Felicia Trujillo's passion leads to cuisine brilliance
By Dathan Kazsuk
Felicia Trujillo was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Going to Pepperdine University in Malibu, she received her Bachelor's Degree in history with a minor in art, as well as a Master's in business. Photography for Felicia had always been a hobby of hers, and eventually she started doing photo shoots here and there to make extra cash during grad school. That eventually led to her shooting for local events and weddings in LA's premier wedding venues. Then in 2013, she decided to make a move across the country, and along with her husband, Max, they moved to Raleigh. Once in Raleigh, Max quickly found a gig running Midtown Grille, and that led to Felicia taking photos in and around the kitchen at the restaurant. Instantly, she fell in love with food photography and engaging with the chefs and the dishes they created. She then started taking over Midtown's social media accounts and website. The passion was continuing to grow, and out of that passion came her own business, Food-Seen, which was created in 2014. We recently caught up with Felicia, whose boutique marketing firm offers photography, social media management and website design for the food, beverage and tabletop industry in North Carolina.
In today's world of social media and smart phones, just about everyone with a phone and an Instagram account think they're a "food photographer." What exactly are your thoughts on this, especially being a professional photographer?
There's a time and a place for everything. Taking great food pics and using them on social media is a great way to promote your food business or to promote a business you're a fan of, but there's just some things that cannot be captured by a phone. The control of light, composition, focal length, details and the dish's story cannot be truly mastered without using those tools made available by professional equipment and a true understanding of food.
If you have a business and want to brand your business as a quality food product, you have to invest in the quality of your content as well. You want to tell your potential customers that this food product is as amazing as the picture tells you it is. If you have an amazing food product and poor imagery of your product, you're sending a confusing message.
Tell us some of the local clients you have worked with in the past, and how they came to contact you? You have shot for Replacements Ltd in McLeansville and even photographed Jamie DeMent's latest cookbook, The Farmhouse Chef.
All of my projects come to me via word of mouth – that includes social media, referrals and networking face-to-face. I have had the opportunity to work with so many incredible people and businesses in the community. In addition to the aforementioned, I have worked with Vietri, Southern Foods, Bauscher Hepp, MRC Creative, Durham Distillery, Treforni Pizza and several other food businesses and restaurants in North Carolina.
What's the hardest part of being a food photographer? Having to eat or not eat all the food you are taking photos of?
The hardest aspect of photographing food is helping clients to understand the cost, production and value of the final product. All the other stuff is super fun and easy for me. I don't typically eat on set and am willing to take some risks to get the right shot ... within reason.
Rounding back to the challenge ... I can show up at a mom and pop shop with just a camera and a good window, shoot as many dishes as I can in an hour and be done. The images will be really good and the client hasn't had to spend too much money. Conversely, I can create an entire set with stylists, props, assistants, lighting, etc. The cost would be thousands of dollars a day, and the images would be amazing in terms of concept and quality. And then you have everything in between. A client's vision doesn't always match what they can and are willing to pay.
How physically or mentally demanding is a job as a food photographer? I guess depending on the clients and jobs, you can be running all around the state to shoot at a location.
It can be both physically and mentally demanding. It really comes down to what the project is, where it is and if I can bring in a team for support. Typically, I have really amazing clients that know my style and let me do my thing.
I have shot fish in giant refrigerators, hung from cherry pickers in a warehouse, sweated behind the line in a kitchen, shot a fall scene outside in 100 degree weather and sat in a chair hitting the shutter release from my laptop after the stylist staged a scene. It's the variety of projects that keeps it so fun and interesting.
Let's do a two part questions here. 1) What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the business and 2) What would you say is the hardest type of food to photograph?
There are so many photographers in the digital camera age. In order to stand out from the crowd, you have to be authentic, and leverage that to create relationships. That's how you get the business. You also have to work very hard at building your portfolio. If you photograph food because it's a popular thing to do, it will translate and reflect in the quality of the work.
The hardest food to shoot ... anything that's primarily brown and orange or anything that's taco like (i.e. soft shell tacos, arepas or gyros). It's difficult to showcase the ingredients because the item is floppy and the ingredients are hidden inside. Adding a green garnish or spice to a bland colored food works miracles.