Evan Sung and the Food Photography of the 2-Michelin Star Atera

Evan Sung and the Food Photography of the 2-Michelin Star Atera

Brooklyn-based Evan Sung has photographed for a range of clients including The New York Times, GQ, Alexander Wang and The Plaza Hotel. As a food lover, I’ve always considered him a top food photographer whose work for chefs like Marc Forgione, Mark Bittman, Paul Liebrandt make my mouth water. He’s had a long relationship with Chef Matt Lightner of the 2-Michelin Star restaurant Atera in TriBeCa and recently created some unique, time lapse photography that captures behind-the-scenes prep work that goes into the exemplary service.

The concept for the changing homepage photo was partially inspired by designer Elise Porter‘s graduate thesis project at RISD, which incorporates time lapse “to showcase process and evolution over time and the restaurant environment is a place of constant evolution and change.” Porter worked with the team to chart out “pivotal moments” during the day, including the mundane (e.g. washing a counter). Porter said, “Working with Evan on the shoot was a dream for a designer like me. He is so talented and one of the easiest and nicest guys to work with.”

As to the importance of having professional photography? Porter is emphatic, “Professional photography is everything! In my opinion it doesn’t matter how great your idea is, if you can’t tell the story beautifully and clearly you won’t be able to capture and hold the attention of your audience.”

I talked to Evan about the process and approach.



Who conceived of the idea to do a time lapse? And then use it on the homepage?

Chef Matt Lightner had talked to me about the idea for a little while, and I think liked the idea of inviting a viewer into the restaurant, into the life of the restaurant. There was some talk about making that level and caliber of dining a little less mysterious or inaccessible. I worked with Chef and his amazing team to get all those moments set up and captured, and then they worked with a wonderful designer, Elise Porter – who also had a big hand in conceptualizing and realizing the idea in the form of the website.

The overhead shot is very popular for food photography. Why do you think this is so?

That’s almost an existential question! I think part of it is trend. For a long time, chefs were into making food very tall, and that made the lower angles make sense. And the prevailing style was the 45 degree angle for a very long time, and then things really began to shift towards this overhead style. And I think the technology opened that up to people too, as cameras got lighter, as cameraphones got better, that overhead shot became easier to capture, and now I think so many people think about food that way – that’s become a common visual language all around the world.

But in cases like the Atera food, the overhead view just gives you the best vantage point for seeing all the intricate design of the dish. It’s a bit like looking at a map. But there are plenty of times where shooting overhead doesn’t work, doesn’t make sense. You really just need to look at the subject, the dish, and find the angle that makes it look the most delicious!


What’s your typical rig for a restaurant food shoot?

Specifically for a restaurant food shoot, I try to keep it relatively light. It’s often one Profoto B1 into a medium/small softbox. A few reflectors, a second head standing by if needed. I shoot tethered with my Nikons (D4s, D800) into Capture One or Lightroom on my MacBook Pro. That’s about it. You never know how much space/time you have to work with in a restaurant, so I try to keep it manageable.

How does this type of commercial food photography vary from your editorial work (if at all)?

I don’t know that I would categorize the Atera shoot as a commercial shoot, necessarily. It was a project born out of friendship and deep, deep respect for Chef Lightner’s food and talent, and that whole Atera team. So it was a real collaboration and I wouldn’t even call it a job because it was so much fun, and I just thought the concept was so unique and different. Everyone really worked together to make that shoot great.

Have you seen any food photography that you find to be particularly innovative in the past year?

There’s so much great photography out there, it’s hard to single anything out. I love looking at cookbooks, and I think that Peter Frank Edwards’ work in Chef Sean Brock’s cookbook is wonderful, it always is. And I’ve long admired Ed Anderson’s work, and his work with Chef Charles Phan in The Slanted Door cookbook is awesome.

In terms of innovation though, I am fascinated by Henry Hargreaves‘ work, which is very conceptual and playful, and he does amazing things with food as the pure building blocks of his surprising imagery.

Has the popularity of food photos on Instagram helped you build an audience at all

I’m sure it has. I’m not as much of a social media devotee as some, but I do enjoy Instagram, and I think all of those things are helpful in bringing the work to a broader audience, for sure. But I think its great that people are enjoying documenting their food experiences, it’s a great way of sharing and connecting. I’ve always thought that food is something that always brings people together. Maybe food was it’s own social media before our time.

Follow Evan Sung on Instagram @evansungnyc and Twitter @esung.

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Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

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