Every meal has a backstory—and Anne Watson is an expert at telling those stories, evoking strong, universal feelings of connection through her award-winning food photography. Food comes with narrative, and every new experience with food—shopping, cooking, sharing meals—creates more sensory experiences and memories. Anne’s passion for food photography and her breadth of experience in the food industry has led to a unique photographic style that is in demand worldwide—and has created a master storyteller.
Anne’s online portfolio illustrates her take on the intersection of life and food—and displays her instinctive talent and skills in reflecting the very best of Southern California’s burgeoning food and restaurant scene. That doesn’t mean Anne shies away from other challenges, as evidenced by the granola recipes Anne developed as part of her recent product photography shoot for a local artisan food company. And the photos taken at the Newtown Culinary Pop-Up Dinner, billed as an “elevated backyard BBQ experience,” show off the talent, creativity and passion found in the food industry, as well as Anne’s technical skills.
Away from the camera lens, Anne is a mother and stepmother, living with her husband on a ranch in North San Diego County. We recently caught up with Anne to talk details about her photography, highlights of her day job, and other facets of her very busy life.
Shooting Food Takes Some Serious Equipment
Q. A photographer’s camera is obviously critical to your work. What camera do you use? And what lenses?
A. My main camera is a Nikon D800 – it’s basically an extension of my right arm at this point! As for lenses, I have three main lenses that I tend to use most, two prime lenses and one zoom. My Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 Micro, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, and Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 zoom. I have others in my toolbox, but these three are the ones I carry with me on a daily basis.
A Day in the Life of a Food Photographer
Q. What is the most unusual setting you’ve ever photographed food in?
A. One of the most unusual, unique shoots I’ve ever done was with the Hass Avocado Board at sunrise in a beautiful avocado grove in the foothills of San Juan Capistrano. We had to drive for miles on tiny dirt roads in the dark to get to our location and set up before the sun rose. Then, when sunrise happened over the avocado trees, it was pure magic. We were able to capture the avocados in their natural setting in the golden hour at sunrise and throughout the morning – including teams of avocado pickers who were harvesting that day, singing together as they worked. It was amazing.
Q. Can you share a story about preparing a food photo shoot that didn’t go as planned? How did they work out and how did you recover?
A. I have been very fortunate, as I don’t really have a “disaster shoot” story to share. However, I’ve definitely had a handful of shoots where the client had one thing in mind when I showed up (usually it’s a wish-list of more shots than were possible in a given timeframe), and we had to adapt the shot-list as we went along based on what they were able to produce in the amount of time we had.
Q. You’re around great food all the time, usually prepared by someone else. Who prepares the food in your home?
A: I absolutely love to cook. I actually started my career working in a professional kitchen in Boston, so cooking is a passion of mine. I just found my best station in a kitchen turned out to be behind a camera instead of a stove! So, I do a lot of cooking in our home kitchen. And my husband, Tim, is an absolutely amazing cook on our grill and outdoor smoker. We eat outside almost every evening in the Spring & Summer, usually with something Tim grilled as the main course, and then side dishes prepared by me in our kitchen.
Q. What are family favorites to cook and/or eat out?
A: Sous Vide BBQ Babyback Ribs are a family favorite to cook in our home – it’s a team effort, as I do the dry rub & sous vide the ribs for at least 12 hours first. Then, Tim grills them to a perfect crunchy exterior with plenty of sticky BBQ sauce before we dive in. They melt in your mouth. Paired with an avocado-tomato-herb salad from our garden, it’s a family Summer BBQ favorite.
Q. Is there an ingredient you can’t live without?
A: Good olive oil. And fresh herbs picked from the garden box that Tim built for us outside of our back door.
Q. You’ve been all over Orange County. What restaurants/food establishments/caterers are your personal favorites?
A: Oh my goodness, that’s a tough question! So many amazing places and incredible caterers, it’s hard to narrow down. I would say the first places that pop to mind, though, are my friends Chef Carlos Salgado’s restaurant, Taco Maria, at Costa Mesa’s SoCo Collection and Chef Jason Quinn’s restaurant, Playground, in Downtown Santa Ana.
Q. When you’re not photographing food, what are your favorite things to do and other personal passions?
A: My husband Tim & I, and our 3-year-old son Russell, live on a ranch in North San Diego County where we have a 1,300-vine Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard and raise chickens, goats and pigs. So, when I’m not shooting food, my favorite things to do include walking through the vineyard with our son, and spending time with our animals. I also ride a 2010 “Fat Bob” Harley-Davidson motorcycle – Tim & I both ride, and enjoy going out on our motorcycles in our spare time.
Follow Anne Watson Photography on Twitter/Instagram @annewatsonphoto.