About Food Photography: Is it All for Show?
Food photography is a unique culinary job that taps into the ability to prepare, stage, and photograph various foods and dishes. Although it’s not a job many people consider when they’re first starting out in the culinary world, there is actually quite a wide range of opportunities, which range from creating photos for food packaging and advertising to full magazine editorials.
In the past, food photographers were professionally trained and had years of experience working with non-food items to make the dishes look their best. They also worked as part of team of experts, all of whom had their own role to play. These include:
Food Photographer: The individual who wields the camera and takes the actual pictures.
Photo Assistant: The assistant to the photographer, often responsible for setting up the camera and lights.
Chef: The professional who does the actual “cooking” of the food, though with many restrictions in place (there is less emphasis on food, more on appearance).
Food Stylist: In traditional food photography, the food is not coming straight from the kitchen. Although it might be cooked by a chef, it goes through extensive styling, which may include non-food items like shoe polish, glue, cotton balls, hairspray, and other materials that you’d never put anywhere near your mouth.
With the popularity of food blogging, more and more people are becoming food purists when it comes to their photography. Instead of spending hours getting a dish just right, many chefs and amateur cooks take pictures right at home to post on their blogs or online—no shoe polish required. And in many cases, these pictures are right on par with the quality level of advertisements.
A lot of this is thanks to changes in home photography, which let you set your camera on the macro setting for those great close-ups, and better lighting options, which can help add a translucent shimmer to your fresh-cut citrus items. Still, much of this is also due to the fact that you can take a picture as the dish is literally being slipped onto the plate. Because it is a one chef/one photographer sort of deal, you don’t have to worry about extensive set design or food preparation that will last for a full six-hour shoot.
If you’re interested in food photography as a career, there are options available to you, especially in a commercial setting. However, many of the tried-and-true techniques of the past are giving way to a more wholesome approach, and in some cases, the food you see in pictures might actually be what you get.
Read, Read and Read Some MoreOne of the best suggestions I have for anyone thinking of going to culinary school or just getting into the restaurant industry is to read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from professional chefs who have worked in the industry and those who have taught in culinary schools.
There are many great books available to get you started in your culinary education and I suggest you read as much as possible before making that big decision to make sure this is the right move for you. Below is just a sample of books you might be interested in checking out.
For a much more comprehensive list of books for aspiring culinary, baking and restaurant management students, I suggest checking out my post on books for future culinary students and chefs.