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Nelly le Comte: Beyond the Lens of a Food Photographer

Nelly le Comte: Beyond the Lens of a Food Photographer

Nelly le Comte Photography

Nelly le Comte is a sought-after professional photographer and Food Photography teacher with a vibrant career. Across her 36 years behind a camera, she has travelled the globe drawing out the beauty in everything she photographs. Discover her story beyond the lens of how she is inspiring budding photographers of all ages to pursue their passion.

"Oh, freelance photography… that’s just a hobby, isn’t it?" That’s what people ask me at networking events. My answer? Well, it’s quite a nice hobby. But it’s a job! And it’s the type of job that you can do anywhere in the world. I had a really good photography career in the Netherlands. I moved to Australia and got an amazing photography job straight away. When I came to Sydney, I bought a space and turned it into a photography studio with seven full-time staff, all working as photographers. It is more than just a hobby. Freelance work is a mindset.

I have never had a ‘9 to 5’ job in my life. Early on in my career, it was all about fashion and beauty photography. I started working in fashion studios at the age of 16 and became a makeup artist at the age of 17, then set up my own makeup academy. It became really popular in Europe. I studied photography in my home country, The Netherlands. I got a job at a magazine where I was the Chief Photographer. I did everything. Some of it was shooting food, but it was not my preference at that stage.

I began travelling as part of my photography job for the magazine. I travelled to many places, like the Caribbean, France and Spain. I met my husband during this time. At one point, we realised we had been to a lot of places but never actually saw anything because we were working so much. So, we quit our jobs and went backpacking for a year. Being European and having travelled Europe extensively, it was really exciting to go to Australia because we had no idea what to expect. For a full year, there was no working - just enjoying. We travelled around Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia and explored all the islands around Tahiti.

That’s how we ended up in Australia. In Australia there’s this energy from the people, the feeling that you can do anything you want here and make your own life and your own path. Combine that with the amazing weather and you’ve got to be crazy not to live here [coming from Europe]. We settled on a tiny tropical beach area called Palm Cove for about a year or two. We then moved to Sydney because it got a bit boring on the beach. Through all that, I photographed pretty much every single possible thing that existed in that area; from the sky rail to the hotels to even cars.

Nelly le Comte PhotographyNelly le Comte Photography

I began to like photographing food more, mainly with people at first. Food photography has always been there for me, since my 20’s. You follow different things at different stages in your life. With food, I love the people. They are really interesting, kind and fun. It became something that I love. At this stage of my life, I am going to focus more and more on food.

If I had an assistant and he was a male, some clients would automatically talk to the male. It still happens every now and then. It was the same when I set up my first business, it was quite a large business. People would not expect me to be in charge. It worked sometimes in my benefit, especially when I moved to Cairns. I was in my 30’s and there were only four professional photographers in town. They all happened to be grumpy old men. Then I walked in, after a year of backpacking, big smile on my face. And they were all like, "oh, I want to work with that smiley blonde girl from the Netherlands!" I got a lot of work just because I was different. Sometimes it benefits you and sometimes it works against you. You can use individuality to your strength.

Nelly le Comte PhotographyNelly le Comte Photography

Everybody takes photos of food and puts them on their Instagram. But only a few do it well. It’s not until people start to learn about food photography, then they realise it’s actually not that simple. There is a lot involved in it. At one stage, there was a trend of shooting in natural light. That is an easy way of taking photographs, but now even platforms like Instagram demand high-end photography. It’s about making the public aware of what good photography looks like.

A good photograph makes you stop and linger. It’s almost like reading a story. It takes you in, you flow through it, and it makes you feel something. My photography style is modern, I enjoy staying on trend. I like to be one of the first to come up with a new trend, which is lovely to see when 4-5 years later you see it somewhere. It is nice when people follow and imitate what I do, I think it’s a compliment. I’m not saying I’m the one who invented any trends, of course. But certain photos start to spread across the world and then it becomes one thing that is captured by most.

I started seeing trends developing with shadows. About seven years ago, I began to make those shadows in my photographs, but soft and feminine. Mainly because I was shooting for an alcohol brand that was bringing out a gin marketed at females. I wanted to get it pretty and beautiful, but with strong shadows. And of course, all the other clients then wanted it too. Now that the trend has taken off, you see it everywhere. A retro sort of feeling. For example, like a tin of sardines, pulled open, and a little hard shadow underneath it, with lovely colours but the shadows have also been reduced by using two lights, one strong open light and a soft box. For me, bringing back studio light into food photography was a way of getting people to be like ‘"oh my gosh, I could never take photos like that!"

Nelly le Comte PhotographyNelly le Comte Photography

I have just been capturing oysters for three days and they are amazing. They are so sensual, delicate and feminine. I think of oysters like a face, each with a different personality. I also love shooting garlic. I enjoy photographing day-to-day food items in a way that people haven’t looked at them before. So instead of using garlic and for people knowing what it is, I like to peel back the garlic to show the transparency of the layers using my studio lights. People look at it and say "wow, I didn’t know garlic looked like that!" That they [the garlic] had all these beautiful colours coming through in a gradient, from pinks to whites, instead of just a white bulb. I like showcasing more than what people see at first. I used to apply the same effect in my portraits of people. Just peeling back the layers and showing the beauty. That’s my job – to draw out the beauty.

If nobody paid me, I would still be taking photos. I just love taking photographs. I believe whatever you do in your life, if it’s something you like to do, you can get paid for it. Whether I am photographing people, houses, interiors or food, I love creating something beautiful and interesting. I also love the teaching part. With Le Cordon Bleu Online Learning Food Photography, my students have kept in contact with me through Instagram or other platforms. After they have done the course, they come back to me and say, “oh my gosh, someone asked me if I can do a photoshoot for them!” I love sharing my knowledge and watching them develop what they’ve learned.


Nelly's Top Three Tips for Aspiring Food Photographers:

  1. Learn to develop an eye for composition. You will use it in every photoshoot.
  2. Have a passion for what you’re photographing. It’s important to have a connection, a feeling for what you’re shooting.
  3. Study the object before you take a picture. Sometimes you need a background and supporting actors to make the star shine.

    Learn how to capture food like never before with Nelly le Comte. Join her next Food Photography online short course with Le Cordon Bleu Online Learning!

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