Food photography relies on convincing the viewer to take an imaginative bite
Food photography has become one of the most specialised genres of photography, and is in great demand both editorially, for magazines and books, and commercially, for advertising. This is hardly surprising, given that it has become one of the Western world’s great lifestyle obsessions. Above all, food is in one way or another being sold to the audience, and that means it has to look appetising.
How mouth-watering a dish looks is the most important gauge of success in food photography. Fashions change, but the current trend is for close framing and selective focus, which help to make the viewer feel the food is right in front of them, and ready to eat. The arrangement and the lighting aim to convey texture, because the way food feels in the mouth is the sensation that translates most easily from photography. Even though the recognised tastes now number five (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and the relatively recently adopted ‘umami’, meaning a kind of lip-smacking savoury taste), in the West texture stands apart. The Chinese, by contrast, formalise it with the term ‘kou gan’, which roughly translates as ‘mouth feel’.
Selective focus plays a vital role in emphasising texture, because it concentrates the attention on very small areas of the dish, and if you arrange the food so that two or three different textures are all in focus – as in this shot of a contemporary Indian dish – the viewer can take in all of these textures at a glance.
Grilled pomfret served in a contemporary style, with viewpoint, focus, arrangement and lighting (natural late afternoon sunlight) all geared to show off the contrasting textures of fish and vegetables