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Sam Wells

Photographer/Cinemtographer

Location: San Diego, CA
Company: Sam Wells Photography
Profession: Photographer and Cinemtographer
Years in the industry: 11
Notable clients you’ve worked for: Chef’s RollSan Diego Magazine, Souplantation, MiresBall, Competitor Group (Got Chocolate Milk, New Balance, Saucony, Dunkin’ Doughnuts)

Sam Wells is a San Diego based visual storyteller who is devoted to telling your story through still and motion picture photography. Rather than merely shooting food on a plate, Sam’s distinctive style involves using the total environment to establish a well-founded sense of place.  Sam Wells is the owner of Sam Wells Photography and our talented official cinematographer at Chef’s Roll.


What inspired you to pursue this career and what do you love most about it?

I’ve always been fascinated with telling a story visually through photos, and when digital cameras started capturing beautiful video 5 years ago, I was able to tell more through video. It is always such an amazing feeling to have an idea and be able to capture the elements and edit them in a way that fulfills that idea. It’s a lot like solving a puzzle to create an end goal that is complete, concise and tells the story perfectly.

Where did you get your videography education?

I am self taught. I learn a ton from other filmmakers, photographers, and the internet (because everything can be trusted on the internet). I learned by making countless mistakes and never making them again.

What kind of camera and video equipment do you use?

It’s always changing depending on the project. I don’t believe in equipment as the driving force to creativity, but I do use different cameras for different projects because they all have different strengths that work well for that project.

What’s on your equipment wish-list?

I’m getting the new Black Magic Ursa mini when it comes out. A RED would be nice.

What is keeping you busy and engaged these days?

I’m shooting a ton of food for restaurants and magazines. I’m always shooting my travels. I’m working on a top secret project that will be revealed in the coming months when it is complete. 

What food driven magazines, books, videos do you watch, read and draw your inspiration from?

I’m addicted to instagram, so I follow a ton of chef’s, food critics, wine makers, bread bakers, and magazines. I love to read Saveur and Food & Wine. I’m watching a few channels on youtube that are interesting -one is called Ask a Winemaker. The series on Netflix called Chef’s Table blew my mind, and now I’m craving more episodes.

What would you say your signature style is? What makes you unique?

I love natural and neutral tones, so I try not to use lighting that distracts by making the subject look unnatural. I developed my style by trying to create a scene that looks natural and tells a story about that place. I want my images to have a sense of place, so I let the environment take precedence.

What is your office and work environment like?

I work out of my spare room at my house. I keep it simple so I can cook everyday and garden on breaks.

What is your creative process?

I start by asking myself or the client what the end goal is down to the last detail. Then I think about all the opportunities and limitations that might be involved with the shoot. A lot of times the limitations drive me to solve problems in a unique way and drive the creative process. If everything was perfect for every shoot, the end result would probably not be as interesting as a shoot that has several obstacles to overcome. I love problem solving, so I’m always thinking “what if we…”. Then once I figure out all the pieces to the puzzle, I try my best to capture all the elements. Like always, new opportunities or limitations occur during the filming process, so it’s my job to make it work with the story.

Is it hard to balance your clients’ vision with yours?

Some clients are fantastic and let you be creative because they trust you and have confidence in your vision. It’s my job to make the clients vision come to life and tell the story they want to tell, so collaborating on ideas is always fun and I enjoy brainstorming to create something unique and interesting.

What is your favorite project to date and who was it for? Why did this experience stand out from the rest?

I did a shoot for Competitor Magazine of Manny Huerta training for the 2012 Olympics down in Costa Rica. We stayed on a training camp and strawberry farm high on Volcano Irazu where he trained at altitude with Olympians from all over South America. I learned a lot about the local diet from the athletes, and one of their mom’s was there cooking every meal for us. It was such an unfiltered look into the lives of the local people. 

Do you travel for your job?

I used to travel a lot for my job, but I’m trying to stay local as much as possible. I love shooting in San Diego.

What gets a videographer excited at a food video-shoot?

I love the art of plating and the culture that surrounds the food. If a chef is creative and shows me something I’ve never seen before, I can’t stop shooting.

How long does it typically take for you for shoot, edit, and finalize a video?

It depends on the complexity of the project.

If you could shoot for anyone in the world, who would it be for and why?

I will shoot for anyone doing anything creative no matter how famous they are. If they have an epic story, I want to tell it.

How did you find Chef’s Roll and what urged you to join?

I did a video for my chef friend Mikel Anthony, and he knew the people at Chef’s Roll and the rest is history.

What are your career goals? Life goals?

Keep shooting and never stop learning and being creative. I don’t care about money or fame – I just want to create.

What is your “best case scenario” ?

Finding the ultimate story and capturing it. I had one of those moments in Argentina back in 2011. We were fishing on a remote lake way out in the middle of nowhere in Patagonia in some of the harshest weather I’ve ever experienced, and we met an elderly couple – who were the only two people we saw out there – camping near us. We quickly became friends, they invited us into their walk-in tent, and they cooked for us. One day they went to buy meat from a local gaucho because the nearest town was 3 hours away on a dirt road. They brought back a leg of lamb and cooked it for us Argentine style over open flames. After sharing a meal together, they told us the gaucho invited us to come drink mate and play music because they told him we played guitar. We went to his humble hand built house, drank tea, and played music by the fire. I had my camera and captured a video of this once in a lifetime experience. The man’s voice filled the room with a thick wall of sound. I know it sounds cliche, but we could actually hear the harshness of the landscape in his voice.

What’s next ?

Whatever comes my way.

Learn more about Photographer and Cinematographer Sam Wells on his Chef’s Roll Industry Profile.
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