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Steve Ryan
Interviews

Food photographer Steve Ryan on the internet, magazines and more

Food for thought from one of the most prolific food photographers in the UK.

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You might not know his name, but you definitely know his work.

A man of many talents, Irish-born Steve Ryan is known as a photographer, a writer, a film-maker, the Gastronaught and brewer, just to name a few of his titles. His work has been featured in VICE and The Guardian, he regularly works with Jamie Oliver and is also the founder of Root + Bone, a quarterly magazine known for its photography-led stories that are often well ahead of the curve. 

With so many accomplishments under his belt, it's hard to imagine what comes next for Steve, so we sat down with him to find out more about his career to date, what he thinks of the internet versus print media debate and more. 

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Photo by Steve Ryan
Photo by Steve Ryan

Tell us more about what you do and how you got into food photography.

"I've been a photographer since 2005, but I fell into food photography when I moved to London in 2010. I was still trying to find my feet about what I wanted to do when an existing client wanted to do a cookbook. I had no desire to do it, but I need the money and didn’t want anyone else to do it either. So I did it and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Every job after that seemed to be food-related, every job I did that year was food and it was then that I realised I was a food photographer. Back then, food wasn’t cool yet and I loved that. Then all of a sudden, food became fashion! 

I started pitching food photostories to other publications I had worked with and then realised that I had compiled so much food-related stuff that I decided to put out a magazine with my friends called Root + Bone. That started in 2013 and it’s grown over the years. 

Then in 2015, I set up a brewery called 40FT, so everything in my life is now food and drink-related, which I’m actually really happy about."

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Photo by Steve Ryan
Photo by Steve Ryan

Do you think the fact that Root + Bone is so photography-driven is what makes it different from other publications?

"We started our magazine when everyone else was going online, so we didn’t have any grand plans for it and we were surprised when people asked when we would do a second issue. We actually only got a website last year. For us, it was just a project that we wanted to do, to have something tangible.

I think it was my reaction to food being fashion. When I started doing food photography, all of the shots seemed to be the exact same: glossy, aimed at my mum, how to smash an avocado, that sort of thing. It was all aimed at the same people but I just thought that food is so much more than that. Everybody eats!

I really like how you can curate people’s journey with a magazine, we get to pick a theme and stick with it. We write a lot of the content ourselves and I shoot most of it, so we get to tell you where we want you to start and where we want you to finish.

It’s printed like a newspaper so there’s a lovely feel to it. I like the fact that everyone eats, so there’s a story about food everywhere, you just need to find the food connection. Of course, the internet has its place but I just really like the idea of print."

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Steve shooting for Krispy Kreme.
Steve shooting for Krispy Kreme.

What was your favourite project?

"Maybe the project that kickstarted Root + Bone. We tattooed a piece of pork belly with squid ink, then we cooked it and ate it, so it was like an edible art piece. It was so fun and nearly like a science project to see if it would work. We knew that tattoo artists practise on pig skin because it’s so like human skin, but then you can’t eat that pork so we wanted to see if we could make it edible and it worked." 

What tips would you give our readers that want to take better photos?

"Phone cameras are so great now that you can take a good picture with anything but you have to find the light. Always look for daylight. Sit by the window in a restaurant if you want to shoot it because if you’re under halogen or anything, the picture will go yellow.

Then you have to find your angle. Some things lend themselves better to top-down, while others are better from the side. What I like to do is that when I look at the plate, I try to think of how the chef plated it. They’re looking at it from a 45-degree angle, so spin the plate around and try to find how the chef looked at it so that you can photograph it the way they intended it to bee seen."

To see more of Steve's work, follow him on Instagram or check out his website.

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