Saaleha Idrees Bamjee is a Johannesburg-based food and product photographer for (mostly) small businesses and start-ups. Along with helping these businesses build their brand identity, she also takes on portraiture and lifestyle photography commissions. When she’s not behind the camera, you will find her writing poetry and literary fiction. Her first poetry collection, Zikr (published by uHlanga Press), won the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Prize. Before pursuing photography full-time, she worked as a journalist, a media trainer, and a print designer. Saaleha is a driven entrepreneur with a creative mind. We’ve picked her brain for photography insights so sit back, relax and enjoy the read.

What inspires your love for food photography?

The love of good food is universal as is the appreciation of its portrayal. Food communicates our values and identities. I enjoy documenting this narrative and being a sort of cultural historian by making these images. Food is also probably the least temperamental of subjects, I find.

How do you keep pursuing creativity?

I read widely, across all genres. I am constantly curious and am always looking to expand my knowledge. I try to consume good quality media, but I’m not a cultural snob.

What would you like your work to communicate?

At all times, the beauty of and respect for the subject matter. I am interested in exploring more food documentary work and portraying the social and economic factors, among other aspects, behind food production and consumption.

What gear do you use to shoot with?

I shoot with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR and EOS M50 cameras. My most-used lenses are the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM, EF 24-70mm f/2.8 and the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L. I have a Canon EF-M lens adaptor for the M50 camera, which doubles the versatility of these lenses. I also enjoy shooting with the EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM lens on the M50 camera – it makes for a light and sharp combo that is a true joy to travel with. My tripod is the Manfrotto MK190 XPro.

For lighting, I use either continuous LED or flash/strobe, depending on what my plan is for the shot. I have been getting great results with the Godox SL60w LEDs in my studio. I don’t usually work with an assistant on location, so I do appreciate compact and lightweight gear like Godox’s AD300Pro and their V860II speedlight for fill. I modify my lighting with softboxes (rectangular/parabolic), stripboxes, beauty dishes and umbrellas (in a pinch), and sometimes I just bounce my light off an adjacent wall (these decisions are contextual).

What tips do you have for upcoming food photographers?

  • Don’t complicate things and buy too much gear at first. Start with one good lens – either a 50mm prime or a longer macro like the 100mm f/2.8.
  • Learn how to create your own light; it will make you a more versatile photographer.
  • Don’t wait for the perfect client to come along; shoot the work you want in your free time and put it out there.
  • Keep your online presence (Instagram, Behance, website, etc.) current and updated with clear contact details.

To see more of what Saaleha Idrees Bamjee has to offer, visit her website, or Facebook and Instagram pages.