On the Job

An appetite for the visually striking

Andy Ryan set up a photo at Upstairs on the Square in Cambridge. Other clients have included The Cheesecake Factory and Food and Wine magazine.
Josh Reynolds For the Boston Globe
Andy Ryan set up a photo at Upstairs on the Square in Cambridge. Other clients have included The Cheesecake Factory and Food and Wine magazine.

When is a slice of cheesecake a complicated still-life composition of color, form, and texture? When it’s shot by food photographer Andy Ryan, who says a photo of cheesecake should evoke the same lip-smacking response as if you had a slice in front of you.

Ryan, 48, who works out of Lexington and New York, has shot photos of sizzling burgers, frosty grapes, high-end wines, and restaurant interiors for clients such as The Cheesecake Factory, Starbucks, and Food and Wine magazine. Ryan got started on his career path at age 5, when he won a local art competition with a photo taken with the family Instamatic.

How many photos do you typically shoot before getting the “right one”?

There are times when nothing is working, but this is what makes a good photographer. Anyone can get a good photo, but can you do it every time, in any condition? That is what makes a professional.

What’s the most challenging photo shoot you’ve been on?


It was in Korea, and the location was 120 feet underground in a Jules Verne-type cavern that was being excavated for a subway line extension. Water was cascading everywhere, and I had only a few minutes to set up my lights before the Korean official and his entourage showed up. I got 10 shots, then went back to the airport and flew back home.

What’s the weight of the equipment you generally take with you?

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My camera bag weighs about 45 to 50 pounds. I have a tripod, which is another 7 to 8 pounds, as well as a 10-pound computer, cables, and hard drive, a 30-pound bag for lighting stands, umbrellas, gels, and other gear, and two 80-pound bags of power packs and lights.

What tricks do you use, if, for example, you need to take photos of ice cream before it melts?

There are all manner of tricks, such as using lard instead of ice cream. When I shoot ice cream or ice cream cakes, I shoot the real thing. It’s extremely challenging, because the “nose” of the cake melts before the heel of the cake has even lost its frost. I work with dry ice to isolate that front end so it stays cold while the heel thaws.

Who are your favorite photographers?

I like Frank Capra, a Sicilian-born film director, and Berenice Abbott, an American photographer best known for her black-and-white photography. Boston College professor Charlie Meyer, a photographer and filmmaker, is my mentor.

Do you take photos with your smartphone?

I do. I love to use the Photogram app, which turns mobile photos into digital postcards.

Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at