Photographer Spotlight Matt Armendariz

 In Photographer Spotlight

You probably shouldn’t look at Matt Armendariz’s work while you’re hungry.  We had a chance to sit down and get to know Matt a little more closely, from delving into his many personal cookbooks to his strategy on social media.  Be prepared to have your stomach rumble…

You’re a pretty prolific blogger and social media guru; your blog is a great personal approach to your work; definitely a different approach than a more clinical portfolio site. You’re more personal in how you show work and talk about your photography and business, and share a lot of knowledge on the blog; would you say that’s more towards clients, or are you seeing more photographer based traffic there?

Thank you! It’s funny, I never really know who’s reading the blog or necessarily following me on social channels until something comes up and someone references something I’ve done or a place I’ve been. Or they casually remember something about me that I was working on or wrote about. But I’d say it’s mainly general readers, some happen to be photographers but I think it’s mostly people in the food world. I purposely went the food angle and not the photo angle as I felt people were doing the tech + photography blog so much better than I ever could. And my background was in food & design first, anyway. So it’s for everyone!

With over 20 years as a graphic designer and art director, what brought on the change to get behind the camera? How did you get from your start to today?

I’ve always loved letterform, proportion, color, shape, design. When I became a graphic designer I thought I found a pot of gold! To think I could paid to work with all these tools and create something tangible out of nothing that told a story, well, I was in heaven! And then I did it on a more macro level as an art director, even being more in charge of that bigger picture from concept to execution. All the while I was working with photographers and realized how much fun it was to be on set, away from the cubicle, and see how photography could make an almost-instant story out of the things I loved, without the need for a design-by-committee kind of effort. I was hooked. I mean, I was already using photographs in my design work, so it was a natural progression to finish and close out the circle. So I taught myself the mechanics of the camera because I already had such great on-set experience (the best school ever!) and a background in design. The camera was just one bigger and better way for me to tell a story! It’s where I wanted to be and I only wish I became a photographer earlier!

You’ve been doing food workshops and sharing in non-photo related circles, including appearing with Martha Stewart during her TV show. Were you actively pursuing these non-traditional venues, or did it seem to be more of a natural progression? (And how was being on Martha Stewart’s TV show as a photographer and a blogger?)

You know, I never actively sought out anything! I think it’s a testament to the power of the web, social media, and being online. It allows others to see what you do, you see what others do, and a very organic connection can be made. The editors at Martha Stewart were fans and readers of my blog which garnered an invitation to cook with her on her show. It was surreal, and when Martha Stewart tells you she wanted you on her show because you take beautiful photos, well, I mean c’mon! It was a great boost!

Why Capture Integration? What made you choose us?

First off, photography ain’t cheap! I slowly started realizing why photography could be expensive to purchase…so much investment in gear and overhead. It was the opposite of being a designer and only needing the latest Mac and a working copy of InDesign and Photoshop! Lenses, additional bodies, lights, pocket wizards, storage, grip, it went on and on! And when I realized how expensive it would be I made a choice to spend my money with companies that offered something personal. I demand it, actually. So when the time came to invest in a medium format system, I knew that forking over $40k in cash to my local camera chain where I was only a number was not going to work for me! There were times where I contacted companies and said I wanted to get a system only to never get a return call. That’s not customer service. In fact, that’s a shitty way to be. So when I found out about Capture Integration through a friend I realized that here’s a company with people who care about what they do, who know the systems they sell, and who offer personal service of the utmost quality. The decision was made for me, practically!

You mentioned in our initial contact that you were working with and talked a little bit about the reach she has. Is your commercial work and self-promotion driven through more of the food blogs like Gaby’s?

In a roundabout way, yes. Working with her and having complete creative control over images is basically like personal work, the kind of work you do because you need to express yourself without restrictions. And it’s that work that I’m most proud of and that I share with clients. I learned early on to show what makes me happiest, what makes me sing, and not what I think others may want to see. Personal work is so damn important! And being the social media powerhouse she is hasn’t hurt me, either!

In addition to your blog, I see you’ve got the usual spate of tumblr, instagram, and even Snapchat. With more big players like CNN and other corporations jumping on Snapchat as a medium, how do you tailor your work on there to further your brand? It’s much different than the usual polished approach of a traditional blog; how do you center yourself across all of these mediums?

I resisted Snapchat for the longest time! It wasn’t until one of my clients (one of the 12 in the Discover section) said “Matt, get on Snapchat NOW. We’re going to be using lots of your images that you shot for us daily and think you should see how we do it.” So of course I had to, and in the process realized how fun it can be to share behind the scenes and personal stuff without it always having to be so polished. It’s the whole reason I started doing stuff online, before my photography really took off and became more of a job. But I don’t really tailor anything too much to any specific channel, I’m just myself across all mediums. Of course I utilize each one a bit differently, i.e. Tumblr is for little stories I create through photography, Instagram is for everything including clients who ask me to share stuff, and snapchat is me being goofy. But I must add that these relatively new creations have taken me away from blogging, but it’s a natural step. People don’t go to blogs the same way when there are so many other ways to consume information.

What’s currently in your bag? What are you shooting with, what are the go to essentials on your sets, or even for when you’re editing or lighting?

My bag changes on a daily basis, depending on what I’m doing. I just returned from a week in Peru, shooting Lima and Machu Picchu for LAN Airlines and eating and tweeting and instagramming everything I could find. For that I did my best to travel as light as possible (Have you ever hiked up Machu Picchu? DAMN!) and shot with Canon 5DS and a 24-70mm. But for moments where I don’t really know what I’m going to encounter I shoot 35mm digital. I’ve been on enough tiny planes in South America and Australia to know that carrying a medium-format camera case just isn’t possible, which sucks! But when I head to my studio in LA or any studio in San Francisco or Minneapolis, it’s pretty much the same: Phase One IQ180, a 120mm and 80mm lens, some Profoto strobes, lots of scrims, and tons of coffee. I recently shot the entire KFC menu for a new look with Wieden+Kennedy at Siren LA, and it was as natural and paired down as fast food is ever going to see! Scrims, natural light, camera. It was wonderful.

I really do my best to keep my lighting to a minimum, and to mimic the way I use natural light. A producer once said she rented 8 heads for me, I think she was a bit disappointed that I usually only need one for food. Oops! And when it comes to editing, I’m almost 100% inside Capture One now, it’s rare that I need to do anything in photoshop. Especially with Capture One 8, it just keeps getting better and better.

With the changes in the industry over the past fifteen years, how have you seen your photography change for the food arena? Having been to Martha Stewart’s studios in NYC, hearing stories of photographers in the 80s and the skewed schedule of publication that they worked with, to knowing today’s instant turnaround, have you seen a change in your actual studio approach, how you operate day to day for your shooting schedule?

It’s interesting as I used to purchase photography 20 years ago and review portfolios to find photographers, now I’m on the other side of the process. It’s changed so drastically from being perfectly lit and perfectly styled to moving to real, and now it’s moved even further thanks to social media, instagram and pinterest. I’ve seen decks and treatments that do their best to mimic shooting off the cuff with an iphone, to cash in on the immediacy of an iphone photograph, to speak to the broadest base who will only spend 4 seconds looking at a 1-by-1-inch image. It’s been driven by what happens online more than anything else, and it’s quite fascinating to me. And art buyers and art directors need things faster, bigger, better, and they are just as savvy as anyone. We now have to shoot for print, for social, for pinterest’s size, you name it, an image can and will be used in so many different ways. Of course we roll with the times and I deliver pretty quickly as well. And remember, we are shooting food, it’s not a celebrity that needs to be retouched and composited. For the most part when I’m done I’m done! I love that.

I see you’ve got a few cookbooks that you’ve published, such as On a Stick! to books centered around photographing food. Do you consider these part of your marketing strategy, or are these natural byproducts of your love of food and photography?

They are all just a part of my love of food and photography. I’m not a big hustler or salesman, and I do my best to let my voice and my photography speak for me. I recently shot a book from a bakery in LA that has done more for me than anything I’ve done on my own, and it’s my main marketing piece at this moment. The power of a talented author, good photography, strong editing and stellar graphic design speaks volumes! I’m only as good as my team.

You can see more of Matt’s work here:


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