Livestock Interview with Photographer Dina Avila

Dina Avila is an editorial and commercial photographer whose images have graced the pages of Travel + Leisure and the Wall Street Journal. Livestock sat down with the Portland-based photographer to ask her about shooting food (she lives in Portland, after all), what cuisine says about a culture, and how best to photograph your favorite room.

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1) What originally led you to a career in photography?

I remember the first moment I looked at the world photographically. I was in high school, I was 16 or 17, and a friend of mine took a photo of my hand on a stone railing and I found that perspective interesting. For whatever reason, that moment stuck with me. I didn’t pursue photography, however, until my mid-twenties. I took a class at a community college just to test the waters and, like many before me who first experience a print come to life in the darkroom, I was hooked. I eventually got a degree in Photocommunications at St Edward’s University in Austin, where I was also named Photographer of the Year by my professors. Over time, I came to realize that I love shooting food and felt I finally found my niche. I got a gig with Eater PDX, which led to my shooting interiors and environmental portraits, which I found I loved shooting as much as food. Everything grew from there.

2) As someone who shoots food professionally, what does a region’s cuisine tell you about its culture?

That’s an interesting question. I would say that how a culture eats might be more revealing than what it eats. Living and working in the food world here in Portland, I find we’re in kind of a bubble. We’re obsessed with food, creating our own food culture while embracing the practices of other countries. We like to break bread with friends, eat multi-course, multi-hour meals over lots of wine and conversation. We proudly eat offals, and put foie gras in places you would never consider. I’m not sure you’d find another city in the US as singularly focused on food as we are. Pick another country, like France for instance, and you’ll find a culture immersed in tradition. What and when you eat is firmly structured, yet eating is a joyful and celebratory event to be shared with friends and family. Food in France is fresh, rich and satisfying. Bread is an institution. While in Paris, I loved watching folks walk down the street in the evening nibbling the end of a baguette picked up for dinner. You don’t see that in the States.

3) If you can pass along one tip to a layperson on shooting food, what would it be?

It would be hard for me to limit it to one tip, so I’ll offer you three. Make sure the food looks appetizing, look for the best light possible, and pay attention to composition. For example, what else is in the frame aside from the dish? Oh and a very important fourth tip: focus! Make sure your focus is sharp.

4) You also shoot interiors. What would be your one recommendation for people to achieve Airbnb gold with photography?

As Lincoln Barbour mentioned in his interview, using a tripod makes all the difference in the world. I’d also add that good lighting (maybe shooting in the morning or late afternoon) makes a huge difference in making a room feel inviting.

5) Lastly, how has your professional photography informed your personal photography?

This might be the toughest question for me to answer. Photography is not just my career, it’s my whole life. I wake up thinking about photography, and go to sleep thinking about photography. I talk about it all day – my husband is obviously very patient. I don’t think it’s possible to take off my professional hat to shoot my personal work. In other words, it’s all intertwined. Shooting professionally makes me a better a photographer which, in turn, naturally influences my personal work. I put everything I have into a shoot. Personal or not.

To learn more about Dina and see more of her work, click through to her website.

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