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Food photography in UK


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I very much like the style of Robert Freson

Me too, Adam.

I was told by an editor who worked on Freson's "A Taste of France" that the way it was compiled gave the pictures their remarkable angle. Freson was initially commissioned by The Sunday Times Magazine to spend a year simply photographing what he felt was remarkable, or typical, or endangered aspects of French food and dining, and only after the photographs taken and edited were the writers assigned to explain with essays what was shown the in photographs.

Dan

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I very much like the style of Robert Freson

Me too, Adam.

I was told by an editor who worked on Freson's "A Taste of France" that the way it was compiled gave the pictures their remarkable angle. Freson was initially commissioned by The Sunday Times Magazine to spend a year simply photographing what he felt was remarkable, or typical, or endangered aspects of French food and dining, and only after the photographs taken and edited were the writers assigned to explain with essays what was shown the in photographs.

Dan

Thanks very much for this information, it has really made my day. These photographs are 30 odd years old, but still look incredibly fresh. The information you have given has solved a minor mystery for me. The food images in this book are never secondary to the text or recipes, but also never out of place also. I rarely see this level of intergration in a cookbook, so maybe the way it was developed explains this. Pity not more of this is done.

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I too like freson. Another author/photographer in the same vein(imo) would be Roger Phillips- checkout his Wild Foods book. Thanks for the stimulating thread, good work Tim.

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I see no mention of food photography as instruction, as in the case of Jacques Pépin's La Methode and La Technique. The photos are in black and white, or rather grey and white, and totally inartistic, but they are very informative, having been taken from a vantage point where you can see exactly what the chef's hands are doing.

Most of the photos I see in modern cookery books appear to have been included merely for decoration; a beautiful picture of an onion tells me nothing about how to make onion soup. Often they contradict the text, as though the photographer hadn't read it. But perhaps this is unimportant, inasmuch as the text itself is more likely to be read as gastroporn rather than as a set of instructions that will actually be followed. A food writer of my acquaintance includes a gross error (e.g. 1 lb salt) in an occasional book, just to see if anyone notices. No one ever does.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Quite coincidentally, just as I was contributing to this thread, I also happend to apply for a photographer job with a local publishing company that produces a few travel/lifestyle/inflight magazines here in BKK. The head of this outfut saw my application and portfolio, wasn't particularly impressed, and had this to say (I've rephrased it slightly, as of course it's not very nice to include somebody else's email in public forum!):

"...food photography shot at f4 will never get published in a serious magazine. Food photography demands an f stop of 22 or more. f45 if you can get it. Food photography cannot be done with natural light alone."

Hmmm... Basically the opposite of what we've seemed to come to a consensus here of what food photography currently is! Now I'll the first to admit that I have very, very little experience in professional photography (I've been shooting professionally for only a little over a year), but I really feel that this guy is totally out of touch with what's going on right now. Of cousre, as we've been discussing, things will change, but I somehow doubt that we are going to swing back to the staged and stuffy multiple studio lights medium format f45 (!!) style!

So I guess it's a good thing he's not interested, as I'm not yet ready to invest in lens that stops down to f/45!

Austin

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Quite coincidentally, just as I was contributing to this thread, I also happend to apply for a photographer job with a local publishing company that produces a few travel/lifestyle/inflight magazines here in BKK. The head of this outfut saw my application and portfolio, wasn't particularly impressed, and had this to say (I've rephrased it slightly, as of course it's not very nice to include somebody else's email in public forum!):

"...food photography shot at f4 will never get published in a serious magazine. Food photography demands an f stop of 22 or more.  f45 if you can get it.  Food photography cannot be done with natural light alone."

Hmmm... Basically the opposite of what we've seemed to come to a consensus here of what food photography currently is!  Now I'll the first to admit that I have very, very little experience in professional photography (I've been shooting professionally for only a little over a year), but I really feel that this guy is totally out of touch with what's going on right now. Of cousre, as we've been discussing, things will change, but I somehow doubt that we are going to swing back to the staged and stuffy multiple studio lights medium format f45 (!!) style!

So I guess it's a good thing he's not interested, as I'm not yet ready to invest in lens that stops down to f/45!

Austin

What planet has that guy been living on, all the food photography that I see is shot mainly in natural daylight and with a low fstop. I'm not being rude but it sounds like they're a bit behind, you'd do better pitching your stuff at a more enlightened market!

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I see no mention of food photography as instruction, as in the case of Jacques Pépin's La Methode and La Technique. The photos are in black and white, or rather grey and white, and totally inartistic, but they are very informative, having been taken from a vantage point where you can see exactly what the chef's hands are doing.

Most of the photos I see in modern cookery books appear to have been included merely for decoration; a beautiful picture of an onion tells me nothing about how to make onion soup. Often they contradict the text, as though the photographer hadn't read it. But perhaps this is unimportant, inasmuch as the text itself is more likely to be read as gastroporn rather than as a set of instructions that will actually be followed. A food writer of my acquaintance includes a gross error (e.g. 1 lb salt) in an occasional book, just to see if anyone notices. No one ever does.

This doesn't happen often, but today I find myself disagreeing with John. Yes, those raw onion photos don't help, but I find color photos enormously motivating to make a dish, particularly if the cuisine is not one that is very familiar to me.

And those errors do get caught eventually, most likely by a frustrated home cook. I used to review cookbooks, specializing in glossy, expensive food porn, and my method was to cook a whole week from one book, inviting friends to evaluate the results. I found significant errors all the time--the rule seemed to be the glossier the book, the more plagued with bloopers. Most publishers made corrections in the second printing.

There is a reason it's called food porn--food has replaced sex in the modern libido. My concern is that we are living in an age so dominated by the visual that unphotogenic but tasty food is going by the wayside, like girls with nice personalities at the prom. How many times have I had a mishmash of flavors on the plate for no gastronomic reason other than for visual effect? I've also had too many dishes ruined by sweating under the heat lamp as people fussed with the presentation. At least in the days when curly parsley was the only nod to pleasing the eye, no one was expected to eat it.

A few weeks ago, I was having dinner with a couple of uber-fashionable twentysomethings at Abac in Barcelona. These young Catalans were totally turned off by my becada, one of the few dishes that was done in a completely traditional way--roasted whole, with the head, naked on the plate except for a thick, sinfully rich game sauce. "It's too brown and crude" was the objection.

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I see no mention of food photography as instruction, as in the case of Jacques Pépin's La Methode and La Technique. The photos are in black and white, or rather grey and white, and totally inartistic, but they are very informative, having been taken from a vantage point where you can see exactly what the chef's hands are doing.

Most of the photos I see in modern cookery books appear to have been included merely for decoration; a beautiful picture of an onion tells me nothing about how to make onion soup. Often they contradict the text, as though the photographer hadn't read it. But perhaps this is unimportant, inasmuch as the text itself is more likely to be read as gastroporn rather than as a set of instructions that will actually be followed. A food writer of my acquaintance includes a gross error (e.g. 1 lb salt) in an occasional book, just to see if anyone notices. No one ever does.

Everyone is aware that a picture of an onion is not going to reveal how to cook a French onion soup, however a beautiful picture sets a mood or tone for a recipe

Personally I find nothing wrong with so-called food porn that so many people seem to look down on. I think there is a prevailing attitude, especially in this country, that if something looks appealing it should be viewed with suspicion or be regarded as silly or facile.

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Actually, I very much like food photgraphy, but in cook books I rarely see much of interest. To be honest I tend to buy cookbooks that specifically do not have photographs.

Exceptions are:

- Exceptionally good or interesting phtography (eg. Robert Freson's work, over head dining shots in the first edition of "Nose to Tail Eating" by Fergus Henderson).

- Ingredient shots. Especially of more unusual veg/fruit/fish etc.

- Some recipes were the the final appearance is not a apparent from the recipe.

- Technical or presentation focused cook books.

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Actually, I very much like food photgraphy, but in cook books I rarely see much of interest. To be honest I tend to buy cookbooks that specifically do not have photographs.

Exceptions are:

- Exceptionally good or interesting phtography (eg. Robert Freson's work, over head dining shots in the first edition of "Nose to Tail Eating" by Fergus Henderson).

- Ingredient shots. Especially of more unusual  veg/fruit/fish etc.

- Some recipes were the the final appearance is not a apparent from the recipe.

- Technical or presentation focused cook books.

Getting a photographic brief with a purpose - informative, instructional etc - makes for a better shot in my book. Pictures with a fundamental purpose of filling space or jollying up the page invariably come with one of those dreadful, slack, 'I don't quite have any ideas but I'lll know what I like when I see it' briefs.

The only answer to a brief like that is to take the prevailing style of other magazines and copy it, thus perpetuating and, usually, exaggerating the style.

One could even extend your argument to say that the current shallow DOF/natural light look has come about because food magazines have too little to say and too much space to fill.

(BTW I totally agree on the Nose to Tail shots)

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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- Exceptionally good or interesting phtography (eg. Robert Freson's work, over head dining shots in the first edition of "Nose to Tail Eating" by Fergus Henderson).

Freson's an interesting case.

What's happened here is that a photographer has been given space to shoot just for the sake of the photography.

This doesn't happen much any more. (Remember that the great portraiture was usually commissioned by magazines).

Looking at the photography shelf, the only other books I can see that were commissioned in the same way as Freson's were the 70's - 80's glossy quasi-soft porn numbers... Guy Bordin, John Hedgecoe, Helmut Newton and latterly Bruce Weber. The basic idea is that people would pay for images of something lovely to look at and there are only a couple of abiding, widely appealling subject matters for that - Good looking people in their pants and food (I, personally, consider landscape, sport and animals to be minority special interests :smile: ).

I can't help feeling that a photographically led book like 'Taste of France' was as much a product of its era as Newton's Big Women.

Will we ever see its like again?

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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I think so. Maybe not so much in cookbooks specifically , but in books about food culture.

The world is opening up in many ways and a lot of food cultures (new additions to the EU for instance) will change dramatically in the next decade or so. My hope would be that the present focus in food will broaden from the present celeb-restaurant driven domain and tap in on his.

If this occurs I can see food culture books that are more visually inspired, "Food Markets of Europe/Asian etc", travelogues, "regional cooking of X" (where X is not France or Italy).

It could be really interesting times ahead.

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I can see food culture books that are more visually inspired, "Food Markets of Europe/Asian etc", travelogues, "regional cooking of X" (where X is not France or Italy).

A good start was made with Take 5000 eggs: Food from the markets and fairs of southern France, by the husband/wife team of Paul and Jeanne Strang, with photos by Jason Shenai. You don't often get such touristy-looking books in which the writing is so literate and the scholarship so impeccable.

EDIT: I realize that you wrote "not France or Italy", but this serves as an example of just how well it can be done.

Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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First post and all that so I'll jump straight in.

I welcome the change that has become evident in both food and food photography. Good food has been democratised and become part of a modern lifestyle. King Jamie has made cooking cool and food photograhy, as in life imitating art and art imitating life has indeed and of course changed and reflected that. As with any type of change people, generally older, resist. It happens with everything. Especially art. People want to look at inviting and enticing pictures. Not Delias fingers in a bowl of flour.

People bemoan those that use things for no other reason than "visual effect" but I ask where does taste begin? Sight was a sense the last time I opened my eyes.

The "nice girls at the prom" analogy earlier was a good one - who wants to go out with an ugly girl?

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Compare and contrast...

Current edition of Waitrose Food Illustrated (May 2006)

Pages 40-45. Section on picnics. Heartbreakingly beautiful and totally original photography by Ditte Isager. I want to frame these and hang them in my kitchen to remind me why I cook.

Current edition of Olive (June 2006)

Page 87. Section on Jimmy Docherty, 'British Classics', Toad-in-the-hole. Admittedly not the most exciting thing to shoot but still no excuse for an overhead shot that looks like three unhealthy stools jammed into a decomposing Wonderloaf.

Surley theres a point where fresh, honest realism fails to serve the purpose. In a shot like this the food looks poorly prepared, unstyled, unappetising and in this particular case, seems to be suffering either from soft focus or motion blur.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Compare and contrast...

Current edition of Waitrose Food Illustrated (May 2006)

Pages 40-45. Section on picnics. Heartbreakingly beautiful and totally original photography by Ditte Isager. I want to frame these and hang them in my kitchen to remind me why I cook.

Current edition of Olive (June 2006)

Page 87. Section on Jimmy Docherty (Oh Christ)... 'British Classics' (dear God, No)... Toad-in-the-hole (let me die now).  Admittedly not the most innovative or inpiring start point for a brief but still no excuse for an overhead shot that looks like three unhealthy stools jammed into a decomposing Wonderloaf.

Surley theres a point where fresh, honest realism fails to serve the purpose. In a shot like this the food looks poorly prepared, unstyled, unappetising and is, in a final, calculated insult, suffering either from soft focus or motion blur.

I agree re; the Olive shots, to me they look wholly unappetising and furthermore I can't understand why they ran a feature about wintery dishes in the middle of spring, I certainly don't feel like eating lancashire hotpot on a warm day.

I'm not sure about the Waitrose pictures, however I have seen the cover with the child on the front and have to say I find it extremely middle-aged and uninspirational. In fact I find the whole magazine quite dull. My favourite food magazine in terms of photos and editorial content is GourmetTraveller, I wish that this country could produce something of a similar calibre.

In fact somebody should start a thread about the state of food magazines in this country

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I'm not sure about the Waitrose pictures, however I have seen the cover with the child on the front and have to say I find it extremely middle-aged and uninspirational. 

The Ditte Isager shoot uses some terrific technique either in process, print or photoshop, to make the still lives look like washed out old polaroids. It's just gorgeous and nothing like the cover shot (I agree BTW)

In fact somebody should start a thread about the state of food magazines in this country

On balance I think that might come under the heading of 'career limiting moves' :biggrin:

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Current edition of Olive (June 2006)

Page 87. Section on Jimmy Docherty (Oh Christ)... 'British Classics' (dear God, No)... Toad-in-the-hole (let me die now).  Admittedly not the most innovative or inpiring start point for a brief but still no excuse for an overhead shot that looks like three unhealthy stools jammed into a decomposing Wonderloaf.

In fact somebody should start a thread about the state of food magazines in this country

On balance I think that might come under the heading of 'career limiting moves' :biggrin:

A stallion races across the open fields. The wind picks up and in the distance we hear the insistant thump of a door banging against its frame in the breeze. A stableboy hurries to close it. Too late...

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On balance I think that might come under the heading of 'career limiting moves'  :biggrin:

A stallion races across the open fields. The wind picks up and in the distance we hear the insistant thump of a door banging against its frame in the breeze. A stableboy hurries to close it. Too late...

..Did, I, through some childish oversight in editing, neglect to mention the quite brilliant feature on pps 104-112?

Who is that handsome stallion of a fellow?

Note the nobility of his brow, the broad expanse of his open, friendly features, the reassuring solidity of frame and the general demeanour of forgiving good nature...

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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  • 4 months later...

Hi,

Most of the food photography I see in books and magazines is still about artifice and control even if the result attempts to suggest a loose and casual approach to "food on a plate", simply because of the constraints of the commissioning and editorial process. Though the photography used on blogs appears similar to magazine or book photography, the way it is produced makes it rather different. The home cook records what they've made in response to the pleasure (or anger ) they feel towards it and a need to both capture that, then edit it and upload it to a website for immediate viewing. No other opinions affect this process. And as you know, Tim and Austin, this is rarely the situation a commercial photographer will work in.

On a commercial shoot time is limited, the commissioning is right up against the deadline, often there will be a number of people keen to make their impression (valid or otherwise) on the photograph, and earn money in the process. Fine when everyone is working to the same end, with similar opinions on what they want from the photograph. Dreadful when they pull in opposite directions. I'd careful about describing photography 20 years ago into "the good old days". I see more dreadful work from then than now (and I'd include a lot of my own work from 20 years ago in that), many old images that neither contain detail about the method of making the food, nor any sense that good food has a softness to it. On books, photographers are rarely brought in until the manuscript is delivered, food will be prepared by a food stylist rather than the author, and after the film is submitted the final image choice will often be made by the graphic designer. So when you see an unhelpful image in a book don't blame either the photographer or the author. They probably had no say in it.

On a blog it's one eye, one opinion, and often the photographer is the author, chef, food stylist and designer "all in one". They are able to record personal discoveries, moments only accessible to an insider, without any distraction. It may not strive towards the stylized ideal that Penn or Hiro aimed for, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

regards

Dan

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