Feeding The Soul: Food Photography

jennifer hulley food photographer hamilton toronto ontario

Shoot what you love, and you'll love what you shoot...

Simple, right? Then why is it so hard sometimes to listen to your inner artist? That authentic voice telling you what you love and what you need to do? There's a heck of a lot of noise inside our heads, and too often it gets in the way of us perusing our passions.  

I've recently come off what I'm referring to as an 8 week block of creative rehab in which I dove head first into 2 courses offered by The Define School. The most recent of which was Rewind taught by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman. Prior to this it would be an understatement to say I was lost, hating 99% of my work, not motivated to shoot for myself and ready to pack it all in (I had all but clicked cancel on my url).  Along comes the Define School and well, Rewind was literally a creative lifesaver. But man was it exhausting. I felt like I was creatively and emotionally vomiting for weeks, spewing out all the junk in my head and clearing out the clutter. The result though has been amazing.  A clear head with a solid and defined vision paired with renewed energy and enthusiasm for the future.  

What has been the result of this? Me, going back to my roots  to pursue an authentic artistry, a passion driven endeavour. 

What originally drove me to photography was a fixation on the way I could combine elements like lighting, colours, objects, the environment and make something or someone look incredible. I loved the fun I had when planning a session or a set up. I was driven by this desire to think about how to combine colours and textures and then see how they all came together in the final result.  

I am, and always have been, a visual perfectionist. I aim to execute control over my images and create something that tells a story, while capturing natural beauty. My most favourite images over the past 10 years have always been like this. They have been purposefully executed, artfully styled, dramatic but with a sense of realism. And yet, I found myself years later, not embracing that authentic voice, the personal quirks and way of seeing the world that made my voice mine.  Documentary, lifestyle and event photography was a road I went down. With my eye for artistic styling,  my eye for detail and balance added to my desire for visual perfectionism,  I began to  try to force myself to shoot in ways that contradicted these traits. I began to see my strengths as shortcomings, and things that I needed to over come. What was the result? Creative exhaustion and a desire to just stop. Totally and utterly stop.  

Here's where Rewind comes in. At a point where I'm ready to say "Screw it! I can't do this anymore and so, I choose to do nothing!" Jennifer Tonetti Spellman comes into my life and forces me to look back at what it is exactly that makes me an artist. What drew me to shooting, what my style was, and what the teeny tiny voice in the back of my head (hidden beneath layers and layers and layers of junk) was trying to scream out at me. She pushed me to really look at myself, my personal history, my experiences and my fears. She pushed me to answer some difficult questions. It was not easy. She forced me to begin to look at failure differently (not an easy task when dealing with a Type A, creative perfectionist brain).  

 She said to me: 

 "The thing you are most afraid to fail at is the thing you love the most, because the experience of failure would be that much harder to bear" 

Holy shit. 

What do I love? It is so freaking simple and I don't understand why I didn’t see it before. I love food. I love to travel.  I love playing dress up and creating a highly stylized look with people, places or things. I love the visual storytelling element that comes with these types of images. In the past few weeks I have done a lot of self initiated shoots using food and styling. This is a monumental change for me when you think that in the last year I haven't shot much at all. 

Funny thing is,  I don't have to do significant planning or thinking before hand with this type of work. The elements of art, composition and style come to me like second nature, and the ideas just flow, like a natural process and it feels great. This is a significant contrast from before when I would be spending hours prepping for a lifestyle or event shoot researching poses, possible shots, the location. All this in order to help me get a shot I liked or to feel relaxed and confident enough to take on the job and get it done.

The result of me shooting what I want, how I want, has been that I've knocked out more than a few killer shots that I love and that has boosted my creative confidence and drive again, that and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Food photography and styling is a type of shooting that I would do for myself, even if the work wasn't there. I have always been a foodie at heart. Happiest when wandering around a farmers market, a kitchen gadget store or when pouring over some gorgeous cook books. It really is a self fulfilling prophecy - shoot what you love and you will end up loving what you shoot. 

So what does this all mean? I've decided to be 100% true to myself in terms of the type of work I want to do and will do. This means I have made changes to my website, my portfolio, my social media accounts. I have changed the way I approach photography and have learned that if you try to be everything to everyone you deplete yourself of the necessary resources required for creative brainwaves.  

What will I do? I will expend 100% of my focus on my inner artistic voice, my authentic self and my drive to shoot highly stylized images. Will I shoot another wedding after this season is complete? Maybe, maybe not. Will I shoot a family in the park? No, definitely not. Will I continue to shoot what I love, go after my dreams and be okay if I fall flat on my face?  


Every failure leads to something. The last few years have lead to this change and I am incredibly grateful for the experience and positively glowing with a renewed sense of energy and excitement.   

Buon Appetito my friends :)