Lou Manna Wide
Scott Bourne Interviews Olympus Visionary, Author and World-Class Food Photographer Lou Manna for PhotoFocus.com

1. Please tell me how and when you got into photography/ Photoshop.

LOU MANNA: As a child growing up in Brooklyn I always loved taking photographs and that love led me to study photography in high school and college, join photo clubs and take photos for my respective schools’ student yearbook and newspaper.

While still in college, I started working for a local newspaper and sold my first photo for $5. From that point on I was hooked on photography as a career and I formally switched my major from electrical engineering to communications. Soon thereafter, I was shooting news, food, and feature stories for the New York Times and the rest is history.

2. What is your favorite photographic location or subject?

LOU MANNA: My favorite location is the streets of New York City. I love the architecture, reflections, textures, colors, contrasts, and the way the light changes the look of objects at different times during the day. I also love photographing the people of New York since there is such diversity in cultures, clothing, and faces.

Equally my favorite subject is shooting food for a world-class chef, a major brand or a four star restaurant because I usually get to taste what I photograph. I know it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

3. Can you recall the first photograph you made that caused you to think WOW – that’s a good shot and if so, what was it?

LOU MANNA: I recall this vividly. I was eight years old and I took a photograph out of my bedroom window of a tree limb covered with snow. I was drawn to the contrast of the white snow against the dark bark of the tree and I particularly found the lines and shapes in the image to be intriguing.

4. Do you have any formal training in photography, Photoshop or a related field and do you think that’s important for aspiring serious photographers?

LOU MANNA: I have a degree in Communications from Stony Brook University where I studied photography, film, video, art history, and psychology among other subjects. I believe that my well rounded education has been an asset to me throughout my career. I also feel strongly that continuing photographic education is imperative and I regularly educate myself through workshops, seminars, and trade shows.

5. Are you more of a technical or an artistic person?

LOU MANNA: While I understand the benefits of technology and I love gadgets, I’m more of an artistic person. I am meticulous and detail oriented which is brought out in the artistry of my work. I pay extreme attention to detail in the lighting of my subject matter.

6. Who has inspired or influenced your work?

LOU MANNA: I’ve been influenced by Richard Avedon and W. Eugene Smith and I’d say I’ve been most inspired by my good friend Marvin Newman, who is a long-time photographer for Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. Also since I have the pleasure to regularly work with the world’s most legendary chefs, brands, marketers, food stylists and restaurateurs it’s hard not to be influenced, inspired and learn from greatness.

7. What has been the most interesting or surprising thing to you about how people react to photography?

LOU MANNA: It’s obvious that we are a visual society and images carry more importance than ever. A picture is truly worth a thousand words. This is especially true for food photography where images can not only be artistic and beautiful, but also make you hungry.

8. How would you describe your style of photography?

LOU MANNA: My photographic style is clean and simple. My photographs are different because of my angles, lighting, and attention to detail in the highlights and shadows. My specialty is to create specular highlights with mirrors when I photograph food and still life subjects.

9. How do you decide what to photograph?

LOU MANNA: As a food and commercial photographer my clients often decide my subject for me. It’s my job to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary. Typically I take the standard shots my clients ask for and then I take what I like to call, “Lou Shots” that blend my style, experience and vision with their goals.

10. Of your many projects, which is your favorite and why?

LOU MANNA: Other than my book Digital Food Photography, my favorite project is a website I created called New York Street Shots, www.nystreetshots.com. It is a large-scale collaborative photography project focused on creating a visual time capsule of New York City. The project is a collection of artistic yet realistic photographs captured every singe day by a team of local photojournalists, myself included. The site allows me to express myself more creatively beyond food photography in the studio and explore the visual beauty of the city I love.

I equally love photographing food and sampling some of the world’s best cuisine. I’ve even have two more food photography books and some DVDs in the works, so stay tuned.

11. Is there any photographic discipline that you wish you knew more about?

LOU MANNA: I wouldn’t say there is a specific discipline I’d like to know more about, but rather I always want to learn more about everything. I often find that I learn from my students when I teach classes, workshops, or lecture.

12. After all these years as a photographer/teacher and author, do you ever find it hard to remain passionate about your work?

LOU MANNA: I never find it hard to remain passionate about my work because each day is unique loaded with new things to photograph. I love what I do and I’ve been told my enthusiasm is infectious.

13. Everyone will ask me why I didn’t ask this question if I don’t – so here goes – What cameras/lenses do you use and why?

LOU MANNA: I use Olympus cameras and lenses because I love the quality of the digital lenses and sensors, their ease of use, the ergonomics, and the ultrasonic wave filter that cleans the sensor. The edge-to-edge sharpness, reliability and accuracy of the exposure are ideal and this is especially important to me when shooting food. Most recently I can’t get enough of the Olympus E-P1 with the 17mm M.Zuiko Micro Four Thirds pancake lens. It’s small, it fits in my pocket and its sensor is the same size as the one in my Olympus E-3, E-30, and E-620. It was even my primary camera on a recent shoot that I did in the luxury suites at Yankee Stadium. I also used it exclusively when I shot the 2009 US Open.

14. What’s the biggest mistake you made when you first started out as a photographer?

LOU MANNA: My biggest mistake when I first started out was not being concerned about the business end of photography and I increased my overhead too quickly.

15. Would you like to give any final words of advice to photographers who want to improve their photography?

LOU MANNA: I always advise photographers to shoot every day. Try different lenses, lighting and angles and look to shoot even the most ordinary subjects in a different way. As a photographer you really do need to think outside the box and get creative.

For more information about Lou Manna, visit: www.loumanna.com or follow him on Twitter @loumanna.

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