Coffee With....

Karen Thomas,

Food Photographer

We talk career, life and snacks with award-winning food photographer Karen Thomas who has shot campaigns for M&S, Costa, McDonalds, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Nestle and more.

Before we get started, tea or coffee? How do you take it, are you particular about a particular type of tea or coffee?

I love both tea and coffee, and I drink my coffee black. I don’t like
English breakfast but I love green teas and herbal teas.

What’s your go-to biscuit of choice?

At the moment I’d choose M&S Chocolate cookies from their vegan Plant Kitchen range which are delicious, but I’m always happy with a simple gingernut biscuit.

Are you an early bird, or a night owl?

I get up at 6am on weekdays as I love to get some stuff done before starting a shoot. However, at the weekends I love a lie-in so I’ll get up around 8am. I used to be more of a night owl but these days I prefer to be in bed early with a good book!

How did you get into food photography?

My dad bought me a red plastic Halina 35mm camera when I was young and I used to go around with him taking photos. I saved up for my first SLR, and then once I’d finished school, I went to college to study photography.

I love to cook and I love
to eat. I also really love to feed people. In the early days of my career, I even used to prepare the lunches for the shoots. That was fun but obviously not something I was able to keep up!

I’m pretty dedicated to the pleasure that is food and I believe that’s why I’ve managed to carve out a successful path for myself in food photography, which has resulted in high-profile clients such as M&S, Waitrose, McDonalds, Costa, Sainsbury’s and Nestle, to name a few.

"I’ve been shooting professionally for over 20 years. However, I’ve been accompanied by a camera for much longer. In the beginning it was a red plastic Halina; now it’s a Hasselblad H6D-100."

Where could you visit again and again, and why?

I’ve just arrived back from my fourth trip to Japan and I would
definitely love to go back again. I love the culture, history, and landscape of the country. For me it’s such a magical place. I took up ceramic making classes a few years ago and I would love to go back to Japan and do a ceramics course there. I haven’t visited any of the islands and that is something that I would love to do at some stage.

What does an average work day look like for you?

My days vary depending on whether I’m on a shoot or not. If it’s a shoot day (say it’s an editorial, packaging or POS shoot and not an advertising shoot) then I get up at 5.30-6am (fitting in 30 minutes of yoga if it’s the former) and I’m at the studio for 8am. I’ll sort through any outstanding emails or paperwork and then my assistant will arrive at 8.30am and the rest of the team around 9-9.30.

We’ll work on the shoot, hopefully stopping for lunch around 1pm and then wrap around 5.30-6 depending on how the day goes and the intensity of the shoot (this could be a lot later if there are any issues on set).

I’ll then brief in any retouching for the next day or review any completed retouching on files. Then it’s time to head home to relax with my family.

Do you have a motto or philosophy that you live by?

I regularly remind myself to appreciate the moment rather than always looking to the future. I’m often searching for the next big thing or planning the next big project and I feel it’s important not to lose the joy of each day in the process.

What habit couldn’t you live without?

I have an online to-do list that is in the form of a calendar. I’d be lost without this as it keeps me on track everyday with daily tasks as well as sub-lists that contains categories such as long-term work goals and personal goals.

"I love the culture, history, and landscape of Japan. For me it’s such a magical place. I haven’t visited any of the islands and that is something that I would love to do at some stage!"

Do you have a signature dish?

I’m vegan and try and eat as healthily as I can at home. I love cooking dahls. They are so nourishing and comforting.

What’s on the stereo when your cooking?

Recently it was Japanese language audio classes but since
returning from Japan it’s returned to my playlists that feature artists such as The XX, Rhye, Sohn, Bonobo and London Grammar.

And finally, is there a food that makes you nostalgic?

I love banana butties (mashed banana on soft white bread). I used to have these growing up and I still love them and find them really comforting.

Brilliant! Before I head off to try a banana butty, I'd love to thank you for your time, and for the brilliant images.

You're welcome!

You can find Karen on Instagram, LinkedIn and her website.

Images throughout feature: © Karen Thomas Photography; portrait of Karen, courtesy of Hasselblad.

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