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Nov 16, 2018

Talking Story with Steve Czerniak

Photos by Steve Czerniak

Whether it's at your local newsstand or social media feed, there's a decent chance that you're accustomed to the mouthwateringly creative food photography of Steve Czerniak.

As a photographer for Honolulu Magazine, Czerniak has been responsible for chronicling the rising culinary movement in Honolulu, all with an aesthetic and eye befitting his subject. Whether it's a succulent roast chicken for Merriman's, a neon-lit Mexican fare from Encore Saloon, or fresh fettucine for the Four Seasons, his photography is everywhere. In the interview below, we've tapped the talented lensmen for an interview to learn about how he got his start, where he looks for inspiration, and where's going next.

How'd you find your way into photography?

Since I was a kid, I've dabbled in photography for fun. I never thought about being a professional photographer. I began my professional career as a pet photographer with inspirational help from my two terriers. They were perfect models to help me develop my skill set. I photographed animals professionally for about three years until food photography came along.

So how'd you find your way into food photography, specifically?

First off, I love food and I love to cook. It helps to understand how food is prepared to take my best photos. You want to tell a story. My early food photos were basically created for fun. I had no desire to shoot food professionally, but then Honolulu Magazine contacted me to shoot for a pet feature. After that shoot, the graphic designer mentioned to the creative director that I also shot food. He asked to see my work and before I knew it, I had an assignment. It happened so fast that I didn't know what to do. Who do I contact? Do you just show up and shoot the food? How much time does it take? Do I bring props? After a few shoots I learned what to do and eased into a new career as a food photographer. 5 years later, I'm still loving it!

You've been responsible for shooting some very creative photos of the growing restaurant scene here. What's it been like covering such a rapidly growing culinary movement?

The shift in diversity of restaurants since I've been shooting food is incredible. Honolulu has some great chefs who are pushing the limits of creativity with our wonderful abundance of local ingredients. I love going into a new restaurant knowing that I'll be shooting something new and exciting.

It feels like your photographs are really pushing the creative side of the magazine and you're "Pau Hana" cover with the neon turned out amazing. Was there a conscious decision on your end to push the envelope with your food photography?

To be honest, credit for the neon cover goes to the creative team at Honolulu Magazine. They actually took me out of my comfort zone with the neon lighting. It was a creative challenge for me, and I loved the chance to try something different. I'm happy with the result. I love to collaborate with other creative people because I think it makes you grow and evolve as an artist.

Where do you go to find inspiration for your photography?

I have so many food magazine subscriptions and tons of cookbooks. Of course, I follow a few food photographers on Instagram, but I like to limit the number of accounts I follow so it doesn't become a bunch of noise. Making a new dish will help fuel my creativity as well. I also like to look at other non-food photography imagery (landscape, portraiture, still life) and illustrative work.

Now that everyone is shooting food photos, do you have any tips for people shooting food photos on their phone?

First tip: Turn off your flash and use natural light. The best food photos should be shot in daylight. Look for light coming from the side. Front lighting washes your subject out.

Second: Change angles. Not everything looks good shot top down. Food with height looks best shot from the side.

Third: Edit. But edit conservatively. Skip the crazy filters. Also, oversaturated images tend to look unreal and cartoonish. With food you want it to look real. Unless surreal is your intention.

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