An Interview with Professional Photographer Sheri Giblin

"Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver

Sheri Giblin's wild and precious life has led her to an amazing career in professional photography. Her photographs have appeared in world-wide ad campaigns for companies such as Chobani, Domino's pizza, in over 20 cookbooks, and many magazines including most recently to help launch AllRecipes Magazine. Recently, she was able to experience the culture of India on a personal trip and of Cuba for an assignment for Budget Travel. Join us as we learn more about this wonderful photographer in a fun and insightful interview.

Thank you, Sheri, for sharing you talent with all of us.

Have you always loved photography since you were young or is it something you've come to love more recently? Describe some of your early photographs.

I fell in love with photography while on a cross-country road trip with a girlfriend. This was during college. I had a 35mm film camera and didn't really know how to use it. So I had this photographer friend of mine show me the camera settings and what film to buy, etc., before my trip. I came back with all this undeveloped film so I decided to take a photo class. The first time I printed in the dark room, well, that was it, I knew I was going to be a photographer.

During this time period I lived in San Francisco and I photographed mostly what was in front of me in my everyday life. I ended up traveling around Europe for a few months with my then boyfriend's punk rock band. The first photo I ever had published and got paid for was for a German music magazine.

How did it transform into a career working for such magazines as Budget Travel, Yoga Journal, and All Recipes and companies like Dominoes Pizza and Chobani Yogurt?

I worked in restaurants to support myself during the above period of my life. I decided to shoot food for one of my photo lighting assignments in school. The photos turned out really terrible. In fact, it was the worst critique by any of my teachers ever, but, I wasn't disheartened. I knew the photos looked terrible. This lesson made me want to learn how to shoot food how I saw it: sensual, graphic, colorful, desirable, delicious. So I started setting up "test" shoots with a friend who was a chef and starting out in food styling. That led me to assist a successful food photographer for a couple of years. During this time, I worked on putting together a portfolio and eventually went out on my own, specializing in food photography. My first cookbook was with Chronicle Books, Everything Tastes Better with Bacon. I shot lots of magazine work during this time and more and more cookbooks. Eventually, I got an agent in NYC and work for companies like Dominos Pizza and Chobani Yogurt. My work for Budget Travel is my latest adventure. I took a trip to India 2 years ago and with those images have pivoted my work to include travel and video.

I decided to shoot food for one of my photo lighting assignments in school. The photos turned out really terrible. In fact, it was the worst critique by any of my teachers ever, but, I wasn't disheartened. I knew the photos looked terrible. This lesson made me want to learn how to shoot food how I saw it: sensual, graphic, colorful, desirable, delicious.

You've also done photography for more than 20 cookbooks. Are there any photoshoots that stand out? What was the funniest thing that happened on set so far?

The ad shoot for Domino's Pizza was a little crazy. It was by far the biggest food set I ever worked on. There were 7 food stylists. My favorite cookbook that I've shot so far is The Winemaker Cooks by Chris Hana. We spent a year shooting it in the Alexander Valley, Northern California, on location at Chris' house and winery. We shot all the seasons. From the moment Chris first contacted me about the project, I had a vision of exactly how I wanted this cookbook to look. It was the first book where I really got to art direct. Luckily, Chronicle Books totally supported this and gave me and my team lots of creative freedom. I told Chris early on, "This book is going to win awards." And lo and behold, it was a finalist for an IACP award that year. Amazing.

The funniest thing that ever happened on set was not a food shoot and had to do with a male model in girl underwear. That's all I can say out loud!

We spent a year shooting it in the Alexander Valley, Northern California, on location at Chris' house and winery. We shot all the seasons. From the moment Chris first contacted me about the project, I had a vision of exactly how I wanted this cookbook to look. It was the first book where I really got to art direct.

Ten-year-old Chef Jack Witherspoon has a cookbook,
Twist It Up. He's an amazing person, having survived leukemia, being a black belt in tae kwon do, and living his dreams. Tell us about the experience you had photographing him.

Oh, wow, yes, Jack is a very rare kid indeed, a very special soul. Being around his family was very inspirational. They are so incredibly supportive of him and his younger brother. He surfs with his Dad every morning. His parents worked really hard to help him see his dream through of publishing his cookbook. I feel really proud that I got to shoot it for them. We also all had a lot of fun on that shoot.

Twist It Up: More Than 60 Delicious Recipes from an Inspiring Young Chef by Jack Witherspoon and Sheri Giblin -

Princess Tea Parties is an adorable book. What was most memorable about that shoot?

Thanks. This is a cute book. I must give a huge credit to the prop stylist, Ethel Brennan, on that front. The stylist worked really hard on this book as it was beyond food, but also craft and costume heavy (and all that kid wrangling!). I always say "my work (photos) are as good as the stylist I hire." We work as a team that's for sure. This is probably a good moment to point out that props make all the difference!

Prop Stylist Ethel Brennan -

Sheri's Blog - Does a Princess Live in Your House? -

Princess Tea - Parties and Treats for Little Girls by Janeen Sarlin -

Photographing people is so different from inanimate objects like food. Other than having more complete control over objects that don't move, what are some of the major differences between the two? What are the specific challenges and rewards to each type of photography?

It's true that photographing people is different than shooting food. But I will point out that there's always an unexpected element to any photo shoot. Photography always includes some type of problem solving no matter if it's food or people. Even after having had pre-pro meetings and creative calls and mood boards ahead of a shoot, once we are all on set, there's always something that will challenge us all. Here's a good example of an unexpected challenge. I recently shot a feature story, "Organic Life." The premise was shooting 4 different women on a sustainable chair in their homes. Well, when we got to the last model's house, she had an adorable daughter and dog. The art director said, "Oooo, let's try to get a shot of the dog on the chair. This could make a great cover." Ok, so here we are, all dog wrangling and the next thing I know the adorable daughter walks onto the set and is climbing the chair with the dog. Violá, none of us could have art-directed this moment more perfectly. So, needless to say, I GOT the SHOT and I got the COVER. While food doesn't go walking onto any sets (or off of any sets), it does melt, wilt, and flatten!

Sheri's Blog Post - Love Seats - A mermaid, a poet, a dog, a kid, a-mazing women…what a shoot! -

On your website, there are several videos. The Spaghetti and Amore is very clever. How did you come up with that concept? Was is for work or fun? How long does it take to film a stop-motion video?

"Spaghetti and Amore" was an "assignment" from my agent at the time. They instructed us to make videos in lieu of traditional bios for their website. My friend, Duffy Higgins, who is a producer and has lots of video experience helped me with the concept along with my long-time assistant. It took the 3 of us a full day to shoot it and then another day to edit.

Duffy Higgins, Producer:

Lunch Time -

Spaghetti and Amore -

You recently shot a story including video for Budget Travel (January/February 2016) about Cuba. Now that travel there is open for business, tell us about that experience. What are some tips you can offer for traveling in Cuba? Describe the people and how they repond to Americans working there. Are they open and friendly or more reserved?

My assignment to Cuba was by far my most challenging and rewarding assignment to date. Our trip was sponsored by JetBlue whose flights and visas are booked through Cuban Travel Services. Travel to Cuba for Americans is still complicated. It is still illegal for Americans to travel there as tourists. Americans may visit Cuba now without prior permission of the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control for the first time in a long while, as long as the visit falls under one of 12 approved categories.

On more than one occasion my traveling partner and I were greeted by a Cuban exclaiming, "AMERICANS, we have been WAITING FOR YOU." The majority of Cubans I met were inviting, gracious, and excited to talk to us. We were invited into locals' homes and fed. Everybody is anxious to tell you their stories. They want the rest of the world to know what's happening, what they have endured, and what life is really like for them (vs. the life that Castro wants the world to believe). Cubans are a little nervous about hanging out with foreigners, though, and especially telling these "stories." It's illegal for them to do this. My friend and I were asked a few times if we were with the government, spies, or CIA! That made me laugh…me? CIA?! Now that would be a great telenovela!


Learn some Spanish.
Take Cuban taxis.
Bring enough cash for the duration of your trip.
Forget about making phone calls or getting online.
Get away from the tourist traps and try to find some REAL Cuba. Getting a drink in a "locals only" bar is the best place to start this!

Cuba Travel Services -
Cuba Travel Network -

Some of the photos from Cuba look so interesting, can you write a short description for each:

Sheri's Photos of Cuba -

The trombone and guitar players:

There are a lot of musicians playing around Havana. I photographed those two guys playing along the Malecón. The Malecón is an esplanade (for those who are unfamiliar with the term, an esplanade is a long, open, level area, usually next to a river or large body of water, where people may walk) and seawall that stretches for 5 miles along the coast of Havana. It's the hang-out for Habaneros, lovers, fisherman, and musicians.

The florists:

It was the feast day for Changó/Santa Bárbara (Santería or Regla de Ocho religion) happened while I was in Cuba. It is December 4th. This is one of the most important festival days in Cuba. People flocked to the flower markets this day to buy their flowers for this celebration.

Rolling cigars:

This was taken in Viñales. This is in the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba. This is where much tobacco is grown and other types of agriculture like coffee. It is a most beautiful rural area of Cuba with sweeping, breathtaking landscapes. I had a crazy horse ride here, too!

Peeling limes:

I'm not really sure what they do with all those limes peels.

You also traveled to India. What are some of the best sites and things to do there that are not on a regular top-ten list of attractions? The houseboats look relaxing and fun. Describe your best meal there.

I actually did not travel to India on any assignment. I went there on my own with a close friend who is an author and food stylist, Maria de Mar. India was always on the top of my list of places I wanted to travel to so when I received an email from Saveur Magazine looking for photos from India for their then upcoming India issue, I decided this was my moment to seize. Unfortunately, it took me longer to plan the trip then anticipated, so I missed the deadline for the India Saveur issue. But, Maria and I came back with our own story which was, frankly, even better then the India Saveur issue. We pitched to various magazines. Darling Magazine picked it up and then Budget Travel picked up out Kerala House Boat story.

Maria del Mar, Food Stylist -

The food really was amazing in India. I have 2 best meals. One was on the houseboat (crab masala) and the other was at an Indian wedding. Now that was amazing! We also had an amazing rickshaw driver who took us to a spectacular flower market.

We were also lucky to have stayed with friends of friends when we first arrived in Bangalore who let us in on a few Indian secrets. The advice I give to finding the "not so regular list of attractions" is to just simply look for them, meaning, stay open in your spirit, talk to local people, trust, don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path. When an elephant comes your way, you chase it down the street! The more that I have been open to people while traveling the more I have been exposed to.

Photos from India:

The traditional clothing of the gentleman with the orange turban.

Turbans hold a lot of significance in the lives of Indians and colors play a very important role in religion and cultures. And if there is any color that symbolizes all aspects of Hinduism, it is Saffron, the color of the Agni or fire. There is also much significance to the many different types of markings you see on the forehead in India. It gets quite complicated and even my Indian friend couldn't aster all my questions around this.

Discover India Sanskriti - Meaning of Turban in Indian Culture -

Who are some other photographers you admire and why?

Early on, while still in school, my biggest inspiration came from Mary Ellen Mark. I remember when I was first introduced to her work. Up until that point, it was pretty much all male photographers that I remember being exposed to (besides Diane Arbus who I'm also a big fan of, but she was dead). So when this amazing female photographer popped up on my radar I was like "AWWWWWWW!" I had the chance to meet her years later at a moment when I was floundering a bit in my career. I shared with her how I was struggling and I'll never forget how she touched my hand, looked into my eyes, and said, "You MUST be a photographer."

Mary Ellen Mark -

I also admire female photojournalists like Stephanie Sinclair. To me they are the most bad-ass photographers. And the stories they are telling right now are so very important. It's time for more women to tell the stories (myself included).

Too Young To Wed -

Stephanie Sinclair - National Geographic -

Humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine is another amazing female photographer whose work I admire.

Lisa Kristine -

Erika Larsen - I have admired the work of photographer, Erika Larsen for some time now. She most recently spent 4 years living with and photographing the Sámi, an indigenous group native to the Arctic Circle of northern Scandinavia and Russia (amazing!).  

Erika Larsen - Sami - Walking with Reindeer -

Erika Larsen -

When taking personal photos, you mentioned in your blog that many of them are about water and bridges. What are some of your other favorite subjects and what do they mean to you?

My 9-year-old daughter is definitely one of my favorite subjects. I love capturing things around my neighborhood in Brooklyn, too. I've really enjoyed Instagram. It's gotten me into the day to day "photo journal" space that has been more of a personal nature of expression that I've enjoyed.

When traveling for pleasure, where are your favorite places to visit?

My favorite place to visit is anywhere near the sea.

Since you are involved with food as a career, where is the best food you have tasted and what was it? Where are some of the places you would still like to visit?

I'm lucky to have eaten lots of delicious food in my life, but I have to say my most memorable meals are the ones lovingly cooked for me by friends and family. There's nothing like a dinner party were lots of wine was drunk and the after-dinner conversation turned into a dance party. I love simple roasted chicken probably more than anything."

There are so many places I'd love to visit! Right now Bali is on the top of my list.

Do you have any advice for photographers interested in a career in print photography?

I don't know if you have heard but "print is dead." Ha. Seriously, though, it's not an easy time to start a career in photography. But I am a firm believer in that if one feels enough passion for something then one can make it happen. My advice is to follow your heart, word hard, hard, hard, and be fearless.

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