June 21st 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
When I wrote Up Close I knew that I needed a couple of case studies to bring the ebook to life. I was looking for photographers that took different types of photos to mine. It was also important that they didn’t use complicated equipment or techniques to create their photos. I wanted readers to look at their images and feel that, with a bit of guidance, they could create similar images themselves.
I found Celine Steen’s work on her website Have Cake, Will Travel. The site is a collection of vegan recipes, and one of the things that elevates it above other recipe websites is the quality of Celine’s photography. The photos are beautiful and the food looks delicious.
I thought you’d be interested in finding out a bit more about Celine and her photography, so I asked her to take part in this interview.
Celine Steen Interview
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
I find that the pictures I’m drawn to the most have a beautifully lit simplicity to them, so that’s what I aim for with my own. Simple styling, elegant rusticity and a cozy feel all make for pictures that make me happy.
When did you start taking photos? What made you decide to explore photography as a means of artistic expression?
I started shooting with a humble Olympus point and shoot in 2005, and switched to a DSLR in 2007. I really didn’t want to do a words-only blog, since photos are the main thing that attract me in other people’s work, so I threw myself into learning how to take better pictures and found it far more fascinating than I would have ever imagined.
I had no previous experience using cameras, so it was a bit of a learning curve to get acquainted with technical terms and how to properly use natural light. I feel there’s always a million things to learn in photography, no matter how experienced you think you are, and that’s actually a good thing.
Who are your three favourite photographers and why do you like them?
I love the work of Tara Donne and Quentin Bacon. Both keep things simple styling-wise, with Tara Donne adding a feminine, colourful touch to her photos, and Quentin Bacon, such an elegant, soulful feel to his. Gentl & Hyers are also photographers whose work exemplifies perfection to me.
You have a lot of beautiful photos. But if you had to pick one as your favourite, which would it be – and why?
Thanks, and blush. I’m rarely 100% satisfied with my shots, but I’d say this one (see below) is among my favourites. I just love the fun feel, and colourful look of it. I shot it handheld and was particularly pleased with the outcome, since I’m usually more at ease when using a tripod, with those noodle-y arms of mine.
Tell us a little about your website, ‘Have cake, will travel’. What’s the inspiration behind the website and why did you start it?
I switched from a vegetarian to a vegan lifestyle in 2005, and got inspired by other bloggers (who weren’t as numerous back then as they are now) to start my own site and look into connecting with other bakers out there. At the time, it was important to show that vegan food is as tasty and pretty as the rest. Now it’s not even an issue anymore, if you look at how mainstream veganism has become, and at the many fantastic vegan and non-vegan photographers and bloggers who shoot and write about vegan food.
How important have the photos been to building an audience for your website?
I don’t know what that says about me, but I spend far more time admiring pictures on blogs than reading the words that accompany them. I know a lot of other people who are attracted mostly to images like I am, so that’s why I focus on the photos first and foremost on my site. I don’t know whether that’s the number one reason why people visit me, but I’m sure it plays an important part in it, according to the feedback I receive.
Tell us a little about the cookery books you’ve written. What’s the story behind them?
I’ve written four published vegan cookbooks, plus one more that will be released in September. Four of them are (or will be) illustrated with my photos. I also shot pictures for three more cookbooks from other vegan authors. I cringe a little now when I look at the style of older pictures, but it’s also kind of fun to see the evolution from the first cookbook pictures I took, to the style I have adopted now.
How important has your website been in promoting your books, and helping you obtain a contract with a publisher?
Essential, most definitely. It all sort of snowballed: I started the site, really got into photography, and did it all for fun. I wasn’t looking to become an author, but was approached by the publisher I work with now, Fair Winds Press. Had there been no site and photos, there probably would have never been an opportunity to write a cookbook either.
It’s a good reminder that everything you put out there on the web might be seen by someone who could very well make a big difference in how your future is going to be. As far as promotion goes, I’m really not into social networking, so my site is the only place where I occasionally talk about the books. I just like having everything in one place, plus I’m really bad at multitasking (and self-promotion) anyway.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in both writing and photography and would like to write and illustrate a non-fiction book. What are your three ‘hot tips’ to achieve this?
1. Don’t be shy, and put your work out there for the world to see. Create a portfolio, or a blog, and show off your writing and photography skills. You never know who’s watching.
2. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, and the more people are attracted to what you do, the more they will talk about you, and the more exposure you will get. Like I mentioned above, I’m not really into social networking, like Facebook or Twitter, but if they’re your cuppa, these sites can be wonderful tools to connecting with like-minded folks, and also with people in the business you want to be a part of.
3. Observe what other people who are living your dream do, learn from them, and of course, keep honing in your own personal skills and style.
Up Close is available now at Craft & Vision for just $US5.
Here are some more of Celine’s beautiful photos:
All photos copyright Celine Steen. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.