Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year Award 2012

Mall Galleries

Today I’m drifting away slightly from the chronological order of my blog to talk a little bit about the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year exhibition on at the Mall Galleries this week. This is an excellent example of food photography being taken seriously as an art genre.

The exhibition celebrates the art of food photography and showcases the winning images in 9 different categories. Looking around the gallery, you can see how many of the images have been influenced by 17th century still life paintings – in particular, Jonathan Gregson’s entry into the Cream of the Crop category.

Jonathan Gregson – 3rd Place – Cream of the Crop  

The images in the ‘Food Portraiture’ category were excellent, such beautiful images of food, where the subject is almost glorified. The winner of the category, Hilary Moore, really captures that in her image of blueberry ice cream – shallow depth of field is used to really draw your attention to the ice cream, the blueberries in soft focus, hinting at the flavour. The other images were equally outstanding – the judges must have had a very tough time choosing the winners.

Hilary Moore – 1st Place – Food Portraiture

It was also great to see some beautiful work in the ‘Young (Under 18’s) category and how food photography appeals to young people. This image below by Kyle Meadows, winner of the 15-17 category, reminds me of Harold Edgerton’s milk drop image by the way he has captured the liquid in mid-air.

Kyle Meadows, Winner of 15-17 Young (Under 18’s)

Photographers from all over the world entered this competition, so it’s great to see such a varied collection of work. Congratulations to the overall winner, Jean Cazals The rest of the images can be seen here, but I would definitely recommend going to see the prints in person as they are really quite breathtaking. Word of warning though, you will come out ravenously hungry!


Food photography in the 90’s – Overuse of Shallow DOF

By the late 1990’s, the Donna Hay style was being used excessively, with little of the food in focus. Food publications were “going berserk…People were using shallow depth of field that you couldn’t see what the food was” (1. David Munns in Smyth, D. 2007, p15). The images were reminiscent of still life paintings as shallow depth of field gave food products a soft, natural look. Dickerman (2006, [online]) noted, “Selective focus is particularly handy for creating visual interest in blobby food like casseroles” But like David Munns, she too saw that “Eventually, it seemed that nofood was photographed without selective focus”. New Zealand photographer Ian Batchelor was an early adopter of short focus. Upon reflection, he too thought the technique was used and abused. For him, the thinking behind it was to draw attention to the important aspect of the photograph separating and framing it with the bokeh effect. He had seen this used to great effect and also the opposite where the effect has been used without any understanding and a quite random part of the image has been in focus. Yet this style influenced cookbooks like MarieClaire Kitchen, published in 2004. Photographs by Petrina Tinslay create not only a beautiful cookbook but also a giant food picture book. Over half the pages display a full-page image spread and the images much larger than those in magazines.
Petrina Tinslay, in Marie Claire Kitchen, 2004
Since then, the extreme receded slightly. Olivemagazine, launched in 2003, tended not to use it; ‘It’s not in fashion but also we want to show all of the food because we tend to be illustrating recipes.’ (2. Hayley Ward, in Smyth, D, 2007, p 15) The aesthetics of the style remain; daylit images are still much ‘in vogue’. Instead, Olivemagazine uses shallow depth of field to suggest narrative to the image. This cover image shows the front dessert in focus, while the back one is not, suggesting a dessert course for two, although the viewer will only actually eat one. The shallow depth of field allows text to be incorporated flawlessly.
Olive, Issue 1, December 2003
(1. & 2.  – sourced from Diane Smyth, (2007) “Food Rules”, British Journal of Photography, Vol. 154, July 11, pp 14-16.)

Donna Hay

The aesthetics of food photography were completely revolutionised in the 1990’s by Australian magazine editor and food stylist Donna Hay. Instead of everything in the image being in focus, shallow depth of field was used. Having only a fraction of the food in focus meant that it didn’t matter what was in the background so much as the food was the centre of attention.

Con Poulos, Chilli chicken burger, n.d

Food stylist, Stephen Parkins-Knight remembers everything was immaculate, on white, shot either above or from the side, minimal, with fabulous colours and considers food photographer, Con Poulos as a vital advocate in the substantial trend and is still looked upon as the most influential food photographer of the 1990’s. Along with Donna Hay magazine, they pioneered this technique of using shallow depth of field. Only a small part of the food was in focus so often photographers would not need a food stylist. It also meant they could work in natural light using a wide aperture, because more light could get into the lens, allowing food photographers to work anywhere, not just in the studio. Instead of harsh tungsten lights used in the 1980’s, there was a progression towards using just a single soft box, which then moved onto photographers using natural daylight in the late 1990’s.The style moved to the UK around 1997, into magazines, cookbooks and advertisements. It was also at this time that BBC Good Food magazine celebrated its eighth birthday and food magazines became more popular. Many publications expanded their cookery coverage, supermarkets started to launch their own magazines and there was a rise in food cookery shows on television. This is significant as the demand for food photography greatly increased since the release of the first issue.

The 1990’s technique to feature close-ups of naturally lit food in highly selective focus, significantly contrasted to the ‘everything in focus’ and highly styled images of the 1980’s. The relaxed manner of the images gave consumers the idea that anyone can make good food. By having that blur in the photo, the dish appears softer, less concerned with objectivity and more with artistic impression.

This led to a significant change in the sales of cookbooks. By the late 1990’s illustrated cookbooks became more popular than those that were not illustrated. It had gone so far that “a bookstore owner lamented to me that although she kept steering newlyweds to un-illustrated cookbooks with thousands of recipes, no one wanted them. They wanted the full-on close-ups of perfectly placed chanterelles or even French toast. They expected to be made hungry between meals.”(Shakely, L. n.d. [online])