New Hasselblad Ambassador Nick Tresidder (often known as ‘Nick-T’) has perfected the knack of making food look truly irresistible, ensuring his services are in constant demand from packaging and publishing companies.
You know when you’ve seen an image of food that’s done its job because subconsciously you start to salivate and can almost imagine yourself smelling and tasting the dish you’re looking at. That’s the essence of great packaging that makes you want to pop that product in your shopping basket, or the hook to encourage you try out a recipe in a book, and without even knowing it you’ve been sold the dream and encouraged to buy.
New-Zealand-based photographer Nick Tresidder is an absolute master of this art of persuasion.
Graduating towards this specialisation was something that came naturally over time and en route he worked as an assistant for four years, travelling the world constantly and shooting for both editorial and advertising clients. “I started out trying to break into the film industry during a period when I was living in London,” he says, “but at the time it was heavily unionised and difficult to access. So I moved into photography instead and initially covered a bit of everything. But over time I found myself drawn more and more towards food. I enjoy both cooking and eating and it’s important to have a good understanding of your subject if you’re to capture it well. I’ve now been shooting stills for 25 years and recently have been producing some video as well, so in many ways things have come full circle for me.”
The taste of success
The art of great food photography revolves around being able to produce the images that suit the precise requirements of a particular client, and these vary from job to job.
“Much of the photography I take on is for packaging clients,” says Nick, “and this sector has very strict requirements for lighting and composition based on the pack design. I also work for books and magazines, and here I’m able to work in a more relaxed style.”
“Whatever I’m doing, however, even if it’s for an advertising campaign, the call these days is for images of food that look natural. Most clients want their products to have a daylight feel but you can’t always use daylight for packaging shots because the light changes too much over the course of the day and clients want all the flavour variants to match. As a result, I spend a lot of time trying to make artificial lighting look natural and I measure and diagram every lighting and camera set-up so that it’s possible to replicate it if the range of a particular product gets extended.
“We’ve even numbered all our plates, bowls, cups etc in the studio so that we can find them again if necessary! If I’m shooting editorial or for a book I have more flexibility and tend to use natural light – I work in a daylight studio – but this will often be supplemented with artificial light to fill shadows.”
Working for a packaging client can be technically very challenging, which is why professional specialists like Nick tend to be in high demand. “Clients won’t take a chance on the next-door neighbour or the kid down the road when they’re going to print a million boxes of cereal,” he observes. “They also understand quality, which is one of the reasons why I shoot most of my work on medium format and my camera of choice has always been a Hasselblad.”
Nick became sold on the system during his time as an assistant, when he noted that the photographers whose work he most admired were invariably Hasselblad users. “When I started shooting for myself I had to have one,” he says, “so I took out a loan and bought myself a 500CM and an 80mm lens. I loved my V System and built up a big collection of bodies and lenses over the years but then digital came along and, after working with an Imacon 6-megapixel multi-shot back for a while, I moved up to the H system with all its modern features. I’ve since worked with 16MP 22MP 31MP and 40MP models. These days I use an H4D-40 and I plan to upgrade to an H6D-50 as soon as possible. I’m looking forward to that experience.”
In terms of lenses Nick is a huge fan of his HC 100mm f/2.2, which gets used constantly. “This is my go-to food lens,” he says, “and it offers me a lovely bokeh. I also use the 80mm f/2.8 with the HTS 1.5 tilt and shift adaptor at times when I need focus control and the 28mm f/4 when I’m after a wider view.”
“I also like the 50-110mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom if I need to re-compose without moving the camera and, to my eye, it’s remarkably close to my primes in terms of the quality it’s capable of.”
Helping the photo-community
In the early days the move to digital was quite challenging because of all the technical issues involved, but unlike so many others who fretted away in silence trying to work things out. Nick took control of the situation by setting up an impartial forum for fellow Hasselblad users that aimed to share knowledge and support one another.
“When I started up what was then a Yahoo group back in 2001 we were all finding our way,” recalls Nick, “working with strange camera bodies – remember the Digiflex anyone? – and tricky SCSI adaptors. We digital photographers were also dealing with an entrenched and often hostile pre-press industry so we had to support and educate each other. In my experience people who share their knowledge and help others tend to be successful and I always try and help other photographers even if they might end up being my competition.”
Being based in New Zealand could also have felt a little isolating, but the fact that he was developing strong bonds with photographers around the globe made Nick feel closer to the worldwide photographic community. “New Zealand is a long way from anywhere,” he says, “and the forum has made me many friends around the world over the years and it’s always great to catch up with them when we go travelling. Again I think in these ever changing times it’s more important than ever that photographers reach out and talk to each other.”
The forum brought Nick to the attention of Hasselblad, and ultimately it’s one of the many reasons why he’s been invited to become an official ambassador for the company, a position he intends to take very seriously. “The word ‘official’ is key here,” he says.
“When I find things I like, I tend to tell people about them, whether it’s a new movie, a website, a great restaurant or the cameras I use, but people who know me will realise that this new position won’t change things and I’ll still be honest in the things I say.
“I’m delighted that Hasselblad is supporting me with the ambassador programme and it means I’ll have even more opportunity to tell people what I like about these cameras.
I’ve been very lucky over the years to have been able to talk direct with the excellent people at Hasselblad and I’m hoping that this new ambassador role will bring me closer still.”