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Evan Sung on Communicating with Chefs and Food Photography

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About this episode

This week our guest is Evan Sung, a prominent and talented photographer in the food industry who has worked with renowned chefs and publications like The New York Times, Vogue Magazine, and Food & Wine.

During the episode, Evan reflects on the generosity of those who shared their knowledge and experiences with him. He discusses the importance of trust in capturing great photographs in the kitchen and the role of the camera as a passport to behind-the-scenes worlds. 

The conversation also delves into the technical aspects of cameras, such as shutter speed and diffraction, while emphasizing the importance of lighting and lenses in producing high-quality photographs. Evan insights on conducting successful photo shoots, highlighting the significance of organization, communication, and having a clear vision for the desired outcome. 

Overall, this episode provides insights into the transformative power of photography in the culinary world and provides a plethora of tips on what makes or breaks a good photograph.

Where to find Evan Sung: 

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(2:19) How Evan got into photography

(10:39) Evan’s first restaurant photo shoot

(13:33) Why food photography?

(18:44) Meeting the person behind the food

(21:06) Working with Paul Liebrandt

(24:55) Why curiosity and trust are essential to professional photography

(29:32) Why mirrorless cameras are a game changer

(36:06) Camera lenses and lighting

(39:42) Organization is key to a good photoshoot

(45:51) Photographing for NOMA

(49:46) The important work of food stylists


Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:

Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.


What do Renee Redzepi, Dominique Anell, Paul Liran, Alex Beck, Asha Gomez, Missy Robbins, Marc Forgione, Shake Shack, and countless other incredible chefs and restaurants have in common? Well, at least one thing is my guest on the podcast today, Evan Sung. Evan is one of the most prominent and talented photographers in the food industry, having sat with every chef imaginable, as well as with publications like The New York Times, Vogue Magazine, Food & Wine, Art Culinaire, and many more.


Evan is obviously a talented photographer, but he's also a part of the fabric of our industry, and he is a friend of so many chefs and food professionals. I've known Evan for over a decade now, and what I think resonates most with me is he has this genuine curiosity and appreciation for the art of cooking, and I think that's what makes him such an incredible photographer.


What he believes is one of the most important ingredients to capturing a great photograph in the kitchen is trust and building that trust, creating that environment of trust. So we're gonna talk about this and Evan's background. He's gonna give us some tips on how to take a great photograph, obviously, and we'll talk about why the camera is in many ways a passport to let you into the backstage of worlds that you may otherwise never get to see.I hope you enjoy.


And we're live. 

Evan Sung [00:01:50]:

Hey Josh, how are you? 

Josh Sharkey [00:01:53]:

Evan Song, welcome to the podcast. 

Evan Sung [00:01:55]:

Thank you for having me. 

Josh Sharkey [00:01:57]:

It is a pleasure and an honor, and we don't get to talk to each other nearly enough. 

Evan Sung [00:02:00]: 

Yeah, we're like the best friends who never see each other or talk to one another. It's amazing. 

Josh Sharkey [00:02:04]: 

Well, this was a great excuse to get you on a call so I can, you know, get my Evan time. Anyways, I'm super excited man. There's like a million things we could dig into, but I think everyone's gonna get a real kick out of learning more about you and your work and everything. So why don't we get started and tell us how you got started in food photography? 

Evan Sung [00:02:19]: 

So it was kind of a roundabout. I mean, I have a lot of love for people who kind of find their way into things. I mean, I think even you sort of found your way into where you are now, which is not the life I think that you expected when you first started out. And I think that that's something quite amazing if you're lucky enough to be able to find new pathways.


But basically, I was a psych major in college at nyu and I was also interested in arts and literature, and my interest kind of shifted over to literature. I loved reading and so my real goal was to get a PhD in comparative literature. That was my intention. And so along the way, I had to brush up on my language skills. French was like the closest to being something of an actual ability.


So I went to Paris for a summer and studied French and learned that a bit, and that kind of planted a seed that's like seed number one. I met some friends and really enjoyed my time there. And met a girl out there who was Swedish and we had this long distance relationship. I came back to New York, she was in Stockholm.


I think I flew out there like so many times on SAS. But ultimately I got into the program I really wanted to get into, which was UC  Irvine, which was a great competitive literature program. And back when I was in that world, Jacques Derrida, the literary theorist was alive and teaching there on occasion. And so when I did the campus tour, I said I gotta see him speak live.


Like all this was very heady stuff for me and it was very exciting. And I got in. And that sort of led to this kind of change in my life where obviously that relationship ended. I moved out to Southern California. This was 2000. And I think just everything changing all at once led to a big change in me and I was kind of trying to process what that was.


And I just wasn't happy in Southern California, Orange County specifically. Nothing against California, but Orange County just didn't really correspond to my internal New Yorker. So I felt very kind of alienated out there and I just began to realize, or began to feel like this whole long journey to pursue a PhD wasn't really gonna put me somewhere I wanted to be ultimately.


Although I loved the program and I loved the people there, I thought it was really a great experience. I was very, both proud and honored that I could get into that program and spend time there. But all along the way, I was sort of taking pictures. It was a hobby that I'd kind of developed towards the end of college.


I'd never really picked up a camera before senior year. I think of college and all that time in Orange County, I was taking some self-portraits and just kind of working out creatively and expressing whatever was going on inside through photos. But it was just a hobby. And then ultimately I realized that it just wasn't gonna work out there for me.


And I decided to come back to New York but I had to figure out what to do. New York is such a place of new beginnings for people. It's where people who were born elsewhere go to kind of begin their life. And for me, at that point, it really felt like defeat. Like going back to New York was just going home and I didn't know what to do.

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