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Community Spotlight – Ranji Thangiah, Food Photographer

Ranji Thangiah is a London based food photographer, who specialises in editorial, lifestyle and restaurant photography. Her journey into food photography started with her Sri Lankan food blog, Tooting Mama. The blog reflects her Sri Lankan heritage and culture shared through recipes and stories.

We spoke to her about her typical day as a food photographer, her career highlights and how she stays motivated.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I’ve had a food blog for a while called Tooting Mama. It started off as a parenting blog then moved into food and I started to write about Sri Lankan food and recipes. That’s when I got into the food photography side of things, because when you’re writing recipes you need to have good food photography to go with it. That’s kind of the journey I’ve been on since. I still do the recipe writing but now the food photography has almost taken over, that’s now my job. So I work with clients, whether their restaurants, businesses, brands, that’s what I do. I also do recipe development, with a package of photography that goes with it. I’ve worked with brands to create unique recipes for them.


I do visual stories where I’ve created a portfolio of images that create a story with images, beginning to end. Maybe for an event, I went to the Tamil Prince just before they opened. I spent a day there just doing interior shots of them setting up their food, in the kitchen. I’ve visited a small bakery near me when I needed to go at 4 in the morning to see then sourdough going into the mixer then the oven. He does croissants, he does these amazing sausage rolls. When you are a customer you just see the front end. You don’t see that he has been up since 4 am preparing and baking the bread, and he’s still there at 6 pm.

That’s what I really enjoy, is getting under the skin of what that looks like and what that story is. There’s a huge variety in food to showcase. It’s great to get into a restaurant and meet the chefs, the cooks, and their waiting staff. The whole operation that goes on to deliver the food to the customer.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It would vary because I probably shoot 2-3 days a week, so that’s kind of the physical work. Then there’s the admin work, there’s a lot of research, pitching to brands. I’m often going on LinkedIn looking for marketing and branding people, looking for companies that I want to work with. Putting together a media pack for them with my shots, writing the emails, following them up.

That’s a big part of the work, which is outreach. By the time someone responds, it’s quite a long time before you actually get the products and do the shoot. I spend a lot of time looking at the proactive marketing side of my business. Doing my own work, when there’s a bit of down time I’ll do my own personal creative works. To keep myself and my ideas fresh and showcasing what I can do. The more creative side of my work I can then put on Instagram and on my website as well as the professional stuff I do for brands and companies.


For a creative project, I might want to work with a certain colour, food or dish and present it in a certain way. I have all the freedom and control over that. Then I can execute that in whichever way. It might be that I’ve decided to do cocktails that week or drinks, because I want to show how the light bounces off the liquid, the splash, that sort of thing. When you work with a brand, they will have very strict guidelines of how it will look and be presented. It may not be as creative as maybe you’d want it to be but you’re working for that client. You have to deliver the brief within that and give them what they’ve wanted. That’s often for their social media and their website. Sometimes it’s for print but mostly it’s digital work that is involved in that.

What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

I’d say I’m still newish professionally into the business, so I think getting a client is always good and going to a new place. Definitely going somewhere like the Tamil Prince was great. I got in there just before they opened and now they’re doing amazing. They’ve had such great reviews from really high profile magazines and newspapers. And also they are showcasing South Indian food. They’re a pub in Islington and they’ve got a south Indian chef in the kitchen who’s doing this amazing food. It’s great to see that and how that is being portrayed and that’s really brilliant. That’s where I am, being able to showcase whether it’s Sri Lankan food or Indian food and bring my profile up.

How do you stay motivated?

When you’re in a creative career, someone said to me is that you’re going to receive more nos then you are yeses. Understanding that it’s not you, but sometimes it can be hard when someone decides not to go with you and go with someone else. You just can’t really dwell on that. I think having the personal work really helps, being able to outreach and work with a brand, or company or a person, and do the really creative work. That reminds me why I am there and why I’m doing it. Every no your closer to a yes.

I’m also part of a network of photographers. I think having those communities really help, because you realise it’s the same for everybody, not just you. It’s quite a solitary business, you’re mostly on your own. Sometimes you work with a team or a stylist, but more often than not it’s just you and the food. Being able to engage with other photographers makes you realise that everybody goes through the same thing. That really helps.

When you’re doing the more creative side, do you have a process?

Sometimes I’ll have a nugget of an idea. I’ll sketch it out and have a think about what colours and textures I want in there. Sometimes I’ll just cook a plate of food or a salad and just use it to practise styling and come up with a different look, something original. It sort of depends.

I belong to another group called TwoPhotographers and they set monthly assignments and that really helps because they’re quite broad. Sometimes I’ll interpret them through food, or something else. That kind of gives you a structure and a point to hang that off, and then explore through that. It’ll be a bit of research, looking through magazines, and reading. Trying to come up with an idea to get creative and then being able to bring that to life.

The future of hospitality is…

Thriving! Definitely in the UK, it’s thriving and growing and it’s getting more diverse, which is brilliant to see. I’m in Italy at the moment and where I am, there’s one Chinese restaurant and everything else is Italian. I’ve lived in France and it’s a similar sort of thing. At home I live in Tooting, and there’s Japanese, Argentinian, Polish, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and that’s just in my community. In that sense we’re lucky that our food culture is so diverse and rich. Even, say, Asian cuisine, it’s becoming much more regional and people are becoming much more educated. You’ll get restaurants that are just from Calcutta, or doing Indo-Chinese, or Sri Lanka as well as Afghani and Pakistani.

If I had to sum it up, I’d say the future of hospitality is rich and diverse. I think in the UK people are really interested. They want to try food and new flavours and learn more about the culture. Food is great because it brings people together, it unites and you learn about the different cultures through food.

See more of Ranji’s work on her Instagram.

Read more interviews here.


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