• Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

pastameshugana

The Food Photography Topic

101 posts in this topic

Last night I was in the back yard with my new toy (Canon EOS 70D) taking long exposure pictures of the night sky, and I began thinking about photography and its role in modern food media.

For many of us, food is art. Wether we are creating it ourselves, our salivating at the artistry a chef places before us, or a fellow eGulleteer posts, we are all here because we've learned to appreciate the art that is food.

Of course, the origin of food art must be linked to ingrained knowledge of what each individual believes tastes good, or what we imagine will. To look at a picture of a wet oyster is, to many, to crave. Yet objectively, it's merely slimy white stuff in a shell!

Here at eGullet, we've all waded through many threads, packed with stunning food photography, but I would like to take a fresh look at food photography as art. It seems that the great majority of food photography these days falls into two categories: illustrative and informative.

Illustrative food photography says 'here is what I ate and/or cooked," and is what most of us are producing when we post pictures online. Informative, or educational photography tells a simple story like, "this is how you make this, or where this ingredient came from," and is likely the category that much of the amazing MC@Home photography falls into.

Of course, an illustrative photograph of an artistic dish is artful, but it's the dish, not the photograph that is art. The photographer merely catalogued what was already present.

I think there is a third category that food photographers tend to shy away from, and that is interpretive art. My photography teacher told me that there's a difference between 'taking' and 'making' pictures. The great artists of any generation or medium are usually interpretive. A master painter doesn't strive for perfect photorealism, but strives to interpret the scene according to the vision in his mind. Isn't this what the greatest chefs accomplish? We revere men like Keller and Achatz not for their note-perfect replication of timeless classics, but for their artistic re-interpretation of them.

I am starting this thread because I am sure there must be others who, like me, would love to see what art we can make of food photography.

Let's create an up to date repository of answered questions on food photography. Tips and suggestions for achieving certain looks or results.

But more than that, if there is a community anywhere that could redefine food art as interpreted by photography, we are it. In our midst are some mind-bendingly talented chefs and creative home cooks. There are people from every continent and people group, and there is a wealth of photographic ability represented in our membership.

What is your perspective on food photography as art?

1 person likes this

PastaMeshugana

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd."

"What's hunger got to do with anything?" - My Father

My eG Food Blog (2011)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe there are people doing interesting stuff in this direction. However, it doesn't tend to end on the internet where it can be er, "borrowed". It appears in galleries and glossy books etc where the artist is less likely to be ripped off.

I don't mind sticking my poor efforts on here and other sites, including my own. As you say, they are meant to be illustrative or informative and I hope sometimes they achieve that.

However, if by some miracle, I accidentally managed to create something truly artistic, I might think twice about posting on the internet. I were trying to make a career or a name for myself as a serious 'artistic' food photographer, I might think a lot more than twice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you are mixing up two entirely unrelated areas of food photography.

There is food art, and there is food photography.

Most great food artists, they are sculptors, they are chefs who can plate incredible dishes, but they are lousy photographers.

Many who can't cook, or plate, but who can understand lighting, depth of field, cropping, etc, and who has an expensive camera to take sexy pictures of lousy food for magazine covers.

dcarch

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Somewhat over cynical. Things aren't so black and white. There is overlap. Yes most of everything is imperfect whether it's photographers or 'chefs'.

It's the few artists which we are talking about, I think. The old masters painted stunning food pictures. Could they cook? I don't care.


Edited by liuzhou (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

dCarch, I'm surprised by your comment, because you create some amazing food art, but you also have great artistic skill in your photography. ;)

I do appreciate the distinction, however. There is certainly a difference between food art and simply beautiful food. Some of your dishes (my favorite being the one in your avatar, which I called the whole family in to see when it was posted) are incredibly artistic. That said, we can't ignore the artistry of the photography. That dish would appear merely interesting in a cheesy cell phone snap.

My intention (or hope) for this thread is that we could explore the art of food photography. The old thread was just that...a little long in the tooth.

Liuzhou, I can appreciate the ideas that may motivate some to withhold art, but I don't know how valid that is these days. It's hard to imagine art outside of classic oil paintings and sculptures that doesn't live in the digital realm. Reference our other thread concerning ebook cookbooks (ecookbooks?). Besides, I'm sure a food artist like dCarch isn't worried about low res photos of their work posted here damaging potential future endeavors.

I think the difficulty lies in the fact that we're often talking about art in a multi-layered medium. There is the food medium to create in, and the photographic medium to capture and interpret.

Yet, I'm curious as to why we've seen so little truly interpretive and evocative food photography? Remember the iconic Obama campaign poster that was little more than a rough impression? Yet that image spoke so much louder than a glossy 8x10. Is there space for food photography to achieve artistic expression like that, or is the fact that the subject matter is destined for our mouth make it off limits?


PastaMeshugana

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd."

"What's hunger got to do with anything?" - My Father

My eG Food Blog (2011)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Over the past few years the plating of dishes has become much more artistic. Tweezer precise. Some, for sure, is simply the evolution of plating. But I wonder how much the abundance of diners toting cameras and taking to the internet has prodded chefs to such artistic presentations.

To dcarch's point on chef photography skills, tis true that many chefs taking to Twitter are not snapping great pictures. If they aren't already, culinary schools should be offering a course on digital food photography.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Once upon a time, I used to shoot my food pictures handheld with available light. Because my most elaborate meals are served in the evening, this inevitably meant low depth of field with most of the food out of focus.

Over the years I have studied the photography in many cookbooks, and found that all of them have nearly the same style: high depth of field with proper exposure, with natural colours and minimal post processing. All of the food is in focus, with maybe the background blurred out. In other words, most food photographers think that pictures are for documentary purposes.

Where the styles do vary is how the props are arranged. Some photographers (especially those who shoot for the magazine Saveur) treat their food as still life subjects, with rustic props and weathered people around to provide context. Other photographers (e.g. in Modernist Cuisine and most other modern cookbooks like Noma and Fat Duck) prefer a clean, minimalist background with everything digitally removed except the food. A photograph from MC looks as if the food is floating on the page, with even the plate digitally removed.

For this reason I have changed my style. I now shoot with a tripod, using my 100mm macro lens on a full frame DSLR, stopped down to f/11 or higher on ISO 100-800 depending on lighting.

1 person likes this

There is no love more sincere than the love of food - George Bernard Shaw

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

...If they aren't already, culinary schools should be offering a course on digital food photography.

Absolutely.

...

Where the styles do vary is how the props are arranged. Some photographers (especially those who shoot for the magazine Saveur) treat their food as still life subjects, with rustic props and weathered people around to provide context. Other photographers (e.g. in Modernist Cuisine and most other modern cookbooks like Noma and Fat Duck) prefer a clean, minimalist background with everything digitally removed except the food. A photograph from MC looks as if the food is floating on the page, with even the plate digitally removed.

For this reason I have changed my style. I now shoot with a tripod, using my 100mm macro lens on a full frame DSLR, stopped down to f/11 or higher on ISO 100-800 depending on lighting.

Have you ever experimented with different 'looks'? Possibly long exposures lit by candlelight, experiments with lighting and post processing, etc?


PastaMeshugana

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd."

"What's hunger got to do with anything?" - My Father

My eG Food Blog (2011)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It will take many years to go to school and practice to be a great food photographer, a ton of money to buy equipment, a lot of room to set up a studio, and a lot of cold food and angry hungry family waiting for you to finish fussing with the food, that's the bad news.

But here is the good news, you can produce very good pictures, even magazine quality pictures with very little investment in any of the above, even all you have is just a cell phone camera.

I have a good single lens camera, not a great expensive camera. Here is basically what I do:

Tips

1 - Don't use the flash.

2 - use a tripod and the camera's self-timer to avoid any vibration, especially if you don't have a lot of light.

3 - Get a daylight CFL bulb, the highest wattage you can get, less than $20.00.

4 - A large kitchen plastic container makes a wonderful light diffusor.

5 - don't fuss with composition, unless you really feel inspired, do the same shots every time.

Every picture I have taken is done this way.

BTW, an un-related tip; try to go as light as possible with your pictures if you intend to print them. A black or very dark background will cost you a fortune in printer ink.

dcarch

A cell phone picture

95668657.jpg


Edited by dcarch (log)
3 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Do you use any sort of photo editing software such as Paint Shop Pro?


Edited by Arey (log)

"A fool", he said, "would have swallowed it". Samuel Johnson

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Do you use any sort of photo editing software such as Paint Shop Pro?

Whatever cheap software to allow me to crop and center the food and to eliminate distracting background. That's why all my photos are perfectly centered and no background.

I think you are beginning to see how lack of creativity in my photos. :raz:

dcarch


Edited by dcarch (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Do you use any sort of photo editing software such as Paint Shop Pro?

Whatever cheap software to allow me to crop and center the food and to eliminate distracting background. That's why all my photos are perfectly centered and no background.

I think you are beginning to see how lack of creativity in my photos. :raz:

dcarch

For me, one of the greatest 'fixers' has been shooting in RAW formats (if you've got a dslr). It gives you lots of options for fixing exposure that you didn't get right in the first place.


PastaMeshugana

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd."

"What's hunger got to do with anything?" - My Father

My eG Food Blog (2011)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It will take many years to go to school and practice to be a great food photographer, a ton of money to buy equipment, a lot of room to set up a studio, and a lot of cold food and angry hungry family waiting for you to finish fussing with the food, that's the bad news.

But here is the good news, you can produce very good pictures, even magazine quality pictures with very little investment in any of the above, even all you have is just a cell phone camera.

I have a good single lens camera, not a great expensive camera. Here is basically what I do:

Tips

1 - Don't use the flash.

2 - use a tripod and the camera's self-timer to avoid any vibration, especially if you don't have a lot of light.

3 - Get a daylight CFL bulb, the highest wattage you can get, less than $20.00.

4 - A large kitchen plastic container makes a wonderful light diffusor.

5 - don't fuss with composition, unless you really feel inspired, do the same shots every time.

Every picture I have taken is done this way.

BTW, an un-related tip; try to go as light as possible with your pictures if you intend to print them. A black or very dark background will cost you a fortune in printer ink.

Could you possibly post a picture of your setup (light, diffusor, etc) the next time you're photographing a dish?


PastaMeshugana

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd."

"What's hunger got to do with anything?" - My Father

My eG Food Blog (2011)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Agree with everything said so far by dcarch and pastameshugana - figured I'd make a contribution for discussion, though I would probably put my photography somewhere closer to the 'documentation' side of things, if only because that's all I really know. I really, honestly, don't know whether there are aspects that would be considered 'artistic' rather than purely photographic documentation.

brats.JPG



2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It will take many years to go to school and practice to be a great food photographer, a ton of money to buy equipment, a lot of room to set up a studio, and a lot of cold food and angry hungry family waiting for you to finish fussing with the food, that's the bad news.

But here is the good news, you can produce very good pictures, even magazine quality pictures with very little investment in any of the above, even all you have is just a cell phone camera.

I have a good single lens camera, not a great expensive camera. Here is basically what I do:

Tips

1 - Don't use the flash.

2 - use a tripod and the camera's self-timer to avoid any vibration, especially if you don't have a lot of light.

3 - Get a daylight CFL bulb, the highest wattage you can get, less than $20.00.

4 - A large kitchen plastic container makes a wonderful light diffusor.

5 - don't fuss with composition, unless you really feel inspired, do the same shots every time.

Every picture I have taken is done this way.

BTW, an un-related tip; try to go as light as possible with your pictures if you intend to print them. A black or very dark background will cost you a fortune in printer ink.

Could you possibly post a picture of your setup (light, diffusor, etc) the next time you're photographing a dish?

My point is, you don't need a "setup" to take excellent pictures.

My "setup"? a single CFL bulb with a kitchen plastic container, a tripod and a camera.

dcarch

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Could you possibly post a picture of your setup (light, diffusor, etc) the next time you're photographing a dish?

My point is, you don't need a "setup" to take excellent pictures.

My "setup"? a single CFL bulb with a kitchen plastic container, a tripod and a camera.

dcarch

I understand the simplicity - I'm just thinking the 'setup' pic would help, because in my minds eye I'm imagining your plastic container somehow taped to the ceiling light fixture in your dining room... I assume you're using a tabletop lamp or ?

It would also probably be very illustrative for a photographic neophyte to see the results of a pic with & without the diffusor if you'd be so inclined.


PastaMeshugana

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd."

"What's hunger got to do with anything?" - My Father

My eG Food Blog (2011)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Could you possibly post a picture of your setup (light, diffusor, etc) the next time you're photographing a dish?

My point is, you don't need a "setup" to take excellent pictures.

My "setup"? a single CFL bulb with a kitchen plastic container, a tripod and a camera.

dcarch

I understand the simplicity - I'm just thinking the 'setup' pic would help, because in my minds eye I'm imagining your plastic container somehow taped to the ceiling light fixture in your dining room... I assume you're using a tabletop lamp or ?

It would also probably be very illustrative for a photographic neophyte to see the results of a pic with & without the diffusor if you'd be so inclined.

I'd also like to see how it's set up. I was thinking in terms of a swivel arm floor lamp with a cfl bulb and the plastic container put over it. Years ago I posted pictures to egullet but its been years since I uploaded one. I was never particularly pleased with the pictures I uploaded. My best one was the Salade de Limace photo in the snails and slugs thread.


Edited by Arey (log)

"A fool", he said, "would have swallowed it". Samuel Johnson

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Could you possibly post a picture of your setup (light, diffusor, etc) the next time you're photographing a dish?

My point is, you don't need a "setup" to take excellent pictures.

My "setup"? a single CFL bulb with a kitchen plastic container, a tripod and a camera.

dcarch

I understand the simplicity - I'm just thinking the 'setup' pic would help, because in my minds eye I'm imagining your plastic container somehow taped to the ceiling light fixture in your dining room... I assume you're using a tabletop lamp or ?

It would also probably be very illustrative for a photographic neophyte to see the results of a pic with & without the diffusor if you'd be so inclined.

Using or not using diffused light will give your subjects a different character, in the accentuation of textural details, saturation of colors, but now you are getting into photography, which is a lot of fun.

Diffused light is quick and pleasing and works for all situations.

If I remember, I will see if there are dishes which can illustrate some special effects.

dcarch

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Could you possibly post a picture of your setup (light, diffusor, etc) the next time you're photographing a dish?

My point is, you don't need a "setup" to take excellent pictures.

My "setup"? a single CFL bulb with a kitchen plastic container, a tripod and a camera.

dcarch

I understand the simplicity - I'm just thinking the 'setup' pic would help, because in my minds eye I'm imagining your plastic container somehow taped to the ceiling light fixture in your dining room... I assume you're using a tabletop lamp or ?

It would also probably be very illustrative for a photographic neophyte to see the results of a pic with & without the diffusor if you'd be so inclined.

For anyone interested in improving their photos, in my opinion it's totally worth it to set aside some time one day and pick a fairly plain subject, set the camera up in one spot, and then just take a lot of pictures playing around with different sources of light that you might have handy. Try bouncing light off of and through things, too. Whatever you think might be interesting. Just take notes so you remember what's what. :) Then sit down and look at the photos. It's often a lot easier to understand what's going on with lighting if you do that, because it's easier to see what the results are of doing X vs Y.

Just try to pick a fairly visually simple subject - you don't want to be adding in the visual effects of something like a very busy print on something in the shot when the goal is to be able to see what the changes are from different approaches to lighting. And try not to mess around with camera settings AND the lighting between shots. Often in cinematography class what we'd do is establish a new lighting set up, and then film a short scene (someone walking through the frame, for example) a few times with the same set up, but changing the camera settings. That way you can compare like with like - all the same lighting set up, or all the same camera settings - rather than trying to guess if that effect you liked was from the lighting, the settings, or both.

It is somewhat like cooking, actually, from my perspective - there's very specific science involved in what's going on, and understanding the science can help you to get a specific result or solve a problem, but there's a lot to be said for just experimenting to see what you get, too.

(If you don't want to spend time writing down notes, and you have a specific idea of what lighting set ups you want to try, just make a sign out of a piece of paper or something for each set up and then take a photo of that before you photograph the subject using the set up. That way when you're looking at the images later you can tell what's what just from the order they come in, and most cameras these days note the exposure and f stop and so on in the image information, so between those two you have the information you need.)

For purposes of the thread - does anyone have a specific photo they're thinking of where the photo itself is art even though the subject may also be artistic food? Just to get an idea of the kind of thing people have in mind when looking at photo of food-as-art as opposed to art as a photo-of-food. If you see what I mean.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is why I don't post pictures- if I did, they would be a quick shot with an iPhone, I cook to eat. There is no way my fiancé would enjoy the food I cook if he had to wait for me to plate it to it was restaurant perfect, with lighting and tripods. Hell we barely take pictures together- our wedding will be the most we will ever do, except when we have kids. Life is too busy for that. Try telling a man who works in the Financial District of Manhattan for 12 plus hours that he can't eat because I need to set up photo equipment!? What kind of future wife would I be. People now at egullet just want pretty pictures and I'm not sacrificing the pleasure of dining with my partner to do so.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is why I don't post pictures- if I did, they would be a quick shot with an iPhone, I cook to eat. There is no way my fiancé would enjoy the food I cook if he had to wait for me to plate it to it was restaurant perfect, with lighting and tripods. Hell we barely take pictures together- our wedding will be the most we will ever do, except when we have kids. Life is too busy for that. Try telling a man who works in the Financial District of Manhattan for 12 plus hours that he can't eat because I need to set up photo equipment!? What kind of future wife would I be. People now at egullet just want pretty pictures and I'm not sacrificing the pleasure of dining with my partner to do so.

I think I'd beg to differ. Many many of the great meals I see here, if pictured, are quick shots, even with cell phones. A couple years back I did an entire food blog with cell phone pics. I'm also with you in that I don't want to wait to eat when food is on the table.

That being said, I also like to take pretty pictures (of many things, not just food). Food art is not what I normally make, but it's still pretty. Artistic food photography also takes time and is not always practical in the home, but it's still got a place in media (and in my heart).

I think you might be going a little to far to indict all of eG about only wanting pretty pictures. The dinner thread(s) have plenty of mediocre photographs of food I'd die to eat.

The reality is that communication has morphed into a very visual form, and whether quick snaps or professionally composed art shots, pictures of your meals are a vital part of the conversation here at eG.

1 person likes this

PastaMeshugana

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd."

"What's hunger got to do with anything?" - My Father

My eG Food Blog (2011)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While I agree with many of your points, I can't help but disagree with the turn the pictures here have taken since I joined.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's a simple demonstration for those who are either new to photography or are questioning whether its necessary to purchase expensive equipment to make a decent photo.

Two pictures of the same plate, same time of day, about 11am.

The first is in my kitchen under typical kitchen (poor) lighting:

deqeny8a.jpg

Note the yellow tinge, harsh shadows and general unappetizing look. ;)

Second pic, I simply moved into my dining room which has sheer curtains on the windows:

7etutanu.jpg

Note the much more pleasing color (daylight, like the bulb dcarch recommends), the soft shadows, and the beat up table.

For what it's worth, this whole exercise, including writing the post, took all of 5 minutes. I think anyone, with a minimum of effort, can get truly appetizing pics of their food without wasting time. EDIT to add: these two pics are from a cell phone, not my fancy camera. (iPhone 5 if it matters to anyone).


Edited by pastameshugana (log)

PastaMeshugana

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd."

"What's hunger got to do with anything?" - My Father

My eG Food Blog (2011)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.