Current Food photography styles and trends

Food photography now has a much more creative outlet, much like fashion photography and significantly relates to today’s lifestyles.
Overall, my research for my dissertation and this blog has allowed me to conclude that while there is not a specific comprehensive history on food photography, there is still a substantial amount written about it, reflected by increased consumer interest in food and diet in today’s Western, consumerist society. While the genre has been constrained to commercial realms, we have seen that it is slowly becoming credible in the art world with notable exhibitions and highly creative features appearing in popular food magazines. I hope that there will be a continuation of this in the future as the subject is so prolific with possibilities that it is fruitless to stop now. 
I’ve already stumbled across some great writing on current food photography styles and trends on this great blog called Desserts for Breakfast. Using a (rather delicious-looking) chocolate cake, Anita Chu and Stephanie Shih look at different styles in contemporary food photography, across the whole spectrum; from product/packaging to various editorial styles used in a wide range of publications – mirroring the moodier photography style used in ‘Food and Travel’ to the more bright and propped seen in ‘BBC Good Food’

This ‘Chiaroscuro’ style image, the clear contrast between light and dark, highlights the strong influence from still life paintings like Caravaggio and the Dutch Masters.

You can read more about their blog post here 

And you can read more about the team behind it and their newly launched magazine ‘Sated’ here 


Jason Hindley and Knorr Stock Pots


A while ago I spotted this Knorr Stock Pot ad shot by photographer Jason Hindley,in the style of a 1970’s cookbook. I think this is a fairly accurate interpretation of some of the images of the time. Here’s a link to the original blogpost on Jason Hindley’s blog

The image reminded me of a blog I’ve been following; ‘The Way We Ate‘. The blog is written by Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz, two photographers from New York, who each week re-create and photograph recipes from their collection of old Gourmet magazines. The blog mixes their own photographs with old covers and advertisements from the magazine like the image here.

It’s great to see how contemporary photographers are influenced by this1970’s style imagery.


Food Porn

Food photography shifted in 2004 when Marks and Spencer‘s memorable television campaign pushed ‘food porn’ into the spotlight. No longer were we seeing shots with shallow depth of field and clean white backgrounds; movement and texture became the key aspects of interest. Seductive voice-overs accompanied oozing, chocolate puddings, drizzled sauces and meat being craved. Juices trickled in slow motion, intensifying the portrayal.

Still from “Not just food, M&S; Food”, RKCR/Y&R;, Launched August 2004

‘Food porn’ had been used in food photography since the late 1980’s but was coined as “Gastroporn” by Michael Boys, a food and female nude photographer. His term described sensually provocative and intentionally alluring imagery in cookery books. The imagery appeals to “basic carnal desires” (Plimmer, C. 1988, p20) Food writer Nigel Slater recalls a shoot for French Marie Claire magazine, where chef, Jean-Louis created a dish of pears in red wine. The photograph captured a trail of sauce dribbling down the side of a pear. (Dillon, S. 2010 [radio]). Such images were so popular with “advertisements telling us that we can ‘indulge’ in eating things that we ‘shouldn’t’. The cunning and powerful allure of food reaches us covertly” (Kuehn, G. in ed Allhoff et al, 2007, p166). These tempting, visual stimuli of erotically suggestive food greatly increased the popularity of food. Jane Lerner remarks, food porn “turns something relatively mundane into a fetish, as if we’re seeking an idealized version of food that’s prettier, sexier and more outrageous than what we’re going to get at home.” (2009, p20). Typing ‘Food porn’ into Google today returns 17,300,000 (744,000 in 2010) results. Launched in January 2007, Tastespotting, an online archive of user-submitted images compiled by a team of editors describes itself as “our obsessive, compulsive collection of eye-catching images that link to something deliciously interesting on the other side.”(2007, [online]) Similarly, websites Foodgawker, (launched in June 2008), Recipes2Share and Open Source Food fill the demands for mouth-watering images. Photographer Tim Hill shared this desire to stir viewers’ senses. “If you look at a shot and your mouth waters, I’ve won. When you eat the food you can see it, smell it, taste it, touch it. I can’t show all that. I can only show what it looks like. I’m trying to make the image as graphic and interesting as possible so that it says ‘Eat me’” (Hill, T. in Smyth, D. 2007, p15) 1.

Around the same time, came a contrasting trend of much more natural-looking food that wasn’t so pornographic.  There were two very different styles of photography but there is always going to be room for both, largely due to the audience who buy food magazines. If you take a look at images in what was formerly Waitrose Food Illustrated (now Waitrose Kitchen) and compare them to FamilyCircle or Good Housekeeping it’s like viewing porn magazines to needle patterns. 

(1 sourced from Diane Smyth, (2007) “Food Rules”, British Journal of Photography, Vol. 154, July 11, pp 14-16.)


Food styling and ice cream

Food styling is a fascinating subject, particularly in the 1980’s. Food stylists’ technical handiwork is crucial to food photography as an art form. A notoriously difficult product to photograph is ice cream, particularly in the 1980’s – it would melt too quickly under the hot studio lights and wouldn’t last long enough for test shots to be done on Polaroid before the actual shot. Production costs were much higher so ‘fake’ food was often used to combat this.

Bradley Olman, Dietary Ice cream, ca 1988

Bradley Olman shot this image of a table laden with ice cream for It’s Me, an American advertorial magazine available in Lane Bryant department stores for plus-size women. The article listed a number of recipes for dietary ice cream however the dishes of ‘ice cream’ were in fact “artfully coloured flour-and-water fake”. All the other food in the set up was real. Olman said, “To make it all look thick and rich enough took forever. We had to get the right texture and put the ridges in.” (Plimmer, C. 1988, p104) He worked on the set with two assistants, a food stylist and the magazine editor to achieve this aesthetically ‘perfect’ image. Some may argue that this is misleading to a consumer but the aim was always to strive for aesthetic perfection and not reality. When looking at images of food, it has to be taken into account the amount of time and effort that is put in to make the food last long enough for the photographer to capture it in the best possible light and setting. Delores Custer, who started out as a food stylist in the 1970’s comments “food dies…it wilts, it cracks, it melts, it changes colour. So food stylists have to work to each element’s particular life-span, keeping everything alive until shoot time, even resuscitating it to make it look beautiful for the camera.” (Goldwasser, A. 1998, p58, (1)) She adds “visually, the thing that appeals is consistency in arrangement”. It is this consistency in arrangement that forces us to liken such food images to still life paintings of the 17th and 18th century.

(1) Goldwasser, A. (1998) “Fashion Plate” I.D. Magazine of International Design,Vol. 45 Issue 6 pp 58-59.

Food photography in magazines

Food photography as a genre proliferated as magazines dedicated to food started to appear in the late 1980’s. “A food magazine’s cover photography should convey something about the way we eat, or the way we’re supposed to eat.” (Dickerman, S. 2006 [online]) Food photography in the 1980’s shifted from mere illustration to lifestyle, reflected by society when many had a higher disposable income; there was a trend of very heavily dressed lifestyle shots. Gourmetmagazine, in particular, always had a glossy cover of a debonair dish with detailed props. Dickerman remembers the “tablescapes of the ’80s when, in the thrall of both nouvelle cuisine and an Aaron-Spelling-like consumer exhibitionism, presentation mattered.” 25 years ago magazines and cookery books ran double page spreads with several dishes in them, the emphasis being on an atmospheric photograph. The focus then was on ambiance and lifestyle, rather than just the single food product.
In the 1980’s, everything in the frame was glossy and in focus. While Gourmet magazine conquered the US market, such lifestyle images paved the way for magazines dedicated to food in the UK. In November 1989, the first food magazine was launched, BBC Good Food magazine, which published recipes from a number of BBC cookery shows, like Food and Drink (1982 – 2001). What is significant about this is that prior to the release of Good Foodmagazine, there were no magazines dedicated to just food, yet the popularity in cookery television shows sparked a consumer demand for such a magazine. While the picture content of the first issue is rather minimal, the magazine was filled with glossy food advertisements in order to fund the magazine through its first issue. 
Laurie Evans, BBC Good Food Magazine cover, Issue 1, November 1989.
After the first few issues in 1990, the magazine grew its picture content, funded by bigger budgets. The covers always had a white background, with the food shot in studio, showing a single dish, sometimes with a side or decorative plate. This consistency was arguably to establish brand recognition in the consumer market, rather than a lack of aesthetic experimentation. The magazine proved popular and, after running for five years, coloured backgrounds appeared on the cover with multiple food dishes, emphasising lifestyle (shown below) and not just the single food dish.
Martin Brigdale, BBC Good Food magazine cover, Christmas issue, December 1993.
The brand became well established after the success of the annual BBC Good Food show in Birmingham, responsible for the popularity of celebrity chefs like Gary Rhodes and eventually launched a sister magazine, Vegetarian Good Food.

Martin Chaffer – Country Kitchen

Emphasis on ‘lifestyle’ seemed to be key to food photography in the 1980’s as shown in one of Martin Chaffer’s photographs that he shot for a Marks and Spencer brochure featuring cookware in 1988. The importance of food and prop stylists was part of the significant transition into better quality images, where sets were dressed beautifully to accompany the dishes. The convincing set of a country kitchen took three days and two teams to build it. The scene is composed of multiple exposures of the fire and other parts of the set, which were spotlighted with separate hot, tungsten lights. Quality of lighting was and is an important aspect of any food image to provide the right atmosphere. Though studio flash had been invented in the early 1970’s, it was expensive to use flash to light food, particularly on an editorial budget. In order to combat these hot lamps, food stylists employed a number of techniques to make the food look its best. The centrepiece – the chicken, was prepared by being undercooked to keep it firm then brushed with caramel to brown it.
Martin Chaffer, Country Kitchen, ca 1988.
It could be argued these ‘lifestyle’ images used in food photography had a psychological effect. Robert Wigington felt that “the picture should conjure up an aura. The average person doesn’t stop to think about the dish when it is placed in front of him, he simply goes ahead and eats it. The photograph, however, can make the same person take the time to examine details, to stress associations, to tantalize the senses.” (Plimmer, C 1988, p132) The image, then, represents the lifestyle that the viewer aspires to have; in this case it is indicated by the décor of the inset window, the wooden table and the lit fireplace. The set suggests a lavish manor kitchen, filled with desirable cookware and fresh ingredients.

Martha Stewart and Japanese Colour Printing

Cover of Martha Stewart’s 1982 ‘Entertaining’

There were fundamental changes in food photography in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Japanese  technological advances modernized colour printing, providing better clarity of colour in images. The improved precision of the colours used to make the printing plates changed the possibilities of reproducing food images. More magenta, cyan and yellow meant that the amount of black ink usually used was reduced, making the colours brighter and punchier. The technique was so significant that in 1982, homemaking guru Martha Stewart “insisted not only on Japanese printing, but also on photographs of every dish for her first book, Entertaining, because as a caterer, she knew that the look of the food was what connected imaginations to the sense of taste” (Shakely, L. n.d. [online])

You can see more images from inside of the 1982 edition of ‘Entertaining’ here