The year was 2013, not that long ago really. Humans were attending restaurants, as they did on a regular basis and started acting… well… strange.
Many will have guessed from the title where this is going, but there is a food phenomenon that is happening underneath our very noses, and it has nothing to do with the subtle smell palette left in your nostrils from a beautifully prepared hamburger. Moreover, it’s our fascination with photographing food that is causing us to act more than a little strange.
Professional food photographer David Loftus may be wondering how we have gotten here. Starting in the late 90’s he chose the more uncommon path, learning to be a photographer, and then landing one of the best gigs in photography; taking pictures of food for a living.
It’s a little more complicated than that though as Loftus explained in his 2014 interview for, Eye Magazine, full article here. “Loftus began his career as an illustrator, studying at Chelsea (now the Chelsea College of Art and Design) and specialising in collage works, into which he regularly incorporated his own photographs. In the early 1990s, in recession-hit Britain, his illustration commissions began to decline, so he turned to photography full time, initially working for Gardens Illustrated.”
Learning a variety of techniques, including how to incorporate actual daylight into his photography, after being “banned from the dark room” at college, David started creating his own voice in this creative world. “A much respected picture editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, called Joan Tinney asked me if I had ever shot food before. I hadn’t, but she said, ‘Just shoot it like you do your flowers.’ So I did, and have been doing ever since.”
Taking his time to understand the dynamics of food photography (you couldn’t guess that now though!) it would be his meeting with Jamie Oliver that would see this art form take another leap.
Yes, we had cookbooks before, and yes, Keith Floyd being pissed by some shipyard whilst Clive his cameraman trying to wake him up was visual entertainment, but the Naked Chef series of books have transformed the way that we view food photography.
Food has become an action shot, a piece of art, a John Le Carre novel and melodrama all nicely rolled into one like a fluffy arrancini, thanks to a photographer’s lense, and now smartphone.
Take the world of instagram; it is the home of where food portraits go to live in a digital ever after. A woman in Brooklyn could take a picture of her breakfast and find a follower in Uzbekistan drooling over a sesame bagel with oozing poached egg; somehow this has become normal. (It has become equally normal to speak in onomatopoeic cadence…)
The food instagrammer has become a modern day, self flagellating, town crier, the simple of thought of missing the “perfect” shot, whilst their food goes cold is too much to take in and process all at once.
And whilst it can seem absurd that so many people are taking shots of their food, and even more absurd that we have a portion of a social channel just dedicated to the food shot, the industry of food photography, for the instagrammers is a godzilla sized business.
the industry of food photography, for the instagrammers is a godzilla sized business.
Take for example the accounts of Nicole Cogan (@nobread), Jessica Hirsch (@cheatdayeats) and Athena Calderone (@EyeSwoon) and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they have somehow plagiarized the complete works of Loftus and Co. in their growing ambition in the instagram world of food. Instead, it’s all them. Not only is the shot stunning, their combined followership is over 250,000. None of them started out as food photographers either.
This makes them prime targets for PR agencies and clever marketers that can utilise their pictures, fan bases and social influence in a world which is forever becoming more engrossed on the screens in their pocket than the actual things in front of them; like a bowl of pasta.
However, if the ambition is to be like the next Loftus by taking on the Instagram elite, there are certain things that you need to consider; and these are all from the mouths of those that have done it.
You can take anywhere between 50 – 100 photos per dish. (Yes, that’s right, 50 – 100) It’s not uncommon to find the pro’s standing on chairs in the middle of a serving looking for the best food “action shot”. Taking the “right” photo can even take as long as 20 minutes at home; in a restaurant any self-professing French maitre d would rightly throw you out.
you will also need to find someone willing to put up with half of the sh*t that goes into one photograph
You have to consider lighting – which most do – and try to establish a good time in the day to dine, you need to sometimes do back to back meals, terrible if you have no willpower and you will also need to find someone willing to put up with half of the sh*t that goes into one photograph be it, holding the camera bag, supporting your legs on an unsturdy chair/bannister/chandelier or reflect light from a fork for that magical moment.
If you are willing to put up with that as your starting point, then don’t forget, make sure you use the appropriate tags, #foodporn #foodie #foodgasm and #foodphotography and you have a delectable smorgasbord of made up words that match the bizarre action of taking yet another picture, with the right lighting of your morning porridge.
The perks however, are obvious. Skip the queues, get invited to the latest openings, dine at restaurants you couldn’t otherwise afford, and yes, sponsorship deals which can see you leaving your regular day job to do something creative and be fed at the same time. You are now under scrutiny, but in the bubble of social media, that’s a given. Anyway, who could get offended at another picture of an asparagus drizzled in fine olive oil with parmesan shavings? Anyone?
We may not have all turned into David Loftus, but we may have developed an artistic eye when thinking of updating our next Instagram food shot.