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Food, As I See It

by John Cumming

Quail with pumpkin risotto Sausage pizza Broiled cod with shrimp and lentils Cinnamon bread sticks

Bacon wrapped scallops Broiled lobster on sugarcane skewers Caviar with shrimp, oysters and lobster Grilled filet mignon with vegetable bundle

Lobster tail with rice and asparagus Honey-glazed ham and Swiss. Crab spring rolls Jumbo shrimp cocktail

John Cumming is the owner of Barking Dog Studios in Madison Heights, Michigan. He has been conducting quality commercial photography there since 1992 and is particularly recognized for his food, architectural and product photography.

A graduate in 1983 of Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts, Communications, John specializes in photography for advertising and marketing, along with retouching and printing services.

His food photography illustrates his particular mastery of composition, lighting and an understanding of what it takes to make a dish look appetizing and attractive.

John was an accomplished photographer, working for a large corporation, when he and his dog, Spike, relocated to Michigan. It was a big leap, a move into a different environment when he seized the opportunity to open his own studio to get away from the 9 to 5 work philosophy that left little time for individual creativity. He had no freelance or agency contacts and, in a business sense, was starting over from scratch. A first step was to create a name. Inspired by Spike, he came up with “Barking Dog Studios,” a name that has since earned recognition for quality photography and great service.

It is always interesting to know how a top commercial photographer became attracted to the field. In John’s case, it was an episode of “The Brady Bunch” TV series that drew him in while a Grade 6 student. Peter Brady, sitting out a football game due to an injury, took pictures and made his own enlargements. Young John’s eyes lit up. “I thought it would be pretty cool to have a darkroom,” he says. Using a Minolta twin lens reflex camera borrowed from his father, he discovered the fun of photography. He was thrilled when he found an enlarger under the Christmas tree that year and when his dad helped him to build a black-and-white darkroom in the basement of the family home. His darkroom experience led to a part-time job with the photographer who owned the store where his Dad purchased the enlarger. John was hooked.

He became intrigued with the art of photography. “I was particularly interested in lighting, and how it could make a simple subject look amazing,” says John. He burrowed into books on lighting technique and art history. “That is what really taught me about working with texture and dimension (lighting) on a two dimensional canvas,” says John. He learned the elements of good composition, and to see what was in front of the camera as a flat canvas to which he could add elements to create a sense of depth. “I learned how to provide an interesting path for the viewer’s eye to follow,” says John, “and most importantly, to get viewers to look where I want them to.”

He moved smoothly from film to the digital world and enjoys doing all his own digital darkroom work on a computer. “I think it still is important to get the shot you want in the original capture,” says John, “but you can do so much more digitally then was ever possible on film. It’s very exciting to see an image come together.”

John and a fellow artist now share a small, tabletop studio and a fine art print studio, a far cry from the large commercial automotive studio in which he once worked. “When I need larger space, I rent it at several local studios,” he says.

He photographs more than food subjects, ranging from architecture to people and a variety of products. “My principal cameras are a Mamiya 645D and a Rollei view camera, both with a Phase 1 p 40 digital back," he says. John chose that back because of its superb resolution and processing software. “These large cameras are not as mobile or as fast as a dSLR,” he says, “but most of my work is staged and the quality doesn’t compare.”

John’s work has been published in ads in national and regional publications as well as brochures, annual reports, posters and product packaging. “I am focusing a little more on my fine art work,” he says. “I have sold several pieces in galleries around Michigan, but am hoping to expand beyond that in the next few years.”

Has he any regrets about going out on his own? “None at all,” he says. “I finally realized that you have to create the time to create, or you’ll never do anything.”

Visit John's Barking Dog Studios website at

Photographer John Cumming.
Photographer John Cumming.

John at work in his studio.

John at work in his studio.

An example of John's architectural photography.

An example of John's architectural photography.

An attractive, well-lit composition that conveys the excitement of success in a casino.

An attractive, well-lit composition that conveys the excitement of success in a casino.

A dramatic, moody image that captures the viewer's attention.

A dramatic, moody image that captures the viewer's attention.

A creative image commissioned by Comerica Bank for an ad campaign in Texas.

A creative image commissioned by Comerica Bank for an ad campaign in Texas.