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.)

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