Luscious strawberry tarts. A perfectly poached egg spilling over homemade toast. Rich, cheesy pizza. Scrolling through Monika Walecka’s Instagram feed is like the worst form of food torture, being subjected to beautiful, droolworthy pictures of food that you’re unable to eat. Better known as @thereshecooks, Monika Walecka is a woman of many talents. Not only is she an accomplished baker and chef, she is also a professional food photographer, Instagram-famous and soon to be published author. However, unlike the typical light, white food photography so often seen, Walecka’s moodier style, where dark shadows, cool tones and rich, saturated colors take precedent, is instantly striking. I recently sat down to chat with her about all things food photography, from essential gear to food photography tips to how she got her start in the industry.
Lumoid: How did you get into food photography?
Monika Walecka: I am originally from Poland, and I used to work there as a creative producer at MTV. I began to have an interest in food, and like most other people, I began to take pictures of what I made. I watched a lot of food shows, started to cook a lot more, and my friends and family gave me a lot of positive feedback. Eventually, I decided to quit my job and applied to be an intern/assistant at a photography studio. I was lucky to be there and watch how the best photographers worked, whether it was watching them style or seeing what kind of professional lighting they used. After a month, I was a chef there, and began to pick up more and more styling gigs and shoot commercially. It was at the same time that the food scene in Warsaw started to become more popular, and magazines had a need for a more casual photographer – and I fit the bill.
Lumoid: What is your essential food photography gear?
MW: I like to keep it simple. My list includes a full frame camera (mine is a Canon 5D mark II), a good macro lens (I use the 35mm f/1.2) and a tripod.
Lumoid: What food photographers inspire you?
MW: I’m in love with San Francisco Bay Area photographers. I love Eric Wolfinger, who shot Tartine’s cookbook, and Maureen Caruso, who is doing some really intriguing still life. I really like Pers Anders Jorgensen, who has a very cinematic, narrative approach to food photography. Often his shots look like stills from a movie. I also think there is something very special about Australian food photographers: their light, colors…it makes my heart melt when I see it.
Lumoid: What tips do you have for aspiring food photographers?
MW: Shoot in natural light, there’s nothing better. Photography is about simplicity. I’ve noticed that people have a tendency to use too many props. I prefer my food to look as natural as possible. If you have a beautiful dish, it will be easy to have a beautiful photo. The process of making food is also so beautiful. People should pay more attention to the preparation of food; it’s very poetic. Also, always take the table closest to the window when shooting at restaurants or cafes.
Lumoid: You’re also a street photographer. What do you like about it that food photography doesn’t offer?
MW: Well…food doesn’t talk. Approaching people is so unpredictable. You just go out there and are trying to react and respond to the circumstances. It’s often exciting. It’s also great for improving your social skills – how to behave and how to act with people who are shy, so that they don’t feel bad after you take their portrait. I started doing it when I was traveling a lot. It’s very adventurous photography – taking pictures of strangers – and it can get addictive.
Lumoid: You have a cookbook coming out. What was it like shooting for the cookbook, and what’s the theme?
MW: Shooting for the cookbook wasn’t so different than shooting my normal work, except the added pressure of a deadline. However, I found that the closer it got to the deadline, the more creative ideas I had! It was also a challenge to make the food look different, even when using the same set of props. I didn’t want to go out and buy a bunch of new things, so I had to style all the food to have a unique look, despite having the same set of props. I was also working at a bakery in the evening and shooting during the day, which made days feel very long. The title of the book is By My Table and really just focuses on food and recipes that I cook everyday.
Follow Monika Walecka on Instagram here.