Photographing Food: The Story of a Culinary Art

Silvain • updated June 21, 2022 • 4 min read

It’s no wonder because talented photographers, whether professional or amateur, know all the tricks and techniques for taking successful photos. These include the right background, daylight, manual mode, post-production, focus, shutter speed, long exposure, post-processing, and much more.

However, good photography takes a lot of time. So inform yourself beforehand with this article about the secrets of culinary photography, which has changed a lot over time, from still life to Instagram.


 

The Story of culinary art and photography

Culinary photography is primarily still life, the objects of which are food. Still lifes, however, existed long before there were any photographs at all, namely in painting. At the end of the 17th century, the term “still life” appeared for the first time.

The development of this art genre happened in several stages. The Italian Vasari called it “cose naturali” (natural things), the word in Flanders was “stilleven”, and in France still life is ironically called “nature morte” (dead nature), the German term is “Stillleben”

Last supper painting by Giorgio Vasari, The Story of culinary art
Last supper painting by Giorgio Vasari, oil on wood, date 1546/1547

Numerous artists have devoted themselves to this art genre. The special challenge was already here in the perspective as well as light and shadow. So, with still life, you could learn many techniques.

In photography, even today, the basics of still life techniques from the painting are used. Light is also a decisive factor in a successful photo. Food is used to be photographed mostly from below. Later, culinary photography tried to beautify food.

Perceptions change, and it becomes normal to photograph the food from the front. Close-ups are also becoming more common.

Food is more often made up so that it looks more attractive and looks better in the photos. Culinary food photography, especially from below. The elements in the photos are no longer simply food, but refined, aesthetic recipes.

What was early food photography used for?

Still life in paintings was mainly used to learn artistic techniques and create beautiful paintings. Today, photos of food have a completely different purpose. With advertising, the main purpose of culinary photography has changed a lot.

What to do with food photos?

1. Advertising

Culinary photography began in the 1930s with the introduction of advertising. Salaries were rising, and people were increasingly able to choose which products to buy.

Purchasing power grew, and companies and producers had to think of something to give their products the best image on the market. Big posters appeared, and more and more advertisements appeared in the press as well.

For advertising, you need the best photos of the products and recipes sold. Today, for example, this is often seen with hamburgers.

For advertising photos, chefs usually take several hours to get the juiciest look out of their cooking. Therefore, your mouth immediately waters when you see the photo.

2. Cookbooks

Cookbooks also contain numerous photos of food, of course. These are meant to give readers an idea of what the result of the recipe may look like and inspire them to cook a dish. It’s also a great way to get ideas for serving suggestions.

Hundreds of cookbooks are sold every year. Even though the book market as a whole is suffering a bit from the e-reading trend, there are still many different successful cookbooks available today.

3. Blogs

More and more amateur photographers combine their hobby with their passion for cooking and share photos of their food on the Internet every day.

In recent years, more and more food blogs have emerged, as it is quite easy to create your own website and publish articles about your favorite recipes. Amateur chefs take photos of their food, supporting the art of culinary photography. 

4. Social networks

Social networks are closely related to blogs and are among the most popular platforms for amateur photographers and food bloggers.

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat – each network is wonderful for sharing photos of one’s food.

Is food photography a real profession?

For quality culinary photography, you need numerous skills. Therefore, to take a good photo that can be used for advertising purposes or in cookbooks, you usually need a small team of specialists.

This obviously includes a good photographer; a director who sets the scene for everything, a food stylist who “makes up” the food, and a decorator who provides a good background. You see, culinary photography is a serious field to work in.

Whether you work as a freelancer, in an agency, or for a specific company, with culinary photography you will make the best photos of food products. To do this, you’ll need to be able to choose the right frame, light, perspective, and more.

You can also become a freelance food photographer or even a professional blogger. In this case, you will be contacted by companies and restaurants and asked to photograph their products and promote them on your blog or social media accounts.

Instagram: The most important platform for food photography

More and more people are taking photos of their food before they start enjoying it. These photos are then often shared on Instagram with the hashtag #foodporn.

Some Instagram accounts now even specialize in uploading inviting photos of food, and thousands of images of delicious dishes are shared every day.

Some of these accounts follow a specific theme, such as avocados, burgers, pastries, or fitness food. They are among the most successful accounts on Instagram and have thousands of followers.

Nowadays, you don’t need an DSLR camera to take high-quality photos. Even as an amateur and hobby chef, you can shoot great pictures for Instagram with your smartphone. In the meantime, around 85% of all photos come from a smartphone.

 


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By Furoore team member Silvain

Silvain is a French/German national and has been with the Furoore Team since the beginning. He likes to write about various photography themes, especially food photography. If you leave a comment, he will come back to you to answer any questions you may have.

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