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])

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