As Signe Birck begins her photo shoot at The Musket Room, the Michelin-starred New Zealand–inspired fine-dining restaurant helmed by chef Matt Lambert, she requests that all the lights be turned off. It’s her penchant for natural light and gorgeous, contrasting ingredients that’s earned her a reputation as a food photographer to watch in New York City—and, with more than 60,000 followers—she’s a rising Instagram star, too.
Since moving to Manhattan in 2012, Danish-born Birck has worked with major players within the fine-dining world, ranging from Betony to Aquavit and Atera, and regularly shoots for Lambert’s restaurant. Trained as a commercial photographer who originally focused on large-scale interiors and furniture, she was eventually turned on to shooting food by a friend of an employer. “It was all natural light, really intricate, natural, and beautiful,” says Birck. “I got pretty psyched about it.”
Because we’re always trying to get the best food shots on the ’Gram, we caught up with Signe at the Musket Room—while she shot some of Lambert’s delicious, highly visual plates—to talk about inspiration, her minimalist style, and, of course, pizza.
StyleCaster: Is there common ground among the chefs you work with?Signe Birck: In terms of the work I do and the way I photograph, it’s definitely the elegance and the simplicity. It’s a very intricate look. Not a big slab of sauce on a burger. It’s definitely very artistic, if you want to use that word. I just realized that the way I operate in my head just makes sense for this type of food because that’s also how I am. That’s how I think and dress. I declutter my life as much as I possibly can.
Since you’re originally from Denmark, do you think your work has changed since moving to New York?
I don’t really think it has. I think it’s sort of a steady line from what I’m doing now. It’s so on my backbone now that even if I wanted to change it, I couldn’t. I feel like there’s been a food trend where everything has to be very styled, like crumbs purposely on the tablecloth. So it looks happily messy. I steer clear of that. Somebody else should be doing that. It’s not really my thing. It’s not how I think.
So, do you consider your work minimalistic?
Yes. It’s definitely, definitely minimalistic. I hardly think it can be anymore minimalistic. Some clients that I work with, it needs to be different, so I work with it because I have an education that allows me to know what a client wants. But if I’m just freewheeling, I really keep it simple.
Do you have a particular type of food you like to photograph more than others?
It doesn’t make that much of a difference because I see a plate as an object of photography more than I actually see what’s on it. I see the colors and the textures and the shapes. I don’t actually really care if it’s bacon or if it’s scallops because to me it becomes more abstract. My job is to make sure it’s the best photograph it can be. Some foods are more difficult than others to shoot. Some meats can look extremely terrible if you don’t know what you’re doing. The most important job as a food photographer is to make sure it looks appetizing and appealing. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be a food photographer. You can so easily mess it up and make it look really, really gross.
For people who aspire to get more likes on their food Instagrams—what are some of the most-liked food shots on your Instagram?
There is not always a consistency between what gets the most likes on Instagram and what I like. That doesn’t always go hand in hand. I think some foods are extremely appealing when they’re very colorful and very much like “food porn,” in big quotes, because I hate the word and I think it should be eliminated from the English language. It’s so, so bad. I like it when it’s pretty static. Sometimes you can add a little bit of something, pour something into it. But I really like the dish to look the way it looks. I don’t feel like it needs a lot of action or smoke or nitrogen to live. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.
Are there ingredients that look best on camera—or perform better on Instagram?
I think that depends how it’s presented on the plate and how you light it. Certain types of seafood have a way of photographing well. A lobster is just so freaking delicious to look at when you’re shooting it. Herbs, edible flowers. I think you can pretty much make everything look appetizing if you add a little bit of flowers and herbs on there.
What are your thoughts on Photoshop?
I’m all for it. I thoroughly retouch.
What’s your approach on Instagram? Are the photos there taken with your iPhone?
No. Certainly not. I respect people who do, but for me, the purpose of my Instagram is a portfolio. For my work. It’s not necessary for me to post pictures of rainbows, babies, puppies, and sunsets. It’s strictly about my work. I don’t ever shoot food on my iPhone. It makes me so sad when I look at it.
If you weren’t a photographer what would you do?
What’s your favorite food to eat?
I’m so simple. I love pizza, falafel, vegetable soup, and ramen. People often think that since I live my life in these restaurants that’s also what I eat. And obviously, it’s very, very amazing when a chef will cook me dinner, especially when they cook me vegetarian dinners. But when I cook for myself, it’s just like pastas, noodles, and very basic stuff. I think that if I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life, that would be potatoes because they’re so diverse. But it’s not my favorite food. My favorite food is definitely pizza.
What inspires you?
Inspiration is such an abstract thing. I get inspired by a lot of things that aren’t necessarily concrete photography. I get inspired by music, people, graffiti, or something that I just stumble upon, like the world around me. Obviously, we’re always inspired even if it’s not conscious. I think because my photography is also my work, I really, really don’t actually look to other photographers for other inspiration. I love this photographer Kyle Thompson; he’s unreal. To me, his photography is so personal and so it really appeals to me in a profound manner.