To filter or not to filter? An interview with Matt Russell

Once upon a time, we might have said that the festive season is the time for taking pictures of our nearest and dearest. Now, though, all of the time is that time, so we spoke to photographer and director Matt Russell about how to make your Christmas pictures stand out, whether you’re taking pictures of your nan falling asleep next to the tree, or of the festive feast that you’ve  laid on.

What photography equipment do you use?

I shoot mainly with a Canon 5DS or Phase One, depending on the job.  I have three prime lenses, a 35mm/50mm/85mm, tripodanda and that’s it really.  I like to keep it simple.  I do also have a couple of film cameras, a Fuji GW690II Rangefinder and an Olympus 35 RD but they’re more for personal work.

Do you ever shoot on your iPhone?

Just for fun, not for jobs.  It’s great sometimes to just have the freedom to play around without having much kit.  It really doesn’t matter what camera you have, it’s all about composition and light.

What’s your favourite filter?

VSCO Cam is probably my favourite tool for editing, but the filter depends on the image really.  I’m a bit addicted to contrast, so I’m constantly fighting the urge to go dark and moody!

To filter or not to filter?

Some situations and light just lend themselves to having nothing done to them, others need a little punch or lift.  I think personally, that you don’t want an image to look hyper-real, when it’s gone beyond a photograph.  Some filters can take you to that place, so it’s really about using subtlety in any given situation.

For someone who doesn’t have expensive lighting equipment, how best to frame a shot?

Framing is different to lighting, do you mean how best to light a shot without lights? If so, natural light is just beautiful as it is… There’s a wealth of light around us all the time, sometimes its warm and bright, other times its cold and moody.  It’s about using light to create mood.  You can use very simple tools such as white or black card to bounce or absorb light respectively.  This will either lift the contrast and brighten the image or absorb the light to create more contrast and mood.

What photo editing apps do you recommend?

I tend to try to not ‘edit’ too much.  I love getting it right in camera.  But if it’s getting rid of some dust, food or something that you’ve noticed that needs a bit of a tidy up, then I’d use Photoshop.  If you’re tethering your camera to your computer, I recommend using Capture One.

Do you ever get tired of food shots on Instagram?

Hmmm.  Well that depends! The truth is, I love imagery, I’m a little addicted to it. Whether it’s portraits, landscapes, still life, food, it doesn’t necessarily have to focus around food.  I think if I was faced with the option of looking at food shots exclusively forever more or diversity of the places and people that are involved in food, I’d have to go for the latter.

What food is most photogenic on Instagram?

That’s a tough one.  For me, it’s food that is incorporated into a story.  So it doesn’t necessarily need to be a finished plate, but perhaps a fisherman’s catch or some beautiful rainbow chard.  I have a huge weakness for pasta, so given that as an option, I’d shoot it quick in order to eat it!

Whose food would most you like to Instagram, if you held a chef’s dinner party?

I had the privilege of shooting for The River Cafe a little while back and their food, whatever comes out of the kitchen is beautiful.  Each plate is always very considered and carefully presented but it doesn’t look fussy or contrived, just delicious.  And of course Anna Jones! The way that Anna cleverly uses fresh and seasonal produce, to create the most delicious dishes is incredibly clever and very inspiring.  With her food being Vegetarian or Vegan, she brilliantly incorporates so much flavour and texture that you don’t feel like you’re missing out on meat at all (if you eat meat that is).  She makes my job very easy! And of course I’m incredibly lucky to get to sample the delights too…

What’s your favourite food shot?

That’s very tricky, having to name just one.  There have been so many…

Its often the simplest things that I love. We see food everywhere, its obviously a necessity in life but we see it on Instagram, in adverts, books and magazines so it’s when something is emotive that it strikes a chord and makes it stand out.  That’s what people love about food, it takes them to a place or a time that makes them happy and contented.  When something has had a lot of love put into it, it’s memorable and I like to get that across in my photography. It’s simple, edible and something that you want to snap up and eat.


Matt Russell photographed A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones, and his incredible work can be seen on his website

Follow him on Twitter

And spy him on Instagram 


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