Q&A With Paul Markow… Our Photographer for Best Restaurants 2013

screen-shot-2013-02-27-at-12-28-16-pmIf you haven’t picked up our April issue, featuring our photographers’ favorite places to eat in Arizona, well, you’re missing out. It’s a wonderful issue with several tasty and unexpected dining options (Thai food in Williams? Mark Lipczynski swears it’s delicious!). Once again, we’ve utilized the brilliant photographic services of Paul Markow, and once again, Paul did great work. This year, he traveled 1,768 miles — from Sonoita to Flagstaff to Oro Valley and Marble Canyon, Paul certainly made the rounds. “The joy I receive from this sojourn around my home state always makes me feel like one of the luckiest photographers around,” he says.

Below, Paul shares some outtakes from the shoots and talks about his assignment:

How did you approach this assignment?
The process starts with me making a phone call to the chosen restaurants and asking for the owner. After assuring them I am not a telemarketer, the best part of my job is telling the owner that Arizona Highways wants to feature them in an upcoming issue. Giving people gifts is not a bad gig and the response is always pure excitement.

What do you love about the final product?
I love the process of actually getting to the printed piece— traveling, photographing, then waiting to see which images the Arizona Highways gang picks and how they are presented. Once I turn in the photography, it’s usually out of my control. It’s always a little like Christmas when you finally have the issue in your hands. And it never gets old standing in the check-out line at Safeway, seeing your cover right in front of you. Well, maybe the standing in line part does.

How did you overcome challenges along the way?
Challenges are why we are hired to do projects. I thrive on them and I get a great deal of satisfaction from solving whatever is thrown my way. At Cliff Dwellers Lodge, for example, I left Flagstaff at 6:30 a.m. thinking I would be there for breakfast. I arrived just after 9 a.m. and I was told that they had started winter hours… the restaurant was only open in the early morning, so I had to settle for an exterior shot. Fortunately, Arizona Highways is a magazine about place and the Vermillion Cliffs, where Cliff Dwellers Lodge is located, served as a very nice backdrop.

Food is a tough subject to shoot. What tips would you give to aspiring food photographers?
There are only a certain number of ways to shoot food, and when you shoot food for Arizona Highways, while it may be a food shot, it’s a food shot in a place. In other words, you need to show a sense of its environment. So for me, here are the big questions: is the food attractive enough to shoot and how much of the restaurant do I want to show? I always bring lights just in case the ambient lighting is no good. However, I try to use as much natural light as possible, so I am always looking for window lighting. Another important tip is food styling. The way the cook or chef brings out a dish is usually unshootable. You have to take the dish and reorganize everything on it. I typically tell the chef to bring me his dish of choice, along with a second dish with all the components on it. I reorganize the dish to be true to the original, using the greenest lettuce, nice looking tomatoes and the best parts of the bread, etc.

Did you change up your shooting style from last year or the year before?
In this business, you always need to improve upon your work and stay fresh, so yes. Hopefully I get better every year, and I do try to change how I approach the shoot, especially in the case of the Best Restaurants issue. You’re always trying to bring a fresh perspective. I definitely did not want this year’s issue to look like last year’s issue.

Any surprises along the way?
Not really. Although sometimes you walk into a place and you find something really fantastic. For example, at Los Hermanos in Superior, there was this great bar area,which I shot. Of course, the best surprise was Ben Mason, our wonderful model and a true Arizona cowboy — he made my day.

What kind of camera did you use?
I shot 95 percent of the issue with my trusty Canon Mark III Ids. It is my oldest digital camera, approaching a million shutter clips, and soon to be retired for the Canon 1ds. My lens — the Canon 24-105 f/4 — is one of the two I use for almost everything I shoot.

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