Katie Quinn Davies has one hellava enviable career.
When she's not travelling the world snapping pictures for her swelling editorial portfolio, she's either styling the pages of food magazines, or penning her popular cookbooks. In her spare time, Katie writes and shoots for her delectable website What Katie Ate.
Inspired by Katie’s love of entertaining for friends, her cookbooks are sold worldwide in more than 20 countries and showcase her celebrated and tactile approach to food styling and photography.
We were lucky enough to steal her away to talk food, photography and how to make it in the mushrooming foodie industry.
What do you love most about what you do?
It’s amazing to work in an industry where all my creative strengths go together. I think when you work in a creative industry, you always feel blessed that you’re doing something you were born to do. I always felt that when I was a graphic designer – I could always be artistic. I love travel photography as well, and I love meeting new people when I’m doing travel shoots with friends in different places around the world. Just experiencing different things – rather than a 9-5 office job… So, it’s that interest everyday – something different and new.
What’s some advice for a budding food stylist or food photographer?
Well, I’m completely self-taught. I did study photography in college years ago but I could only advise people on what I did. There’s not that many food styling courses unfortunately, so I just started to teach myself. Look at magazines, look at cookbooks and start practising. I think to become a food stylist you have to have an inherent knack for it. I think people can practice until they’re blue in the face but they just don’t have the knack for it. I think you need a certain eye for detail but I would say practice, practice, practice – and don’t be afraid of failing – because I’ve learnt the most from failing. Also, don’t try to emulate someone else’s style, try and find your own style. Keep an eye on trends and what’s going on in the industry too.
Is there anyone you’re following in the foodie industry at the moment?
Well, because I’ve been out of the country recently for quite a while, I’ve fallen a bit behind. I’m starting to get the blog back up and running at the end of May so I’m looking forward to familiarising myself with what’s going on in the Sydney food scene. I think the food markets and food festivals here are amazing. It’s great to live in a city that embraces food so much. I tend to not follow trends per se; I used to spend a lot of time going out to the best new restaurants, whereas now I tend to stay a bit more local. Now I just love a bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine rather than the latest fad.
Are there any apps that you use when taking photos?
I’ve tried to start using Instagram a bit more but the one I use the most is Afterlight. I find that to be brilliant; it’s very simple.
What are some styling tips when taking food photography?
I never take pictures of food in restaurants. Because I do it for a living I know what goes into the food. So, I suppose one of the first things is to respect the chef and never use a flash. Try to take pictures with side light. What you can do is hold up a white napkin opposite the window to bounce the light back in. Don’t take pictures of food at night. If you’re going to take pictures of food in restaurants, do it in the day and near a window, away from artificial light.
You’ve said that you like to use texture in your photos, is that something you recommend?
I very much like layering. I like putting a plate on a board, on a textured surface like an old, wooden kitchen table. It just adds a bit more dimension. My tip would be to go to somewhere like Spotlight and buy a few yards of natural linen type fabrics. I used to do this when I was doing my books, I would buy 20 different dyes, rip the fabric, put it into the washing machine, wash them over and over again and then all the edges fray and add character. That adds a lot of layering. You don’t want to over prop the dishes. Just keep it simple and focused on the food. If it’s a bowl of soup, put the soup on a board, have the bowl sitting on a plate and then add a nice bit of linen to sit beside it with a bit of pepper throw in.
If someone was a budding cook and they wanted to start their own cookbook, what’s some advice for them?
I can only go off my experience but I think that in order to be considered to get a cookbook deal, you have to have a very strong online presence. You have to stand out from the crowd. I’m always a bit dubious about people who say ‘I want to cook, I want to have a cookbook’ – I think they have to show their passion for food first - all good things come to those who wait. Make an effort to differentiate yourself from the madding crowd. The only way you’re going to get noticed from a publisher is if you have a strong blog that you update regularly or you have a strong following because they will only invest in you if they will get a return on their money. What you put in is what you get out. I used to work 120 hour weeks – but that’s not sustainable. That’s why I took a bit of a break from the blog as well. In order to stand out from the crowd, you have to put a lot of work into it.
And finally, what’s your go-to recipe when entertaining at home?
Pasta. I have a recipe in my book that’s got cherry tomatoes, basil, mint, bacon and capers, and it’s the type of dinner you can cook on a Saturday and serve on a huge platter. Or it’s the type of meal you can cook for the family. It’s really easy and really quick. I love pastas and slow roasting meats and then stripping the meat off an eight-hour roast and then putting it into a pie or something like that. I like quite traditional food and I like things that are quite flavoursome. I like Mexican – anything with texture and loads of flavour. I also make a really mean fish taco.
All images were sourced from Katie's website What Katie Ate.