A picture paints a thousand words… or more, in the case of Elise Dumas. This Paris-based photographer—and regular MFCH contributor—has a romantic aesthetic and eye for detail that has captured the hearts of thousands. Elise, aka The Pineapple Chef, sat down with us to talk about how she got started in the creative world of food styling.
Hi Elise! Could you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you come to work in food creation and styling?
I worked in fashion for 15 years as a Visual Merchandiser for luxury brands (Louis Vuitton, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent to name a few), but I’ve always been in love with food and lifestyle photography…
From a young age, I shot on film and developed my own photos and, at the same time, started collecting recipes and lifestyle magazines from all over the world.
In 2011, I began to have lots of food intolerances (wheat, egg white, dairy—the three foundations of French food!) and had to dramatically change the way I ate, despite already coming from a family that eats high-quality, balanced and non-processed food. While I adapted to this new way of eating, I thought that I would share my recipes on a blog, and perhaps they could help and inspire people in the same situation.
Elise Dumas in Paris
It felt so natural! Something clicked, and in 2018 I created my own company, and in 2019, I stopped working in fashion full time. My career in food photography had begun!
Did you have anyone in the industry that you looked up to, who convinced you it could be a good move for you?
There are so many people that I’m inspired by—be it for creativity, talent or business success—in the photography industry. But the decision to change was mine. When I was younger, I started working as a consultant in IT (you read right!) and left a very comfortable (but boring—to me anyway) life to go back to school and study fashion. After 15 years, I was ready to change again. I believe everything happens for a reason and that each experience drives you to the next one. Visual Merchandising, and even my former consultant skills, are still very useful in my work today!
How did you develop your aesthetic in the beginning?
It took time to find my voice. Today, I still doubt today whether I have truly found it because it’s a never-ending creative process!
I started looking at other people’s work on social media, went to lots of workshops, made mood boards and practiced, practiced, practiced. The latter, plus joining forces with other creatives, is the best way to develop your aesthetic—to know what you truly like, what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Which parts of styling do people usually underestimate?
When you have your picture in mind, you need to look for the best ingredients, props in the right colors and material, the best flowers or foliage… all of this preparation takes a lot of time.
Once this is done, you can start styling the picture. You have to take into consideration that food doesn’t like the sun or a spotlight for long, that champagne bubbles evaporate and that ice cream melts! You need to have reinforcements on hand—I always double up on the things I’m shooting.
The styling itself takes a lot of time because every detail counts. Time spent on the styling onset is time you won’t spend in front of your computer with Photoshop or Lightroom.
When you are working a commission—from the creation to styling to shooting—how long does the whole process take?
The preparation is the most time-consuming part. People tend to think that you just push the button of the camera when you shoot for a client (and sometimes the client thinks that too!), but it requires a lot of work beforehand: understanding the brand’s DNA, researching on their site and social media, searching for inspiration, validating the light (moody or not, natural or artificial) etc.
Then onset, the angles (top view, side view), asking people to strike a pose in the picture for you, styling, shooting, and editing afterwards. This whole process depends on the complexity of the brief, the number of pictures and the amount of styling required.
You’ve worked with several French and international brands from Pierre Hermé to Nespresso: which presented your biggest challenge?
Every brand offers a different challenge, and each mission is the opportunity to learn and go out of my comfort zone. I love what I do so much that I never see this as a burden! It’s always a chance to develop and grow.
Do you have assistants to help you?
No, I work on my own. Nevertheless, I do regularly ask my entire family to pose for me!
Your shoot, “For The Love of Whimsy,” in our July/August 20 issue, features a beautiful table in an open field surrounded by candles and flowers. Where does your inspiration come from to create such images?
This picture was a combination of different things. This field is somewhere I walk with my dog. I noticed the yellow flowers, and, having the brief in mind for an “al fresco tablescape,” I thought the setting would be perfect.
Then I looked at pictures of dinner tables set outside and started gathering props (putting my antique candelabras in a basket and buying food and flowers in a color combination that would match the setting).
Onset, I shot the same picture from different angles, so I could choose which one I liked best. I also shot the same picture with different light (under a strong afternoon sun and also at sunset).
How does travel influence your aesthetic or approach to photography?
I was born abroad and have traveled for most of my life with my family. Traveling and living in other countries has definitely broadened my horizon. When my food intolerances hit, I could easily turn to other food cultures and combine traditional French food recipes with Asian, American and African ones to eat a nutritious and exciting diet.
For photography, traveling brings you so much energy and new ideas… I always take my camera with me wherever I go.
Projects or ambitions for the future?
During the pandemic, I left Paris for the countryside—an hour drive from the city—and I have been staying there for nearly three months now, working remotely for clients. I do often need to go back from time to time, but I realize that I can work wherever I want!
Being surrounded by nature brings me so much inspiration and peace of mind. Generally, I hope that I can keep on doing what I love. I do believe that I am where I should be… now I just need to work even harder to keep the adventure going!
For endless inspiration, recipes and travel tips, follow Elise on Instagram @thepineapplechef and get more of her recipes (in French) on www.thepineapplechef.com.
You can get several of her recipes in issues of MFCH.