On one of her first photo shoots for a major brand, Felicia Perry-Trujillo stood in a refrigerated warehouse alone, facing racks of fresh caught fish she had no idea how to photograph. But in that cold room, under the light of a single bulb, she made magic with the simple beauty of a red snapper against a black background.
“I was so terrified that first shoot,” she says. “But at that moment…it was just life-changing for me. I felt like I grew up at that moment. I was like, ‘Just stop. You know what you’re doing.’”
Perry-Trujillo, 39, grew up in Los Angeles as her family’s designated photographer. She attended Pepperdine University, majored in history, and enrolled at her alma mater for her MBA. Her now-husband Max gave her a camera as a gift, which she turned from a hobby to a career during her job hunt. During her yearlong job search she booked 40 weddings.
After 10 years photographing weddings and events in Los Angeles, she moved to the Triangle and shifted her lens to her true passion—food.
How did Food Seen, your food photography and visual branding company, come about?
When we moved out here to Raleigh three years ago, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. In the meantime, the restaurant that Max was managing [Midtown Grille] had various needs: they needed photos of their dishes, they needed event photography, they needed a new website, they needed social media presence, and they needed some updated print ads. Once I started pushing out all these images…the food community noticed, and I started getting calls. I took that four-pronged model of photography, social media, website design and graphic design and created a business.
It seems like a great time to be doing such a visual thing for a living.
I’m a very visual person. My company is based upon visual content and personality building. There is such an appreciation for visual content now—more than ever—but so many businesses will rely on their iPhones and think it’s good enough. If you’re a chef in a restaurant and your phone is kind of greasy or you’re taking photos in a bad light and then pushing it out on social media…you never want to do that, no matter how good of a chef you are!
What would you say are the best parts of your job?
The flexibility, which I say loosely. I probably work like 60 hours a week, but in many respects I can dictate what those 60 hours are going to look like, and if I want to take a random Tuesday off. I love photography, and it’s so fulfilling, but I also love the networking aspect of, not only social media, but going out to events and meeting people. I love that it’s different every day. It’s not structured at all, so I rely on my kids’ schedule to keep me balanced…it’s everchanging, and I never know what my next project will be.
What does it take to be successful in your job?
The only thing that’s always going to set me apart no matter what is me, so it’s really important for me to be true to myself, to be a pleasant member of this community and to be authentic and personable. That’s really important to me.
There is so much information at our fingertips and you can Google anything you need… When presented with this list of a thousand people who do these services, how do you whittle it down?
It really comes down to picking up the phone and saying, ‘Who do you recommend?’ When you create these relationships and you’re on the forefront of a person’s mind, they’re going to recommend you because they trust you.
You mentioned that when you were a kid, you were really into art. Is that what you envisioned yourself doing when you were little?
I’m creative and artistic, but I’m also very, very practical. Like, methodical and there’s a side of me that likes math and science. So as much as I was always really artistic, I didn’t think it was practical to become an artist… so I wanted to be a businessperson. I didn’t know what that meant, really, I just knew that I wanted to be kind of bossy and in charge and so that’s why I got my MBA.
What are some of the challenges in your work?
Because I don’t shoot with studio lights and I shoot with natural lighting, timing is of the essence. I have a finite amount of time. It goes back to so many years of shooting weddings where the bride and groom kiss and that’s it. You can’t go, “Oh wait, can you go back and do that again?”
What is your favorite thing that you’ve photographed?
It changes all the time. I never thought I would love photographing a dead fish…but I really loved it. But when I have a dish prepared by a high-level chef, it’s so much art in itself. But when I have a dish prepared by a high-level chef, it’s so much art in itself. I have to capture somebody else’s art and that’s super cool. In addition to shooting a lot of food, I shoot a lot of tableware. I like [photographing] forks and knives—not so much the spoons. I hate spoons. They are this round, reflective, concave thing. If I’m standing over a table setting and photographing a spoon, it’s x-rated—I can’t wear shorts. It basically photographs everything in the entire room.
Would you say that you’re basically a modern-day still life painter?
Yeah, kind of! You have this bowl of fruit and then you add the dramatic lighting and use brushstrokes and you’re like, ‘Wow. That pear is super fancy.’ I never thought a knife and a fork could be so sexy. I like having this dramatic lighting or a napkin with all these smooth textures underneath to complement the pointy tines and the blade.