Two worlds collide when you look at Dionna’s portfolio. On one end, there’s romantic styling reminiscent of classical art. On the other, her use of neon colours creates another dimension of fantasy. We speak to the creative powerhouse and uncover the inspiration behind her art.

The enigmatic Dionna consults her notes amidst her greatest inspiration – nature.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do?

I’m a photographer, set designer, food and product stylist. I run creative studio OOOZE with my partner Sean Ashley, and we create images, art and design together. We are immensely influenced by both contemporary art and the Old Masters, as well as films, travel and everyday forms of food and still-life.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/13 | 1/200s | ISO 100

How did you get started in food photography?

I was travelling a lot to unwind from the stress at my previous job, and I wanted to document every part of the experience. For some reason, local food always became a highlight. It’s always interesting to experience the local market and see the type of seasonal ingredients only found in their country, and see how they use them in brilliant food texture combinations.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/16 | 1/160s | ISO 100

 What do you like about this genre, and what has kept you in it all this while?

I love the vulnerability of food and how it reacts between mediums. For example, when you’re cutting through it, when heat is being applied, when it becomes stale – there is beauty in the way it reacts. Being able to capture this process is what creates that intimate relationship between the camera and subject.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/9 | 1/160s | ISO 100

What do you most enjoy about the work?

The creative process is the best part of the work. And after conceptualising, seeing the result through your camera is that moment of truth that will always surprise photographers. Each time after a shoot, we unknowingly learn and discover more about ourselves, and that is something I truly enjoy.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/7.1 | 1/160s | ISO 100

Could you tell us more about how you go about a food shoot? What is the usual set-up and who is involved?

For most of the commercial projects that we are involved in, we often take on creative and/or art direction roles as well. A lot of pre-production prep goes into each shoot. There is a treatment deck that we will prepare, and often, if the set is elaborate, we will provide sketches for the project. Once that is approved, we will prepare a props list and begin sourcing or creating our sets.

One day prior to the shoot, or a couple of hours before that, we will do a pre-light – it enables us to test the lighting and ensure that the equipment we have is suitable for execution.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/16 | 1/160s | ISO 100

We noticed that there’s a story behind most of your photos! Tell us more about this approach.

In most forms of photography such as travel and landscape, the photographer’s set is naturally occurring as they use the subjects around them.

For food photography, it is almost like a blank canvas because everything is set up. With the subjects static, we want to create a spark in them. Crafting a story behind the image and being able to translate it onto an image is exciting!

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/16 | 1/160s | ISO 100

Against typical advice, you also “play with your food” a lot, creating fantastic sets and imaginative characters from the food items. Can you share how you arrived at this imaginative approach?

For most of my more conceptual projects, I try to inject a whimsical look and feel. For example, in this project for CapitaLand Funan, we brought food to life by depicting them going down slides, or using them to build playground structures.

I also like to use colour to enhance the set, and so in this series, the focus was on the interaction of colour, and the use of complementary and harmonious colours.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/14 | 1/160s | ISO 125

Your props and styling are often unexpected and quirky. Where do you draw your inspiration from and how do you arrive at those choices?

The inspiration for our set designs comes from art and nature. I love to take inspiration from things we see daily and put a fun twist on the choices. Most of our props are designed and created by hand, which provides the flexibility for use in photography.

In product photography, the scale of each prop is significant when placed together. They must be well-balanced and create a flow as a collective.

Canon EOS 5DS R | f/22 | 1/200s | ISO 160

Do you ever taste the food to get some inspiration?

Yes! Flavours often have many layers.

Imagine toffee – visually you would see a gooey, brown, saucy substance. When you taste it, you will experience burnt notes, a buttery smooth texture on the palette and a salty but fragrant aftertaste. All these taste profiles can be used as inspiration when conceptualising the story.

With the burnt notes, we would be inspired to create a warm, moody visual style. With the buttery texture, we could style with gold or yellow props.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/16 | 1/160s | ISO 100

You also do a lot of product photography. Do you think there’s a big difference between the two genres?

Food photography is a lot more forgiving. Most of the time, there is some mess from the food, and it comes naturally because it is so delicate. To the eye or in photography, the mess is a characteristic, so it can be left untouched if it fits the visual style.

For product photography, it is quite static. And because it can be quite simplistic in its form, it will reveal a lot of flaws, such as dust, manufacturing defects, or damages during transportation.

 

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/11 | 1/160s | ISO 100

Has Instagram and social media trends affected your photography in any way?

Social media has a huge impact on our studio; it is where we made our passion possible and turned the studio into what it is today. We love the community in the social media world – there is new content uploaded every second, and we feel that it makes us a stronger creative by looking at what others are doing.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/10 | 1/160s | ISO 100

What do you think separates a mobile or amateur food shot from a professional food shoot?

A professional photographer would be more instinctive when executing a shot. When an image turns out to be not what they foresee it to be, they are able to make slight changes to turn it around, instead of switching up the sets. They would be able to tell easily what makes or breaks an image – the wrong lighting, prop, angle, juxtaposition etc.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/11 | 1/160s | ISO 100

What kind of equipment are you using for your shoots?

My partner and I use the Canon EOS 5D Mark III for most of our projects. However, for work with higher demands, we will go for the Canon EOS 5DS R, because the usage of the images would be placed on multiple platforms, including large prints like wide billboards, bus-stop ads. We feel that the 5DS R’s sensor renders incredible detail for colour depth and image quality.

For lenses, we toggle between the Canon EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM and the Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/4 | 1/200s | ISO 100

What do you like about the Canon gear that you use?

The Canon cameras and lenses we use are extremely hardy. We have had the Canon EOS 5D Mark III right from the start of our careers, and have not encountered any issues or required servicing.

The lenses are weather resistant, thus allowing us the flexibility of working close to liquids and action shots. The auto-focus is quick, consistent and sharp so that our workflow does not get disrupted when on assignment.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/7.1 | 1/160s | ISO 100

If there was something (in terms of equipment) you could upgrade for your work, what would it be and why?

We would like to upgrade to the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV as there is a higher megapixel count, and it also enables us to dabble with video for motion in 4K quality. The new auto-focus function will be great as we are able to use the touchscreen capabilities when we require focus stacking for product photography.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/9 | 1/200s | ISO 100

What advice would you offer to aspiring food photographers?

Pick up your camera and start playing around with food. Create a story, select your primary subject, and build the set with props around it. Have fun with action shots and explore all angles besides the usual aerial view.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | f/14 | 1/160s | ISO 125

 Feast your eyes on more out-of-this-world food photography on Dionna’s Instagram profile!

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