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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Jackie’s Happy Plate: Tucson Food Photographer Blogs and Cooks

Mar 01, 2016 05:25PM ● By Suzie Agrillo

Jackie Alpers is an award-winning food photographer who writes, cooks and styles recipes in her northeast-side Tucson studio. Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, she was always interested in food. One of her favorite photographers and biggest influence is Irving Penn, a Vogue magazine photographer known for his attention to detail.

Alpers majored in photography and illustration at the Columbus College of Art and Design. She evolved into her current career—creating food photo magic. “Madden Publications hired me to do a photo shoot of bakeries in Phoenix. I really loved the color and graphic design of food. It just sits there and doesn’t move. It’s easy to rearrange and manipulate,” she observes.

Remaining completely true to herself, Alpers wants her food photos to have an emotional appeal and connection, such as hunger, happiness or pleasure. “The word ‘healthy’ should not be used for describing food, because it cannot be quantified. The word ‘nutritious’ is a more accurate description, because it can be quantified,” she notes.

For her health, Alpers avoids sugar and keeps carbs to a minimum, but confesses to a weakness for pizza. “I’m a sucker for pizza. I’ll eat pizza even when I know I shouldn’t,” she admits. She also has a penchant for good hot dogs and Mexican food. Her favorite drink is red wine, and her favorite cocktail is a Bloody Mary. “It used to be margaritas, but one margarita has 600 calories,” she laments. To keep her weight stable she exercises three to five days a week, primarily hill walking.

Alpers does a lot of research about food photography on the Internet, including Pinterest, and subscribes to food magazines to keep up with the trends. She has tips for amateur food photographers, the most important being “practice”. “It is essential to look at what you’re photographing and to pay attention to composition. Don’t get too close. Try and make sure things are in focus,” she advises. “Don’t be afraid to zoom in or zoom out. Shooting from above is often the right angle.”

Tucson is now being recognized as a foodie mecca, with its diversity of cultural and variety of cuisines. “Tucson is the first city in the United States to be recognized for its gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. I’m happy to see Tucson getting the attention it deserves. I incorporate Tucson cuisine into the recipes I develop,” she comments.

The author of a book, Sprinkles!: Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts, Alpers concedes, “The book is a sugar rush. Let’s face it, everyone is going to eat a piece of cake at one time in their lives.” She adds, “It was written to teach people about creativity. People don’t have many opportunities to be creative, and creativity in the kitchen is an easy way for people to express themselves.” Alpers describes her book as a how-to book that “teaches you how to know your sprinkles, and gives tips for using them in recipes, like learning how to paint.”

Married to a filmmaker, this charismatic gourmet revealed that she is not the only cook in the house. “My husband makes me breakfast every day,” she says. While food photography is Alpers’ vocation and her assignments have mushroomed, in her spare time, she volunteers as an ambassador for Shared Hope, a nonprofit organization that assists victims of human trafficking.

Food photography is an element of Alpers’ identity, which she uses to make people happy. Her blog has mouth-watering photographs of sumptuous food, and is aptly named “Jackie’s Happy Plate”. So, take a trip off the egg-beaten path, follow Alpers’ culinary adventures on her blog and experience the original recipes through her creative lens.

Sprinkles!: Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts is available through Connect with Alpers at or

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. She focuses on the arts, inspirational people and the human connection.