If you live in Columbus, or if you just love ice cream, you’re probably familiar with Kelsey McClellan‘s photography. Kelsey creates all the imagery for Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams‘ marketing materials, and her work verges on pop-art perfection, capturing the flavorful explosion of the Columbus confectionery with high-contrast lighting and rich, vibrant colors. We asked this surprisingly young photographer (surprising because her work ethic and photographic maturity are above and beyond a person of her age) about her life as a photographer and the challenges and rewards of photographing ice cream for a living.
When did you start getting into photography? What inspired you to pick up a camera?
I first became interested in photography when I was about 14. I have the pretty typical story of “my dad gave me his old film camera,” an Olympus OM-1. I was really interested in shooting long exposures at night in my neighborhood. The colors would turn out amazing! I was very meticulous about keeping track of my exposure times and settings when I shot, so when I would get the film back I would know how I exposed each frame, what the aperture setting did to the shape of the light, etc. It was all very fascinating to me at the time. I started going to a local camera store after school and would sit and read all the photography books they had. Eventually the manager asked me how old I was, and when I told him I was 14 he told me to come back in two years and he would give me a job. I did, and ended up working there for the rest of high school and my first two years of college.
So I’m assuming you majored in photography? Judging from the above photos, you already seemed to have an instinct for photography. Why did you decide to study photography? How do you think studying photography in college impacted your photography?
I hadn’t completely decided if I wanted to major in Photography or Fine Arts when I first started school at the Columbus College of Art & Design. By the end of freshman year, though, I felt that Fine Arts was a little too isolated for me— I love collaborating with other creatives and photography had more opportunity for that. CCAD impacted my photography in many ways. I really enjoyed learning to use all the studio equipment which was very intimidating to me before, but I didn’t want to become dependent on all those resources since I knew I wouldn’t have them after graduation. Now I feel like I have a good balance of being able to get the results I want with very minimal equipment.
You got the job as the Jeni’s photographer pretty much right after graduation, right? Did you know that you wanted to do this kind of commercial work after college?
I did. I was interning here for a chunk of my senior year and eventually was taking on so many projects that I was brought on full-time. I have always wanted to shoot either commercially or editorially. I focused on food my senior year because I was really into baking at the time (I lived in a crappy house on north campus that had no heat – so always using the oven was great) and it was fun to then style and shoot what I made.
What does a “normal” day at Jeni’s look like for you, in terms of the work that you do?
A normal day at Jeni’s can look a number of different ways — I hardly ever go a day without shooting. Sometimes I’m shooting the process of making a new flavor in Jeni’s kitchen, or driving to Hirsch Fruit Farm to shoot ingredients. There are also days where I only shoot at the studio in the office, shooting pints and spoons for the website product pages. I try to get everything edited within a few days following, so our digital marketing and art and design team can use the images for designs or social media posts. I also try to make time each week for concepting imagery for upcoming campaigns or shop decor.
Tell me about photographing ice cream. Jeni’s marketing materials are, in my mind, some of the best in Columbus, if not the entire country. Obviously part of that is due to the awesome design team there, but your photographs somehow make Jeni’s Ice Cream even more delicious-looking than it already is. Your photos have a very distinct style. I want to ask you about the gear you use, but I’m also interested in how you prepare for a shoot in terms of styling the ice cream. How do you know when a photo looks “right”?
Thank you! We do have an amazing team. Shooting the best ice cream in America might make me a cheat, though.
Preparing for a shoot often involves a bit of waiting — I’m usually scooping the ice cream from pints that have been in a deep-freezer, so it can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes to stage the ice cream to a point where it is scoop-able. I always get my shot ready before or during that waiting time, and usually wear an apron and have plenty of rags nearby. When I do start shooting there is really only a 5-10 minute window to get the perfect shot. The ice cream can’t be too cold or it will look to hard and icy, and it obviously can’t melt too much. Jeni always emphasizes to me that it is the moment right before it melts, when it is about to fall apart, that it is the most beautiful. So that is what I always go for when shooting: I look for when it is the most vulnerable, in a way, so you feel like you just have to lick it to save it.
With all the work you do for Jeni’s, do you still take photographs in your free time? What are your subjects?
I do – Not as often as I would like to, though.
I still do some freelance work which can keep me busy on the weekends, but if I’m shooting for myself for fun I use an Olympus XA or Stylus. I hate carrying around my Canon if I don’t have to! I love gardening and plants, so I take a lot of pictures of beautiful plants I see while walking around and then try to identify them later using field guides – they aren’t the most meaningful photographs, of course, but it’s just something I enjoy doing. I love to paint with gouache in my free time as well.
What’s your favorite Jeni’s flavor?
Check out the Jeni’s website for more delicious ice cream photography! And order yourself a pint while you’re at it. You won’t regret it.