Presented by Equity Bank
Food photography is everywhere. Instagram. Cookbooks. Magazines. Food photos celebrate special moments, sell books or brands. They whisper “abundance” and “the good life.” Sometimes it’s hard to tell when crafty “what I’m having for dinner” or “look what I just made” merges into artful still life. Even local food photographer Ben Pieper has trouble finding that line. But his photos—whole fish on a bed of salt or a cascade of ruby pomegranates—might say otherwise.
Pieper—who has a studio in North Kansas City that includes a kitchen—cooks “elevated kid-friendly dishes” almost every night for his wife, Kim, and his children, Olivia and Lincoln. His favorite cuisine is “a fusion of French techniques with Asian flavors.” Says Pieper, “I love the depth of soy or fish sauce, with sesame oil. With classic cooking techniques you can elevate any simple ingredient into a memorable meal.”
Comfortable in the kitchen, Pieper, who has extensive knowledge of ingredients and methods, loves to cook so that he and his camera can coax every nuance from a dish or have it tell its own unique story.
When you were a boy growing up in Iowa, did you dream about becoming a photographer specializing in food? (Probably not.) How did that come about?
My career in the food world started with my first kitchen job at sixteen, cooking on the line of the local cafe. I eventually made my way to Kansas City to pursue a culinary degree and had the great opportunity to work with some very talented local chefs in country clubs and fine-dining restaurants. I’d always had an entrepreneurial side doing small catering gigs for extra cash. After several years of long hours, my wife helped me pivot toward photography.
I earned my degree at the Culinary Institute of Art in Denver, while working as a co-executive chef, so my photo portfolio was naturally food focused. During this time, my cookbook collection had really grown, and I drew inspiration from the amazing stories told in my collection. Those were artists that I aspired to be.
Shortly after graduating, I moved back to Kansas City and got my start at Hallmark. It was there that I honed my lighting skills and my own technique and style.
In 2009, I went out on my own, and have been fortunate to work on a lot of great projects both locally and nationally. My culinary background has worked well for me, because I understand the process behind and in front of the camera.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to amateurs posting food photos on Instagram?
Avoid using your flash, if possible, and try to tell a story either with the food or with the setting.
Those fish photos and those pomegranates! Why are food photos so compelling?
I’ve always felt that cooking and photography are a craft, and have strived to create that feeling whether for commercial or editorial work. It sounds cliche, but food brings people together from both past and present. It evokes memories, and it’s how we all come to celebrate each other and our heritage. For me, that is why food photography is so compelling.
How has the Kansas City area nurtured your career?
Kansas City is where I learned to cook. It’s where my photography career began and has thrived. It’s where I married my wife, and started my family. It’s where I put down my roots. I wouldn’t be where I am without this community and my family.
All food photography is the sum of the team. Kansas City has amazing talent from food and set stylists, production, art directors, and assistants. Each member is essential for building strong photography, and that collaboration shows in the work. I’m very grateful to be a part.