Make ’em drool: Andrea Acailawen takes food photos that look good enough to eat

Make ’em drool: Andrea Acailawen takes food photos that look good enough to eat

PS022811 Fresh Fruits #221Here’s a piece I did recently for the Photography Issue for the Tampa newspaper, Creative Loafing, that I work for.

Local freelance food stylist and photographer Andrea Acailawen has learned to blend her love of photography and passion for food into a successful career, bringing food to life through her camera lens.

Working for a Northern California ad agency, she styled products and food for a variety of clients: home goods and kitchenware companies, department store and grocery chains, restaurants, wineries, a cherry grower — even a nut manufacturing plant. Now she’s opened her own photography and styling business in Tampa and is “starting from scratch in a new market.”

It’s not surprising that she ended up in this vocation. Her chef/photographer father taught her how to cook and bought her a camera at the age of 6 for a class field trip: a medium-format Hasselblad (one of those old-school, boxy-looking ones with a single lens and film-winding crank).

PS031511 Cabbage Wraps & Pomegranate Martini #150“I bought my first 35mm film camera system after high school and dabbled in photography off and on for years,” she recalls. “I got into digital photography six years ago, when I bought my first Nikon digital system — a Nikon D100 — from another photographer. I decided to pursue photography professionally (along with my work as a stylist) after some encouragement from my photographer husband.”

She said she’s always had a fascination with colorful food. “It’s so rewarding to make inanimate things look alive,” she told me, and loves to shoot vibrantly hued dishes, as color can “create the attitude of the photograph and make the food more enticing, creating more appeal.”

Andrea especially enjoys the conceptualization process. “You have a specific target audience and a message to convey to them; it’s finding a creative, artistic, efficient way to meet those goals and objectives.”

andreaacailawenFood-wise, she favors shooting beverages and desserts, with their varied colors and layers. She’s also been dabbling in molecular gastronomy — creating fruit “noodles” and “caviar” — to create her own visually enticing textures.

“How often do you fake it?” I asked — meaning how often does she use fake food. “Not all that often,” she answered. She uses real food about 85 percent of the time and prepares most of it herself in her own kitchen. In post-production, though, she’s fluent in Photoshop and uses the program to clean up and enhance what nature and her own two hands came up with.

As for shortcuts, she has quite a few up her sleeve. One time, she was doing a last-minute shoot for a Thanksgiving Day ad campaign and the client gave her a frozen Butterball turkey. Not having enough time to cook it in the oven, she ended up taking a blowtorch to it to give it a crispy, golden-brown exterior.

For all of you home food blogging enthusiasts who photograph your food, Andrea shared a food styling trick: For perfect grill marks on burgers, steaks and other grilled food, cook the meat just until it looks done on the exterior, then use a grill ignitor to make a perfect cross-hatch pattern.

acailawen-12-07-11_0767aAndrea highly recommends that aspiring food stylist/photographers read Food Styling for Photographers: A Guide to Creating Your Own Appetizing Art by Linda J. Bellingham and Jean Ann Bybee, and swears by the book’s technique for creating fake ice cream for the camera.

Currently, Andrea is working on building up her food photography portfolio with freelance commercial work, creates content for stock photography and has just launched her official website, She’s also “an avid blogger and regularly post[s] on the creative process, styling, photography, food and environmental responsibility,” on her blog and website.

Curious about how to properly photograph fruit or want some tricks of the trade? Andrea encourages any and all questions, and is eager to help out fellow food photography/styling enthusiasts. You can contact Andrea Acailawen through her website or by e-mailing her at

All images copyright Andrea Acailawen.




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