Diana Biruk is a food and still-life photographer with over 10 years of industry experience. The Belarus-native relocated to New York City more than a decade ago, after which she began to work as a waitress, even though she had a trained background in journalism. Diana’s time spent working in restaurants eventually merged with her love for storytelling: “I always found the stories of people who work in restaurants to be quite fascinating, and I wanted to tell them. Now, me taking photos of food and chefs all around New York is kind of my way of doing that.”
We spoke to Diana about her journey from journalist, to waitress, to food and still-life photographer. Here, she shares advice about finding success with professional photography assignments and personal passion projects—particularly during the pandemic.
Tell us about your current work. How would you describe your photography focus?
“I’m currently working mostly as a food photographer. I shoot for restaurants, whether it’s a menu shoot or a lifestyle shoot. I have a personal project that I started where I’m focusing on taking environmental portraits of chefs, line cooks, and other people in restaurant kitchens. People in the restaurant community were kind of the first ones to have my back when I first came [to this country], so this [project] is kind of my way of paying it back to them. I received support from the restaurant community when I wasn’t even a food photographer, so now I want to tell their stories and share how their lives have transformed through COVID.”
What was your day-to-day approach as a freelance photographer before the pandemic?
“Pre-pandemic, I was working with a few agencies that were giving me assignments. I also had a core clientele base that I’d work with consistently as well. On a typical day as a food photographer, I’d usually be busy shooting; depending on the assignment, it would be in a studio, at a restaurant, or on location. Then, I’d come home, edit at my ‘home office,’ and check my emails to make sure I had my assignments set for the next day or week.”
In contrast, what is your daily life like as a freelance photographer now?
“During COVID, the typical photoshoot situation changed a bit. We had to adapt and do things a little bit differently in order to follow all of the proper guidelines. That means there’d be fewer people on set, and we’d need to maintain social distance. Some of the clients would also just send me their products with directions so I could carry out the shoot at home.”
Tell us about your at-home set up.
“I live in a tiny studio apartment in the West Village, so my dining table is used for all purposes—shooting images, editing on my computer, and eating meals. If I have to shoot still-life images for an assignment, I put up a backdrop behind the dining table and set up my lighting around it. The apartment turns into a mess right away, but what can you do?”
Which tools have been most important to helping you navigate the industry during the pandemic? How specifically have they helped?
“After lockdown, OCUS was one of the first partners who resumed work once it was safe to do so. It was extremely helpful to be working with them when I started to pick up assignments, because I can pick up work when it’s convenient for me and there are always choices. Plus, the guidelines are easy to follow. In New York City, we were out of jobs in March—within a few days my whole calendar cleared, and all the photoshoots were canceled. So when OCUS reached out to shoot with UberEats last summer, I was most grateful. Through my assignments for Uber Eats, I got to (hopefully) help small restaurants be more present online and get more orders. This is another part of the job that is important to me.”
What advice do you have for freelance photographers navigating the industry right now?
“My advice to freelance photographers right now is try to stay humble, try to help people, and try to put others first. We’re all going through hard times during the pandemic—the clients and the creatives. If we keep our relationships kind and understanding, I think we all can win.”
Diana Biruk’s portfolio: collectiveelementsbydb.com
Written by: Sarah Buder – Editor