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Felicia Perretti Breaks Food Photography's Clichés With Pure Imagination
Felicia Perretti Breaks Food Photography's Clichés With Pure Imagination
by The Luupe
The Luupe spoke with Perretti to learn more about what got her started and how she’s grown her inspiring career.
Felicia Perretti is one of our favorite food photographers because her style is un-boxable. Working with clients ranging from local restaurants to big brands like Kelloggs, Reyka Vodka, and Aramark – and publications like The New York Times, Boston Globe and Wine and Spirit Magazine, she can be a visual chameleon while sparking her voice into everything she shoots. Golden-lit, cheese-soaked biscuits in one frame, cool Irving Penn-inspired frozen foods in the next, her ability to innovate and balance natural and studio light is wizardly effortless.
When she’s not shooting for others, she’s deep in personal projects that highlight her imagination and conceptual depth. One of our favorites is Munchies, a psychedelic hued series of ramen, nachos, french fries and other comfort foods paired with marijuana iconography.
And if her photographic chops don’t sell you on her sharp style, spotting her wearing a “Bye, Felicia" shirt will make you want to hire her immediately. The Luupe spoke with Perretti to learn more about what got her started and how she’s grown her inspiring career.
Heroic Buttermilk Biscuits Covered in Melted Butter and Honey © Felicia Perretti
The Luupe: How did you first get into photography and know you wanted to spend your life making photographs?
Felicia Perretti: I was certainly the artist in the family. I always enjoyed taking pictures and was able to expand more on that in the commercial art program at my local technical school. The class specialized in graphic design and advertising. From there I explored the art colleges where I could pursue a commercial photography path. The combination of finding the right college and working at the local supermarket came full circle and I had my Aha moment of wanting to be a food photographer!
The Luupe: At what point did you realize you could do it for a living?
Perretti: Running my own business and being my own boss always was attractive to me. Starting my first job at the supermarket and working up through positions really set the stage for this to happen. I believed if I worked hard, saved my money, and networked I could do anything.
Also the strong support of family, friends, and ASMP (The American Society of Media Photographers) which instilled best business practices in running a photo business. They were the anchor in getting me started. I felt confident to go on my own a few years after college. At that point, I had already assisted and interned with several photographers in different genres, and cities. I had to see how other working photographers were doing things, and not go into this blind.
Silhouette of Iconic Honey Comb © Felicia Perretti for Honey Nut Cheerios
The Luupe: Have there been any specific challenges over your career that you're proud of overcoming?
Perretti: I think I’m most proud to see how much I have grown in the last 5 years. I think the first five years are really hard. You think you know how things work but you’re still fumbling through it. Making solid connections and returning clients, while maintaining a strong portfolio. I feel at the ten-year mark if your standing, things feel good, and you can say “Wow where did the time go! Yea I’m doing this!”
The Luupe: You and your husband Joe are both commercial photographers. Do you ever collaborate?
Perretti: My husband is a commercial architectural and interior photographer. He does some studio work but never my field! Ironically though his last name is Kitchen, and he’s a pretty good cook. The way we collaborate is really on the business side of things. Business questions come up all the time in licensing, contracts, and estimating projects. On the photo side of things we certainly share articles and ideas for personal projects.
© Felicia Perretti from her series "Transformation"
The Luupe: Your work is incredibly varied – from classicly elegant food-as-product and Irving Penn inspired frozen veggies to wild, psychedelic images of marijuana-munchies. Yet it somehow makes sense together. Do you feel like you're "wearing different hats" or does it all flow together for you?
Perretti: I love shooting food and beverage and all aspects pertaining to it. I feel some of my conceptual pieces can live in the still life world, while some ideas can fall into the traditional food and beverage world. Overall the core of my work is using strong color, contrast, and light. I feel it flows together, but at the same time shows art directors I’m thinking out of the box for their products.
The Luupe: What's the story behind your series "Munchies"?
Perretti: My idea behind Munchies was very tongue and cheek showcasing stoner's nostalgic snacks they crave after getting high. I re-created the environments using psychedelic colors, lighting, and camera angle.
The discussion around marijuana is becoming more accepting as we have seen states approve use for recreational purposes but also see it being used in medical circumstances. People are cooking with the drug, restaurants are adding it to their menu, and the entrepreneur is creating a new market for it. This was my take on the topic.
© Felicia Perretti from her series "Munchies"
The Luupe: Have you shown them to Elizabeth Renstrom at VICE? (She’s also a Luupe photographer!)
Perretti: I don’t think I have shared these with Elizabeth, I know Vice has their food section Munchies, and Drugs topic page. When I promoted the series on social media I did tag various outlets that could benefit from the imagery.
The Luupe: What does a day in the life of Felicia Perretti look like?
Working for yourself even if you have nowhere to go, keeping a schedule is really important. I start the morning with breakfast, checking emails, the news, and probably go to the gym for a class. Come home and reference my yearly marketing plan with the majority of my day around making calls to potential clients, and sending emails. Doing research into new potential clients, and food brands.
The Luupe: How much does social media factor into your day?
Perretti: Reviewing my social media posts and calendar. Actively looking over my LinkedIn page to see how I can improve it with connections, posts, and articles. Same goes for my website and channels where my work is showcased. For a shoot day always double-checking equipment the day ahead. I would have already had my pre-pro call with a client. Checking in with the team I have making sure they have what they need, and checking in with the studio making sure things were delivered on time.
Artisanal Hot Dog © Felicia Perretti
The Luupe: How much of your work and time is spent in the studio vs on location?
Perretti: I spend a fair amount of time working from my home office. It also depends on the time of year; some months will be busier than others where I won’t see the office for weeks! I think having my energy and full of life personality works really well for this business. I enjoy the hustle and getting out to meet people. The studio is where I primarily shoot projects, personal or for a job.
The Luupe: Does the studio ever feel a bit solitary?
Perretti: I really do enjoy the peace on set when doing personal work because I get to really focus on my idea and take my time to set up the shots. There’s a sense of Zen in the room which I love. When working with a team I still get to show my personality and energy and people really enjoy seeing that. We are here to have fun, were photographers, and I think that’s important to remember!
Macro Detail shot of Coffee Pour © Felicia Perretti
The Luupe: What's exciting you most right now in food photography?
Perretti: I’m loving this retro high contrast look sweeping through. It’s so cool and different, certainly reminds me of the 60’s-70’s cookbooks my grandmom had. I would love to do a series like that. The seasonal recipes that pass through on my social feed are always so beautiful and get me excited to make something new.
The Luupe: What food photography trends would you like to see evolve or go away?
Perretti: From a technical aspect I find the imagery with the soft window light can make a scene feel dull. I think it’s important to see shadow and highlight in an image, which gives your subject that 3 dimension quality. I’m guilty of top-down angle shots, which are great and super powerful with the right propping and lighting, but I would love to see more traditional 3/4 angle work in mainstream advertising.
Dramatic Popsicles Inspired/Styled by Food Stylist Nicole Twohy © Felicia Perretti
The Luupe: What photographer do you think has had the most influence on your career and how you think about photography?
Perretti: Oh man, there are so many amazing photographers out there! I’ve had influences from historical classic photographers like Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn. It’s not necessarily food photos but you can still get a sense of energy in their images. The subjects are so heroic and awe-inspiring. In today’s world of food and beverage I’ve looked up to the work of Judd Pilossof, and Rob Grimm. Also meeting the great Lou Manna, he was real, honest, and inspiring.
The Luupe: Anything on your horizon you'd like to share with our readers?
Perretti: I always have personal series in the works, I keep a running list of what’s next to tackle. So many ideas, not enough hours in a day. Keep a lookout for something there. Some new campaigns I’ve shot should be coming out in the Fall, so I will have some follow up blog posts and BTS to share then. Joe and I have a big trip planned for February to Australia which we are so looking forward to!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Luupe is a one-stop production company that is raising the bar for professional brand imagery on a global scale. With a highly curated and diverse network of professional women and non-binary photo and video creators across 80+ countries around the world, we are reinventing how brands produce original, local, and authentic visual stories that connect with a global audience. Our mission is to champion and amplify diverse perspectives from around the world — in front of and behind the lens.