At the age of 42, Donna Crous, a devoted mother-of-two wanted to redefine herself.
Terrified at the prospect of turning her passion into a career, she took the leap. Now a Pink Lady Food Photographer regular, her mouthwatering imagery is featured in magazines and cookery books across the world. Her own recipe book is due to be published in late 2021.
How are you feeling about becoming a Nikon Ambassador?
I’m absolutely thrilled. When I started this journey, I never in a million years imagined that I would be a Nikon Ambassador, and so the fact that it has happened is incredible for me. I still have to pinch myself to actually believe that it’s even happening. To be aligned with Nikon, as a photographer, is such a huge honour. Plus the fact that Nikon have recognised food photography is very exciting for us food photographers.
Why did you choose to shoot with Nikon?
My husband, Derek, is a camera guy and his dad had used Nikon too. It was Derek who encouraged and inspired me to pick up the camera and pursue my passion for food photography. Nikon has always been a part of our family.
How do you share your passion as a family?
Growing up in South Africa, I had access to the game reserves and really beautiful wildlife. Derek’s father was a keen wildlife photographer, and from a very young age, he also grew up going to the game reserve photographing wildlife. We’ve always shared this passion. Derek encouraged me to transfer my creative flair to photography and bought me a gift in the form of a course for an introduction to photography at the Cape Town School of Photography where I learned to shoot on manual.
This love for photography has now overflowed onto my daughter Gemma. She has the same flair for creativity and a strong eye for a good shot. It’s great because she has learned instinctively from being involved in my workshops, and working and assisting me.
What would you say is your biggest career achievement to this day?
I would say it would be redefining myself at the age of 42. In my twenties, I worked for an investment bank but then I fell pregnant with Gemma and then later with Kyra I decided to stay home with them for a short period, which became 20 years. During my time at home, I had started a number of small businesses - all on the creative side which I feel gave me a really great foundation for the styling element of my photography. I also studied art for 10 years with art teachers around Cape Town, which again taught me a good understanding of light and composition. Once my girls had grown up, I wanted to do something for myself. It was terrifying - I didn’t feel that I had any skills that I could make a career out of. To be able to turn a creative passion into a career in photography was life changing for me.
What would your advice be to any aspiring food photographer?
Don’t stress about Instagram numbers. Instagram does not define you as a photographer. So many people judge you on how many followers you have and how many likes you get.
Find inspirational photographers that you admire, break down their work, study their work and analyse it as much as you possibly can, reach out to them and ask questions, enquire about shadowing or assisting.
Stay focused on your niche, as a photographer you will be asked to shoot all kinds of things, from friend's wedding to children's birthday parties. Whilst these are great opportunities to learn different areas of photography, if anything goes wrong it can rattle confidence. Stay true to your niche and try to master it as best as possible.
Does styling come from instinct or is this learnable?
I think there is an element of instinctive ‘gut-feel’ when you’re placing things, and then there are a couple of technical rules that you can follow to create an effective composition for a picture. As with other areas of photography, the rule of thirds apply, placing items in odd numbers, triangles (that can be both bowl placement and dishing into a bowl) and negative space.
What’s on the cards for the future?
My cookery book is my next big step I’m working on at the moment. It's called a Healthier Family for Life and hopefully if all goes well, it should be completed by the end of this year.
I’ve been approached by a friend to write another book, so it could be on the cards for next year. Over the last few months, I've been looking into creating a digital platform to teach food photography. Being housebound during lockdown, I realised there is a big demand for online learning platforms and I love teaching.
If things ease up around travel restrictions, I’m planning an amazing four day food photography retreat in France next year. In addition to learning about food photography, delegates will also paint their own beautiful backdrops and create their own dishes for their setups. We’ll also be paying a visit to local villages for prop and ingredient shopping.