Smoke and Light in Food Photography

The dark and atmospheric image ‘Smoked mackerel’ was the winning image of our Cream of the Crop category in 2017 shot by Belgian photographer Wesley Dombrecht.

Image Description: Smoked Mackerel

Technical: Nikon D7000 , 50mm , F5,6 , 1/200, the light that I used was one profoto B2 with a softbox


Please tell us more about capturing your Finalist image. For example, what was happening around you, what inspired the shot, what time of day, challenges you had in capturing it.

The image is part of my personal work, and it was shot in my studio at night. I always search for harmony in my shots and try to achieve this by the use of colourtone, light, texture and simple composition. One example is the backgrounds that I use in my photographs are always painted by myself. I use colour and add texture to some of them, so they match with the colours (or sometimes texture) of my main subject.

The inspiration for the Mackerel came to me in the Netherlands when I was walking in the harbour of Breskens. A fisherman there smokes the fresh fish on his boat, the smell is amazing. Back at home I started working on a good background, black & dark helped also to capture the smoke.

The lighting for the fish was tricky, because the skin is very oily, it reflects a lot of light, good control of light was necessary to capture the details in the skin.

What was it about the image that you feel fitted the category so well?

I thought the image was ideal for the Cream of the Crop category. It's a conceptual image about one main product “the mackerel” with a link to the smoking process it underwent.


How does it feel to be a Finalist for the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2017?

I am very happy with the nomination, it's been 4 years that I worked as a professional food photographer, and it is hard to get a little bit of recognition for the work that we do. A contest like Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year is a good way to expose our work to a larger audience.

In addition I was just healed from cancer, for 1 year I was not able to work because of the strong chemotherapy they gave me, my last chemo session was 3 months before I had the nomination, so my trip to London & the award ceremony was a very positive boost for me to start again.


What would you say attracts you most to the photography of food?

I love food in all its aspects. Before I became a food photographer I worked for 15 years as a professional chef, so I am very inspired by food, recipes and ingredients. I love to work with food and capture it in a stylised way. In my personal work I try to capture the food in a more artistic way.


What are your thoughts on the cultural impacts of new smartphone apps on the photography sector? Positive, negative, no impact? Why?

They have no impact on me, I’m not a big user of smartphone apps and I never use them to take pictures. The younger generations are more familiar with smartphone & photo apps, but I don't think they are going to change much in the photography sector.

Which photographers, if any, have most influenced your work?

I love the work from Tony Le Duc & Kris Vlegels for their food images, and I also admire the work of Rob Grimm a lot for his liquids and commercial photography. There are a lot of other photographers I admire, too many to mention!


Please tell us a little about where you live and if, at all, how it influences your photography.

At the moment I live in Belgium, in a very little quiet town, there is not much to see there. I need to go to the city nearby, Brussels or Antwerp, where you have all kinds of different communities, Arab/Italian/Asian/African, and there you can find and taste foods from all over the world, it is always inspirational to walk through the different food markets.

When I need some fresh energy or new ideas I also love to go to the sea in the Netherlands, to a little fishing town named Breskens. It has got its own harbour, and the people are so nice, maybe I will go to live there in the future.

Wesley, we’d love to hear more about any recent projects you have been working on.

A few weeks ago I had a nice commercial assignment I enjoyed working on. It was for a food company that makes healthy sweets and spreads. For the job I had to make a new dark underground with structure paste and spray cans. This kind of assignment also requires a lot of digital editing afterward, to make the products as clean as possible, but I love this.

Beside the professional jobs I’m always busy with personal (artistic) work. For now I’m working on 2 artistic series, ‘Floating' & ‘Sprouting & rotting'.

The series ‘Floating' includes abstract compositions with different ingredients. I use a special technique to give the impression that they are floating in space, some people think that they are digital composite, but they are all captured in one shot. (Maybe some of these works will be exhibited in a gallery in Berlin)

The idea behind the series 'Sprouting & rotting’ was to capture ingredients that are in the state of sprouting or decaying. Their original form will rot away & will make place for new life, roots or seeds. By the use of very simple composition and lighting, with lots of dark under tones, I wanted the likeness of an old painting, with a surreal twist.

To connect with Wesley visit:




For 2018 the Cream of the Crop category will be sponsored by One Vision Imaging.

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