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This post is from the Worcester Magazine Issue of Krave from 9.28.11

Behind the lens of Erb Photography

Scott Erb and Donna Dufault are not restaurant owners. They don’t work in a local kitchen, create stunning menus or put on chef’s whites – yet they have been instrumental in bringing the Worcester dining scene into the public limelight. They are Erb Photography, whose imagery has showcased the work of area restaurants through billboards, marketing, advertising, menus and more throughout the city. Those delectable and drool-inducing photos are products of a craft that takes years of experience, talent and drive to produce. We took some time in between shutter clicks with the photographic king and queen of Worcester to discover a little about their recent food niche and who the folks are behind the lens.

When did you come to Worcester – and why? Donna: We came to Worcester 13 years ago. We moved here from Rochester, N.Y. I grew up in Charlton, but went away to college in Rochester and stayed there a few years after college to work. That’s when and where I meet Scott. I came back to the area and specifically to Worcester 13 years ago. I came back here to be near family, but I wanted to be in a city. Scott came along for the ride.

When did you start your own business as Erb Photography? Donna: In 1998. Scott started it then, but he was mostly assisting other photographers and doing fine-art photography. That was the best way to learn the business. We highly recommend assisting if you want to get into photography. Learning from established photographers was invaluable and you get to learn all the things they don’t teach you in college.

How did your interest in food photography grow? Donna: Food photography was an accident. We were eating at our favorite sushi place and realized the marketing of that restaurant just did not reflect the high quality of the food we were being served. In fact, the food was outstanding and the marketing was awful, amateurish, and the photos were just snap shots. We talked the owner into letting us shoot three dishes for him, just to show him the difference professional photography can make. When we showed up to do the shoot, he gave us the smallest space down in the basement to do the shots. It almost wasn’t possible, but somehow we managed, through holding lights and a contortionist balancing act. We pulled it off. Out of curiosity, the chefs came down to see what we were doing and they all started smiling and laughing. They were surprised at what we had managed to pull off. They are the ones who got the owner down there to see the images. He was impressed and hired us to come back to do more. Needless to say he gave us the whole restaurant to work in the next time we came back to shoot. He was really, really happy with what we did, and he’s hired us several times over the years to come back and shoot new things for him. About a week after those first shots, an ad agency in Norwood called us asking to see any food work we had done. We showed them the sushi images and they hired us on the spot. The rest fell into place after that. We realized just how much we loved working with these talented chefs. They felt about their food like we felt about our photography. Passionate.

What are the challenges of photographing food? Donna: Time is the big challenge; we don’t “doctor” the food in any inedible ways. So it’s only unsullied for a short span of time. We need to work fast to make sure we get it while it is fresh and beautiful. Also, there are some food items that aren’t very photogenic or very colorful, such as some soups. It’s our job to find a way to style it in such a way that doesn’t change the integrity of the chef’s presentation, but looks good for the camera too.

Tell us about your Worcester centric work. Donna: We LOVE the Worcester dining scene! We’ve had some of our favorite shoots here locally. Clients like Michael Covino at the Niche Group really “get” what we are doing and he lets us “do our thing” creatively. One of our all-time favorite shoots was done at The Peoples Kitchen. They gave us all access to the chefs in the kitchen there for four full hours. What came out of that is the very personal art imagery that adorns the walls at The Peoples Kitchen restaurant, and it’s some of our favorite work of all time. There are really amazing chefs in Worcester, with so much talent. They are gems in this city. The fact that we get to spend time documenting and crafting images for them is such a pleasure.

What is your most visible piece of work that Worcesterites might recognize? Donna: We have had some of our images on billboards along Rt. 290, so my guess is that many folks have seen those. But if you visit any local restaurant from the Beechwood Hotel to the Broadway Diner you’ll see images we’ve made over the years.

Tell us how important it is for restaurants/caterers/food related businesses to have good, quality photos in their marketing? Scott: We know that having great photos is an enormous way to do justice to the chefs, owners, and staff (anyone who puts their heart into a business), who should understand that it’s an investment and an asset to have beautiful images to be able to show off what they have created. And the goal should be to do it in the best possible way. Professional photographers can really make the difference when it comes to lighting, composition and positioning a business’ best features.
Donna: Look, food photography is hard. We have this goal to create images that capture a passionate chef’s creations. We have to know how to make that look delicious. We need to make someone look at that image and want to go to the restaurant and order that food for themselves. We have to do that chef’s work justice. Anything less than that goal – anything else – is not worthy. And it takes time, knowledge and experience to be able to make images that get someone’s mouth watering. Let’s be truthful here, a snap shot from a cell phone is not going to make that happen…

How do the both of you work together when on assignment? Donna: We consider ourselves a team. It’s one thing that sets us apart of other photographers out there. When folks hire us they get the benefits and expertise of two trained photographers instead of one. Scott is really the technical expert- -the gear and lighting expert–as well as having Photoshop skills.
Scott: Donna is all about the details. She makes sure we have everything we need to make a shoot run smoothly. She is the manager of production. Together we do the creative work. We discuss angles, light, composition, color, contrast…etc. There have been occasions when we each have an assignment and go off on our own, but it is rare. We love working together on projects and feel we rely on one another to make great images happen.