All photos © Lou Manna
New York-based food photographer
Lou Manna discusses shooting trends: "The old style of photographing food
involved lots of props, edge-to-edge sharpness, dramatic, shadowy light and
was shot from a high angle. On the other hand, today's food photography
is about brighter, less-contrasty lighting, shallow depth of field, less food
and fewer props." He's a great authority on this, as one who's
photographed delectable dishes for over 28 years for publications like Bon Appetit,
Gourmet, Wine Enthusiast, and The New York Times, as well as working with such
renowned chefs as Michael Lomonaco, Pierre Franey, Emeril Lagasse, and Jacques
Torres. His work also appears in over 30 cookbooks, including Dessert Circus,
The Four Star Kitchen, and Grilling for Dummies.
Manna used diffuse lighting from above and a few mirrors to create
this delicious image of asparagus spears.
Engineering to Photojournalism
He recounts one of his fondest memories at the age of eight, "When I took
pictures of a beautiful tree covered with snow with my Brownie camera."
Manna grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where he took photography classes, became
president of the photo club, and shot pictures for the yearbook at Xaverian
Catholic High School. "I liked the whole process of taking pictures,"
he recalls. In addition to photography, he studied video, filmmaking, art history,
and had a passion for languages.
After high school, Manna attended Stony Brook University, where he majored in
electrical engineering and studied photography as a sideline. He became staff
photographer and photo editor of Statesman, the school newspaper, as well as
facilities manager for the school's darkroom. "I amassed quite a
portfolio from my newspaper pictures," he says. During his first year
of college, he started shooting for local papers like Smithtown News and Three
Village Herald. "This is what changed my mind--and my major--to
communications." Although he made "literally $5 per picture,"
he got paid for something he loved to do. In those days, he says, he hardly
got any sleep as he worked in the darkroom at night, then delivered the resulting
prints to various newspapers and took classes by day.
delectable dessert was photographed as a promotional piece for
the pastry chef who created it.
After graduating in 1976, Manna
discovered that engineering jobs were difficult to come by, and "the idea
of being behind a desk designing circuit boards didn't appeal to me. I
love people." He took his portfolio around to various publications, and
eventually showed his images to the photo editor of The New York Times. According
to Manna, he was in the right place at the right time as this newspaper was
changing from being a more-literary journal, and they loved his work. "I
walked out of there with my first assignment--to photograph a 100-year-old
man playing a bagpipe on the beach with his dog by his side." As time
went on, he became what was known as a "personality photographer"
at the paper.
One assignment involved taking pictures at a little girl's funeral. "I
had tears in my eyes from grief as I was shooting the photos--I felt the
moment," he recalls. One of these images appeared on the front page of
The New York Times. Richard Avedon called the newspaper and commented that it
was the best front page shot he had ever seen, and requested a signed print
An image illustrating a recipe for new potatoes in a cookbook
entitled, "A Taste of Opera."