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A Food Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words or Is it?

I was reading a very good article from the March 2018 issue of the magazine, Food & Wine.  The article called “On Food Photography” was a roundtable discussion between Andrew Zimmern, the television food personality, photographer Christina Holmes, chef Camille Becerra, food stylist Victoria Granof, and Hunter Lewis, editor of the magazine.  They had gathered to discuss “What’s the value of an image in the age of social media?”

Instagram It

Okay, confess –  How many of you go out to eat and immediately whip out your phones to snap a picture of the food you’re eating?  And then, just as quickly, instagram it?  People take pictures of food for many reasons:

  • The presentation was so beautiful.
  • You were trying to make your friends jealous.
  • It was a memory shot because you were out on a special occasion.
  • You’ve become addicted to your phone and have to chronicle everything in your life, including food.
  • You want to try making it yourself and hope it comes out looking like this.

Whatever your reasons, has the taking pictures of what we eat taken the pleasure out of eating?  I’ve found, when I travel, that I often am so involved with trying to get just the right shot that I miss the “experience” of what I’m seeing.  That may be true for what we eat, as well.

Besides, if you really want good food shots, restaurant lighting is far from adequate.

It’s the Story That’s Important

What makes something worthy of being photographed?  Can you put a value on it?  What would that value be?

  • First, there is the dollar cost for what you’re eating.
  • There’s the emotional value for why you’re eating it and the sensations it evokes in you when you taste it.  It can be very visceral when you really focus on the food and not the conversation.
  • And then there’s the time value of looking at the food (while you let it get cold!), trying to get just the right shot.

I loved how Zimmern summed it up: “It has to tell a story….I’ve been saying it for 20 years: Food is good.  Food with a story is better.  Food with a story you’ve never heard of is best of all, and food with a story you’ve never heard of but that you can relate to is the holy grail.”

In other words, start to think of what makes the food special.  So when you capture that picture, you can capture not just an image but why it may have importance to you.  Or maybe why it was put together in the first place.  Maybe it’s a local specialty or it reflects the chef’s background.

Consider the picture above and the following picture:

The first picture evokes a sense of intimacy.  Breakfast is on a tray that will either be brought to one’s bedside or to a cozy table.  The picture of the quiche does give you an idea that it was made with zucchini and eggs, but it doesn’t evoke a story.

Next time you snap a food photo, also think of its story.

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