Photo Visit with Danielle Tsi

Super Photo Magic School

This week we have the distinct pleasure of welcoming a wonderful food, travel and lifestyle photographer to Super Photo Magic School. I've long admired the photography of Danielle Tsi. Her award-winning blog, Beyond the Plate, focuses on food, the people who produce artisan goods, travel, and the real stories that intersect between these subjects.

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Danielle was gracious enough to answer some questions for us. Enjoy!

Describe your most successful shoot.
I consider a shoot to be successful when my subject forgets that I'm there (for a portraiture piece) and I get completely wrapped up in working the scene. I'm interested in capturing the authenticity of the moment and translating that in the camera, and some of my best images have come from those shoots when I lose myself in the process of creating a photograph — moving around, changing perspectives, framing, observing, thinking — it's all a very fluid process.

It's slightly different with food shots, but the principle of being fully absorbed with the subject applies too. I love figs, for instance, so when I blogged about a Fig Almond torte last year, I spent over two hours photographing the figs in various configurations and shapes. That's a long time for one subject, but in all honesty, time flew by.

What inspires you and pushes you out of a creativity rut?
In no particular order:

Instagram, prop shopping at thrift stores, browsing magazines like Australian Gourmet Traveller and Donna Hay, gazing at the work of photography pros that I admire (Aran Goyoaga, Katie Quinn Davies, Lynn Johnson), going for a walk, reading snippets from Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott).

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What's your equipment setup? How did it evolve as you got more serious?I shoot with a Nikon D700, and for portraiture shoots, that's all I need, with a 24-70mm/f2.8. For food photography, I shoot primarily with the 60mm/f 3.2 macro and occasionally with the 50mm/f1.4, along with a tripod and a reflector. I use natural light and bust out the Lowel Ego light kit for product photography. I also have a 35mm/f2, a C-stand in the studio for backdrops and reflectors, as well as a speedlight that I use for events.

My first DSLR was the Nikon D40 that I used with its kit lens for four to five years, before upgrading to the D700 in 2009. I had reached a point where the camera's technical limitations (poor low-light capability, cropped image sensor, limited resolution) were affecting my growth as a photographer, otherwise I would still be using that model now. I love that camera.

I guess you could say that I 'fell' into using prime (fixed) lenses with the 60mm macro, which was then followed by the 50mm (I needed something wider than the 60mm) and the 35mm (for outdoor/travel images). These lenses were acquired over the course of 1.5 years, and with the 24-70mm lens, I'm pretty satisfied. For now.

Are the images you create (especially the food/portraiture) close to your idea you had for them at the start? Do you change gears midway? Are you ever surprised at your results?

For food, it really depends on the dish. Desserts are more photogenic than roasts and purees, so styling and photographing them is straightforward if I begin with a clear vision of the final image. If, midway through a shoot, I feel like I'm not getting the type of image I'm looking for, yes, I change things up. Shifting the perspective (going overhead instead of ¾, for instance), switching the plates and sometimes changing the color scheme entirely — it's a very fluid process. I don't recall being really surprised by the results because it's a process of adding, subtracting and experimenting that gets me to the final product.

The portraiture shoots are a lot more dynamic. I work instinctively. I start out with a rough idea of the basics that need to be captured — a sense of place, details of equipment, group shots — but adapt as I go. There's a certain degree of openness that's needed when you're photographing people at work in their environment. You need to be patient and attentive to the opportunities that arise and capture them. This fluidity tends to give rise to more 'surprises' in the photo editing process when I get to review the images with fresh eyes, although sometimes when you get the shot, you just know.

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Do you have any tips/advice for photographers just starting out?

Find a subject that interests you and shoot constantly, whether with your DSLR, Holga or phone. Each time you look to create a picture you're training yourself to see beyond what's in front of you and to express what you see in the form of an image. Be aware of how your environment inspires, engages or disgusts you, and how that translates in your images. Don't worry about how many Twitter followers you have (or don't have) or your Klout score. Don't worry if nobody 'likes' your photo on Facebook. Just keep shooting and be true to yourself.

• Visit Danielle's Site: Danielle Tsi
• Visit Danielle's Blog: Beyond the Plate

(Images: Danielle Tsi)

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