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The Intricacies of Food Photography

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The research of the intricacies of food photography and the relevant techniques is important and should be understood by design practitioners who plan to pursue a career in the food photography industry. With the explosion of social media sharing over the past decade, it is easy for one to mistake the amount of skill and thought that goes into professional imagery involved with any industry. This essay will investigate the effects of technical devices and ability of the common consumer, compared to the ability of a trained professional food photographer, the reality of a perceived ability of a food photography industry-working professional, and a commentary on the advantages of understanding business factors involved in food photography, in reference to the good, bad and ugly aspects of food design and photography.

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“A great deal of manipulation goes into the [professional] production and publication of a photograph. One type of manipulation is the improvement of the film itself, to fix scratches or other flaws in the film. At National Geographic, for example, photographs are commonly altered to compensate for such problems. ” Even though society has moved past the film photography era, this notion of photo manipulation is understood to also play a large part in food photography, either by manipulating the product physically, or during the post processing stage. As of April 2017, 215. 8 million photos were posted online that included the popular hashtag: #food. In our current technological era where the average consumer has access to a smartphone with an in-built camera, one is bombarded constantly with a constant stream of media, more specifically visual media, by which the audience is persuaded to make decisions about everyday situations. One major area in which the visual aspect of a product is extremely important, is food photography. As food photography has historically been an integral part of marketing strategies for restaurants and food chains in the past, companies and brands have become acclimatized and willing to pay large sums of money to attempt to capture their intended market’s business. This notion of paying for visual branding has become somewhat blurred by the likes of social media platforms such as Instagram, as some companies are beginning to rely on their clientele for word-of-mouth marketing, through the sharing of visual media involving their products. This is both positive and negative and relies heavily on the photographic ability of the consumer, as well as their personal opinion of the product they have been provided with. In essence, this follows the general trend of media consumption, as the consumer is likely to share their thoughts and opinions of a product with those surrounding them, but now have readily been supplied the option of also sharing a visual reference of their experience. As this can create a positive or negative impact on the business, and thus many opt to engage in professional food photography to promote their products, as this can create a more controlled and higher market environment in which the business can promote their products with a sense of security and at a standard of presumed satisfaction. Humans are driven by the way they perceive the world around them. This is true when it comes to deciding what to eat. There is a major difference when viewing both professional food photography and amateur/consumer food photography. This is demonstrated when a set of skills and techniques are used to depict a meal and is evident when viewing a professional’s work against that of a consumer. The baseline essential techniques of food styling include composition, lighting, angle, and an informed use of colour theory and tone. Using these elements in a ‘correct’ manner, one is able to produce a traditional image promoting a product in an appealing way. To compose a dish in an appetizing way, a photographer must consider the intricacies of composition; rule of thirds, the number of items being photographed, leading lines and negative space. ‘In food styling and food photography, odd numbers often create a better composition. ’ The negative space surrounding a product and the way it is portrayed can have vast impacts on the desired effect and feel of the product. The mood evoked by the image often relies on the material used as a backdrop, e. g. cloth and wood will evoke a homely and inviting emotion in the consumer, compared to a marble or metal backdrop, which would produce a colder, less inviting feeling in the consumer. These effects are used to portray the desired emotions in the consumer. Lighting and angles are also intrinsic elements when creating styled food images. Generally speaking, the two accepted angles used in food photography are a top down 90-degree angle and a 45-degree angle. These two angles can be effectively used to display the distinct elements to a dish, and when paired with light (either natural, backlit or monodirectional lighting setups), can be used to create a sense of story and drama in an image. Back lighting is a popular choice as “it is good to highlight and rim the food”. When one has an understanding of these elements, they are able to create a product which has a higher perceived value than that of the unrefined consumer.

During a study produced by the British Journal of Nutrition, it was found that perceptions of meal portion size and nutrient content were substantially skewed. Subjects were ‘asked to indicate on a visual analogue scale the size of the portion consumed in relation to the eight photographs. The nutrient contents of meals were estimated from food composition tables. There were large variations in the estimation of portion sizes from photographs. ’ It was speculated that these misrepresentations were due to visual differences in the photographs; some being black and white, whereas others showing different angles. This demonstration of angle effectiveness shows how photography can be used in potentially positive (or negative) ways to display a product and its contents. Ironically, the use of the aforementioned techniques can lead to a negative outcome, with the consumer of these professionally marketed products experiencing a sense of disappointment and lack of fulfillment in the meal they receive. This expectation Vs. reality is extremely apparent when one eats at any fast food restaurant, such as Mc Donald’s. When shooting their products for promotional purposes, the company uses the commercial editing studio ‘Watt International’ to market their products. This company employs a large quantity of divisive tricks to create the perfect looking burger, such as layering the burger in a way every ingredient is visible, and strategically applying the sauces in appetizing ways. This style of marketing, whilst using the real ingredients, creates an appealing product in which can be used to draw in hungry customers, but could be considered as dishonest or untruthful of their actual product. Other companies may choose to substitute their ingredients for more malleable and enduring products, such as substituting golden syrup for motor oil, due to motor oils more reliable nature. This is a blatant display of the ugly side of food design, as it showcases the ‘dishonest’ side of photo manipulation for monetary gain and creates a barrier between the client and the consumer.

To combat this lack of realism in the food industry, companies such as Newcastle based company and food discovery app ‘Crave’ pursues its goal of showcasing a realistic and non-biased experience of the foods it displays in it’s app. During the professional food photo shoot the author of this essay attended alongside a Crave employee, approximately 12 dishes were presented to the lead photographer to photograph, who was able to showcase his skill and knowledge using natural light and angles, as well as composition, balance and weighting of an image, to create appetizing yet realistic images. He was able to demonstrate the core fundamentals by which Crave stands for, in showcasing the food as it was served, with minimal stylizing and adjusting. ‘Crave strips away preconceptions diners have about restaurants and cafes and provides a level playing field; beautiful photos of food ready to be discovered by hungry customers. ’ This realistic approach is subjectively better, as it allows the potential consumer to make decisions based on an unbiased presentation. This idea that food should be advertised as it is presented has recently become more prevalent, due to the social media sharing boom. This is due to companies wanting to have their products shared in a way that projects the product as realistically as possible, as to protect their company and product image. Interestingly, a study published by Sage Journals concluded that “participants who engaged in ritualized behavior, compared with those who did not, evaluated chocolate as more flavorful, valuable, and deserving of behavioral savoring”. This suggests the correlation between the visual presentation of foods, and how the consumer perceives it are related. With the idea of ritualistic food photo media sharing and its effects on the consumer experience, it would make sense for businesses to claim on this potential pseudo-marketing opportunity, by creating appetizing products that are consistently visually appealing and in line with the professional advertising of the product, leading to the want to photograph the product, which in turn leads to the consumer engaging with and creating a more enjoyable experience overall. “Rituals enhance the enjoyment of consumption because of the greater involvement in the experience that they prompt. ” Interestingly, the same study displayed results of those partaking in ritualistic behaviours surrounding foods were more willing to pay larger amounts for the products they were subjected to.

When focusing on the photographer as a business, clients may misjudge the photographer, and thus may devalue the work produced, regardless of their actual skill. This perceived ability is reliant on multiple factors such as age, reputation and presentation, just to name a few. When the author of this essay met with Newcastle-based food photographer, Henry Brodbeck, this was a piece of information that was consistently brought up over the duration of the meeting. Regardless of the area of photography that was being discussed, this notion that many businesses will disregard a professional photographer, purely based on their age and visual presentation, without considering their respective portfolio. This categorization and perception of ability affects the amount the client is willing to pay for services. This can create a particularly difficult situation for a young aspiring creative, as they may struggle to find a client-base. This is a harsh reality of the industry, as much of client acquisition is by ‘word of mouth’. To combat this, aspiring food photographers must construct a solid ethos to work by, so that potential clients are able to find a common ground on which they can empathize. When practicing under an ethos grounded with a high moral fibre, future clientele objectively would be more inclined to trust in the photographer’s practice and ability, which would lead to a potential business client. As much as this may dissuade some clients to work with a professional, the author of this essay believes it to be an essential part of creating a sustainable business model.

When considering the monetary side of business, the variation of price of a photoshoot is correlated to the perceived return on investment by the investing company or brand. Average pricing can vary from approximately $250-$10, 000+ per day. These costs would presumably indicate the quality of the works produced and indicate the size of the brand or company using these services (naturally there may be outliers). Interestingly, the purchasing of photographic services does not include the copyright in Australia, when being purchased for commercial use ‘…if they were taken for any other purpose (e. g. commercial shots), the photographer will be the first owner of copyright, unless the photographer and client agree otherwise. ´ This is a stark reminder to constantly be aware of each and every contract that any client or professional is involved in.

Lastly, when pursuing a career in photography, regardless of the field of photography, it is important to remember that the client may not, and usually will not see the imperfections and flaws in an image produced by a professional. Because of this, it is important for the photographer to show no signs of disappointment, frustrations or voice any inabilities to produce an acceptable image. This is to maintain the confidence the client has placed in the photographer, and thus will in turn create a more inviting environment for the client to become a potential returning client in the future. This notion became evident to the author of this essay whilst accompanying Brodbeck on a professional food photography shoot. The client remained with Brodbeck for the majority of the shoot duration, at which he disclosed his displeasure to the author privately, stating it shows a lack of trust from the client’s side. The cause of this may have been due to his youthful appearances, but that is purely subjective speculation. Perhaps this is caused by the client not understanding fully the role and workings of the photographer, regardless of the skill level.

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These aforementioned imperfections are not apparent to the client, and thus they will not be looking for them. This is generally due to the client not understanding the intricacies of photographical techniques involving things such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and the effects they can have when creating an image. The author of this essay found this piece of information to be reassuring, as there is, generally speaking, pressure to create perfect images amongst the photographic community. In conclusion, many industries benefit from the implementation of food photography. It is important for those who wish to undertake the act of pursuing food photography as a career understand the intricacies of photo and scene manipulation, as well as to have a well-grounded understanding of the business side, to maintain an edge over their competition. It is integral for every professional to maintain an ethos that is in line with their morals, as to maintain approachable to repeat clients. In doing this, a professional will have minimized the chance of error when attempting to create a successful and lucrative career in food photography.

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