Kelsey Foster whips up tasty shots as a top food photographer in Dallas

Photography by Jessica Turner

Kelsey Foster knew what she wanted to do from an early age and never changed her mind.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in photography from the University of North Texas, then moved to New York to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion photographer.

Photo assistance gigs — one in fashion photography and one for a food, lifestyle and fashion shooter — were plentiful until they dried up with the Great Recession, and Foster is returned to Dallas in 2009.

She has since become the go-to food photographer for publications like Texas monthly and D. And his list of commercial clients includes Pie Five Pizza, 7-Up, Mr. & Mrs. T’s mixers, Central Market, Jameson Irish whiskey and Frito-Lay.

Foster, who lives in Hampton Hills, moved her studio from rented space on Jefferson Boulevard last year and purchased a 3,400 square foot building on Beatrice Street in West Dallas, where she shares a studio with florist Kate McLeod.

She met former classmates working in Dallas ad agencies.

I knew a lot of junior art directors from UNT. One kept asking me to shoot concepts for her agency. Concept work consists of preliminary photos used to present a work to a client. An agency will have three ideas and roughly execute them to pitch to a client and hope they will accept one. So I kept doing this for a paycheck and just because it was fun, and a lot of it was food related.

A piece of bacon was a turning point in his career.

I kept getting hired for concept work, but they didn’t choose me for the real work. There was one where it was between me and another photographer who had 35 years of experience, and they chose it. But then they spent all day trying to replicate my concept plan, and he couldn’t do it. They said, “why can’t you do it like that?” And he was like, “Because you should have hired Kelsey.” It was the beginning of the confidence of slightly older people in the industry.

Soon she found a foothold.

The more I worked with this group of people in Dallas – art directors and photo stylists – the more I loved it. It’s always fashionable in a certain way because you always dress something up to make it look good. It’s not a model in a couture dress, but it could be a burger with nice toppings and it still makes something really pretty.

City of opportunities

Dallas has a lot of ad agencies with a lot of food clients. And then the marketing directors of companies jump a lot. So, for example, the person from Pie Five Pizza moved to Bonchon Chicken, so she put me with Bonchon because she knew me, and we had that relationship.

Relationships matter as much as talent.

If an art director has a relationship with you and they think the day will be productive but also fun, sometimes the working relationship decides who gets chosen. Interpersonal skills and making people feel comfortable are important.

Collaboration is his life.

I love working with art directors. I love working with food stylists. I love the whole team, because everyone is good at what they do, and when there’s mutual trust, you know what you’re creating is going to be good. Seeing someone else’s vision come to life is truly rewarding.

It also helps that she loves food.

In Brooklyn, I was broke and had no money, but there would be so much leftover food from those shoots, and I would bring all those groceries home. I hate wasting food, so now I try to donate it or give it to my friends or leave it on people’s porches.

Obtaining financing to purchase a commercial building was not a piece of cake.

A lot of bankers don’t understand artists. When you’re self-employed, you don’t have a fixed income each month. I’ve been doing it for 13 years, so I’m not as stressed as at the beginning. A lot of bankers will look at that and say, “You made a lot of money here, but you made nothing this month,” and that’s all they see. It doesn’t matter to them. I must have gone to see three or four bankers before finding one who understood my business plan. Karl Sanford from Manhattan Project is a good friend, and he helped me with my business plan.

Designing his own studio was a dream come true.

I’ve rented so many studios in the past that I knew what I liked and what I didn’t. Because it was a blank slate, I had to do what I wanted. Knowing so many people in the food business, I had help designing the kitchen.

Food photography these days is very organic compared to the shell burger buns of 1980s magazine ads – but Foster has a few tricks up his sleeve.

My favorite tip is teriyaki sauce or stir fry. If you have a nice picture of a whole turkey and you need really brown skin, that turkey is definitely raw on the inside. They’ll use a blowtorch or Searzall torch, then use teriyaki sauce and almost paint with it. It’s like painting but with food.

About Julius Southworth

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