I didn’t get to the point where I am now overnight.
Are you embarrassed to go back and see the photos you published in your blog for the first couple of months or years?
Yes, sometimes I say to myself “Oh my God, what was that!” However, I remember that at the time I was really proud of those pictures, they were my firsts! I realize that, just like many other things, photography involves continuous learning. As time goes by, we evolve, we learn something new, we want different things. Even in my book, there are photographs I wouldn’t want to see there anymore if I was to do it again.
Béa showing us how she styles pictures, step-by-step.
Do you remember people or publications that particularly inspired you at the beginning?
I remember bloggers who inspired me, people I sort of compared myself to. For instance, Matt from Matt Bites, or Lara from Cook and Eat, who has since become a good friend of mine. The photos Matt took inspired me, he does sharp and clear photography, impeccably done. Since then, my preferences have changed. By learning the techniques behind photography, I managed to define my style and achieve exactly what I wanted to do.
Magazines also inspired me. Donna Hay, Food & Travel, Elle à table, the French Saveur… French magazines particularly influenced me. I have a Japanese friend who’s also a photographer and she once told me, “It’s easy to tell from your pictures that you’re French”. I asked her to explain why she thought so, and she told me “I can’t explain it, you just see it”. She works in the field so I think she knows how to see the inspiration and style that let people recognize where I come from.
What characterizes the French style in food photography?
I think it’s the playful touch. French magazines are easily identifiable; you can even easily recognize a particular magazine, such as Elle à table, which has a truly unique visual identity. At the beginning, I identified a lot with them, I observed each photograph, asked myself how they did things and tried to do the same.
Since then, you’ve freed yourself from the publications that inspired you.
That came naturally. It’s difficult to explain but people can see my style at my home or in the way I dress. I often tell myself that I compose my images the same way I dress, with certain aesthetics in mind. There always has to be color and, even if it’s a darker palette, there’ll always have be something fun and unexpected. In photography, I want to inspire and pique curiosity. I don’t only like play with colors, textiles or accessories but also with herbs. For instance, I’d put a coriander leaf somewhere where you wouldn’t necessarily think of putting it. I try to rethink the way I see traditional photography and find a way to make it a bit more artistic, surprising, and original.
Experimenting with different textured backgrounds.
Were you already working as a freelancer when you started your blog?
As a matter of fact, I was in transition. I had a job in technical translation that had just ended and, instead of taking on a different project, I decided to change things. I was lucky enough to have a husband who supported me. Together, we decided that I’d try it for a year to see if it was something I liked and that could get me somewhere. It was an important life decision because we lost a salary at the beginning. It’s like artists that don’t have any income when they are first getting started. It was a choice that we made as a couple.
I’ve always been a hard worker but I’d never worked as hard as when I started my new project. Before, I had a job that I did well, but was I passionate about it? No. I did it because I had to do it but what sustained me were the other aspects of my life. I thought about the different projects I wanted to undertake, about the cake I was going to bake when I got home. I was more interested in manual arts, in concrete work. In food photography, what I like is that you get to manipulate the ingredients and turn them into a finished dish – I find that there’s magic in that.
Right, in food photography, you’re in control; you can manipulate each of the elements on the dish. You don’t have to wait for a smile or the right moment.
Yes, indeed, but there are many talented photographers who just cannot do food photography. I think that food photography requires a particular sensitivity. There are many photographers who must work with stylists because they don’t understand how to style. They know the techniques, but that doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with the rest. I’m lucky to do both but that isn’t the norm. I notice more and more people are doing both as well, and that growing trend is probably due to blogs but, professionally, stylists are not necessarily photographers and photographers are not necessarily stylists.
Actually, I’m often asked to make a choice when magazines hire me for big projects. We often have only one day to make several recipes and, of course, I can’t do everything. When that happens, I choose styling over photography, but only when I know I’m working with a photographer I trust. Then we put our talents together and do something collaborative.
Making in-season miniature apple tarts to style and photograph later.
How much time passed before your blog achieved some notoriety?
Probably two years. In the first year, most bloggers haven’t found their style yet; there is so much to learn. Everyone gets through the excitement of getting a comment that isn’t left by a friend or family member for the first time! And then, after that, for me, it was a snowball effect. I’d undoubtedly arrived at a good time and people liked it. I also created somewhat of a trend because I notice that other photographers have developed a style that is very similar to mine. When I see that, I tell myself that it’s a good thing that I inspire other people to develop their talents. I started like that as well, getting inspiration from photographers I admired.
Nowadays, how much time do you spend on your blog compared to your other projects?
Not only do I spend less time on my blog, but also I don’t have time to read other blogs anymore. It’s a pity but my life is so full that I no longer have time to do things the way I did at the beginning. The blog has remained a priority though; when I haven’t blogged for a while, I miss it.
When I create a new post, I always begin with the images and I build the story around them. There are people who hate doing postproduction, but I love it. I love to compose once I have all my images. When you have a single image, you don’t always see how it’s interesting but, once you associate it to a different image, it tells a story. Then, when my collages are ready, I only need the words. Since English isn’t my native language, I’m forced to do some supplementary work on the text. I always try to deliver a quality product and, if that means I publish less often, so be it. I no longer impose myself a publication frequency. I did it at the beginning when I had more time but I no longer have that luxury.
Four steps to get to one shot.
What are you busy with at the moment?
I want to write another book, that’s for sure, and my publisher is interested. However, right now, promoting my current book takes a lot of my time, a lot more than I ever imagined it would. Whether it’s responding to interview request or traveling to attend events, it takes a lot of my time. And then I’m always thinking about my book. Writing a book is something that’s so close your heart, so it’s a bit like a baby, it’s your own little thing.
To conclude, what did you find the most gratifying about the publication of your book?
Knowing that I was able to do everything myself. I’ve always wanted to write a book, ever since I was a child. Back then, I had notebooks in which I filed the recipes I cut out of my mother’s magazines. I categorized them: desserts, pasta, rice… I had a lot of notebooks like that. It’s always been a passion, and now I know that I’ve always loved photography too. My father had a dark room in which I used to develop my own films; I had an eye for photography but I didn’t realize it. The thing that makes me happy is that I knew how to take my passion from dream to reality. It’s great to have been able to achieve my dreams and to now be able to do what I love most.
More pictures from Béa’s workshop in Montreal, by two talented photographers that attended the class with me:
Win a Signed Copy of Béatrice Peltre’s La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life
The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Sarah from Snixy Kitchen for winning Béa’s beautiful book!
To enter the giveaway (open to US/Canadian residents only), comment on this post to tell me if you’ve ever cooked one of Béa’s recipes and which one’s your favorite. That will get you one entry. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to get additional entries (one entry per follow; leave one additional comment here to advise me of each entry, up to four total). Please make sure to provide your current email address (which won’t be visible on the blog) so I can reach you if you win. I will randomly draw one lucky winner on Wednesday, October 3 at 12PM EST. Good luck to all!