Before Bobbi Lin became a full-time food photographer, she spent years as an editor and product developer at Martha Stewart Omnimedia, and designed sets and styled other people’s shoots. It’s no wonder that her compositions are meticulously crafted. We asked Lin about her background, and about how she built her career in professional food photography.
Photo District News: How did your career in food get started?
Bobbi Lin: I moved to New York to pursue a career as a photographer. On my first shoot as a photo assistant, I found myself more interested in all the pretty things on the prop table than the lighting and cameras. Seduced by “props,” I became product developer and style editor at Martha Stewart Omnimedia, and a freelance stylist for 10-plus years thereafter.
During that time, I knew that I wanted a career in food, but I didn’t know in what capacity. One summer in Maine, I picked up the camera again, and have never looked back. I got more and more serious about shooting food, something I made fun of my dad for doing (pre-Instagram) growing up. But I guess, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. I think a good meal is a piece of art, love and self-expression all rolled into one. And the opportunity to make a living capturing that is not only a privilege, it’s just super fun.
PDN: Do you feel that experience on the other side of the camera has helped you as a photographer?
BL: With photography, I feel that I’ve come full circle in my career. After a long hiatus, I’m finally on the road that I set out to walk. But that detour has helped me get here. I now know what it’s like to be on so many positions on a photo crew. I hope that not only makes me a better photographer, but a much more enlightened and appreciative person to work with.
Most of all, I’ve learned that it takes guts to adhere to your instinct. It’s what creates true style and authenticity. Push for what you think might feel risky and weird—that’s usually when it’s most successful.
PDN: Who are some clients you’ve worked for recently?
BL: A lot of my time has been with Food52. I love working there, it’s such a wonderful crew of editors, art directors, cooks, food stylists, and other photographers who have been super supportive and helped in my growth. Amanda [Hesser] and Merrill [Stubbs] are pretty damn cool, too.
PDN: You have your own food magazine, Good Company. How did that come about?
BL: We started in 2012. I met Debi [Kogan], my partner in crime, on a shoot for Crate and Barrel and we have been friends and collaborators ever since. She’s an amazing art director and I learn so much from her every time we work together.
Starting the magazine has taught me how to measure success in such a different way. Do we have the most monetary success? Maybe not. Have we challenged ourselves as artists and people? Yes. Have we failed, and picked ourselves back up? Yes. Have we made a difference? We hope so. GC is still developing and evolving, and who knows what in store next.
PDN: How do you produce it?
BL: Good Company is truly a labor of love. We had a bi-annual deadline to produce for nationwide vendors like Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble. But we’ve decided to go digital, and now it comes out when we feel that it’s ready—yeah, how do you like them apples?!
We shoot on location and in studio, and we’ve been so lucky to work with some amazing contributors whom we’ve meet on different projects. Or we just contact people that inspire us. Like Maria Blacque-Belair of RIF [Refugee and Immigrant Fund], who not only works for Doctors Without Borders, but started the Refugee and Immigrant Program at Brooklyn Grange. Or Adriene Blum Menthal of Pie Box. We worked with her as a prop assistant, really loved her energy, and found out that she and her husband where making these cute pie boxes on the side. Now they are sold nationwide, and are a must have for any baker. We like to think that we were the first to break the Pie Box story.
Usually the recipes start with us and the food stylist. We bounce ideas around and they tweak them until it’s an easy and outstanding recipe for the reader. Sometimes we get talent like food stylist Victoria Granof, and then you just let her run with it, while taking fastidious notes. —Amy Wolff
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