The end of school is nigh, and all of a sudden you feel like you’ve got 100 decisions to make. What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to go to college, or uni, or do I want to get stuck straight into work? It’s easy to feel lost when you don’t know what you want to do, or how to get there.
But while you have literally your whole life to make up your mind, a little bit of good advice can go a long way. So with that in mind, in a series of interviews, we’re speaking to women who’ve ‘made it’, and asking their advice on how to follow in their footsteps.
This month, we speak to Regula Ysewijn, a food photographer and writer.
What actually *is* your job?
I am a food writer, photographer and author. I also do a lot of judging, so for the Great Taste Awards, the World Cheese Awards which is great, and also the Belgian version of The Great British Bake Off. So there are different aspects to what I do, but it’s all about food.
How did you get into it?
The cooking came first, because I always wanted to eat lovely things. Then, when I was travelling, I would take pictures of whatever I was eating, and make a note of where you could buy nice food and great places to eat in a blog, but it was only really for myself. Then after a while, people began to read it. I thought, what is this? All of a sudden I had a proper food blog, so I started to put more effort into my writing and my photography, cooking more. So for me it all started with a love of food, and wanting to capture and remember it.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
I enjoy meeting different people and experiencing different cultures. Every single time I do a shoot, I learn so much. Having people open up to me and capturing their lives in a unique way is a privilege.
What are the bad parts?
A lot of people do not want to pay the price. It’s a big problem, not just for photographers and writers but also graphic designers, illustrators and artists. There’s a lot of competition, so sometimes you don’t get the job because somebody is offering to do it cheaper. Sometimes you have a hard time getting paid what you deserve.
The Big Question: uni, or no uni?
A course or qualification might be handy to learn about things like composition, but the photographers I know are hugely self-taught—I suppose if you can why not, it’s always good to learn, but I would suggest people just get their camera, photograph every day and practise, practise, practise. You do not really need to go to school, it’s more about time and willpower. You have to be passionate about it, that’s the first rule. It’s a good idea to start a blog—it doesn’t have to be writing, it can just be photos. It’s always good to have a portfolio of sorts, and it’s good for that not to be static; for the blog to be alive and updated constantly. It’s a great way to show your work and personality.
I studied art in high school and as part of that we did four hours of photography a week, but it was still analogue back then and it was too expensive for my parents to pay for all the things connected to photography. I got a job working as a graphic designer, doing my blog on the side. I think the skills I learned as a graphic designer have definitely come in handy.
So, do you have to be a fancy chef?
You don’t have to be a chef or anything but you do really need to understand food—how to play with the light, for example, and what to take into account. We do not use shoe polish and all kinds of stuff anymore, it is real food, so you need to have everything set up correctly so that you can photograph a dish immediately. Often you see people who don’t have that experience will leave the food on the set too long and by that time, it’s wilted and horrible. Every photographer has their own field, either food or portrait or landscape—it’s not a given that if you can do, one you can do the other.
What’s your fave food to cook (and eat)?
That’s a really hard question. I enjoy oxtail stew, things that are slow to cook. I also love to make bolognese ragu, because I know I am really good at it! Every time I make and eat it I am a little bit proud. I make such a stunning bolognese! I don’t like complicated cooking: I like good, honest food.
If you were to give one piece of advice to your 14-year-old self, what would it be?
I think I would say, do exactly the same as you are doing! I was lucky enough to figure out what I wanted to do very early in life and I have managed to make the right choices. My one regret is not going abroad to study something or to live and work but then again, if I did that I would never have met my husband. I think I would say to myself, you’re obviously having a hard time because you’re a teenager, but follow your passion and do not compromise on that. Keep on going, always follow your dream, even if you don’t have the money—it’s because of my passion that I am where I am today.
Image: Getty/Katie Edmunds