Photographer Pieter D’Hoop explains his passion for food
The Belgian photographer Pieter D’Hoop specialises in portraits of Michelin-starred chefs and their creations. His photos are sometimes exuberant and colourful, sometimes restrained and black-and-white, but always free of fuss. This self-made photographer spent hours at his own kitchen table with cola cans and blocks of Lego, which he photographed from every conceivable angle until he had entirely mastered his technique and developed his eye. D’Hoop has had many a QL Chef in front of his camera, including Jonnie Boer (3 Michelin stars), Edwin Vinke (2 Michelin stars) and Sang Hoon Degeimbre (2 Michelin stars).
Life can sometimes take an unexpected turn, as Pieter knows by experience. ‘I was a PE and biology teacher, and having hit my 30s, I was in a bit of a dilemma,’ he says. ‘I was already doing some photography in my free time, though the quality wasn’t so great. By chance, an old friend asked me to take some photos of his bed and breakfast, which also had a bistro. There were a number of dishes ready to serve. I’d never photographed food before, but once I got started – with a goat’s cheese salad – I decided this was what I wanted to do: take photos of food.
‘In the first year, I wrote to as many chef’s as possible offering to take food photographs for them without charge. After all, I needed to build up a portfolio and make a name for myself. In the second year I was already getting more commissions, and after the third year I gave up my teaching job. By then I’d already been working in photography full time for two years.’
Learning to anticipate
Taking photographs of exquisite dishes calls for special attention and the right preparation. ‘If you wait too long, the dish will begin to change. The foam that a lot of chefs use now will start to run, or a sauce will lose its shine. I decide very quickly how I want to photograph a dish. It’s to do with the background, light or decor. And also the rush, the adrenaline of service, I love to capture that. Then people aren’t posing. Everything is in a flow. To help me get into that rhythm, I asked Edwin Vinke of the Kromme Watergang if I could work in the kitchen there. For three days, from early in the morning till late in the evening, I was part of the kitchen team. I wanted to feel and learn the energy so I could anticipate possible interesting images. As a photographer, you need to know what the chef’s next move is going to be.’
Developing a style
The origin of this drastic change in Pieter’s life is easily traced. ‘I found an analogue camera in my parents’ house when I was 17, and I immediately started experimenting. It all used to take such a long time in those days. You had to wait two weeks to find out what was actually on your roll of film. A holiday job solved the problem. I was 18 and I saved up enough money to buy my first digital camera. Courses or lessons? I’ve never had any. I’d see a picture on the internet and think, how do they do that? Then I’d work out myself how to imitate the picture, sometimes printing it a thousand times. That’s how I developed my own style: by experiment.