Does your cam­era eat first be­fore you do? Four food pho­tog­ra­phers weigh in on the phe­nom­e­non—and help you snap even bet­ter.

Preview (Philippines) - - Contents - edited by jae de veyra pick­rell WORDS BY SASHA LIM UY

Shoot first and eat later, but ac­cord­ing to our top food pho­tog­ra­phers, fla­vor is still king.

Some­time in 2010, world-renowned chef and in­no­va­tor He­ston Blu­men­thal de­cided to dress up some bull tes­ti­cles to look like fruit, a de­light­ful sub­terfuge much to the shock of his un­sus­pect­ing vic­tims. One could ar­gue that eat­ing is a vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence just as much as it is a gus­ta­tory one— that bright crim­son of an ap­ple con­trib­utes just as much as the sweet, juicy flesh; that the green­ness of a mango am­pli­fies the sour­ness of the meat. In a per­fect world, fla­vor is the cul­mi­na­tion of any eat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but in a per­fect world, ev­ery dish would be amaz­ing in all as­pects. IRL, gas­tron­omy is as much about the other senses as it is about sweet­ness, sour­ness, bit­ter­ness and salti­ness.

Sci­ence has proven time and again that taste isn’t the sole qual­i­fier of a de­cent meal; it’s psy­cho­log­i­cal, ar­chi­tec­tural: Col­ors—from the in­gre­di­ents to the crock­ery—can af­fect ap­petite, while even the size and tex­ture of cut­lery (study in 2015 by Charles Michel, Car­los Ve­lasco and Charles Spence) can change how the taste buds re­spond to the com­po­nents. And as with ev­ery first impression, sight leads the way. As much trick­ery as He­ston put into mak­ing of­fal more at­trac­tive, it worked.

Flip through the pages of a menu and you’ll find your­self tak­ing sec­ond glances at the mouth­wa­ter­ing pho­to­graphs. Thumb through so­cial me­dia and you’ll find your­self dou­ble­tap­ping al­most au­to­mat­i­cally at the most mouth­wa­ter­ing snaps. A pic­ture—a good one, at least—can con­vey the zing of a le­mon meringue pie, the bite of a salted caramel sun­dae. In a so­ci­ety that, un­for­tu­nately and in­ad­ver­tently, still bases de­ci­sions on ap­pear­ances—a habit only com­pounded by hash­tags and fil­ters—even food needs to look im­pec­ca­ble.

Ac­cord­ing to artist-and-pho­tog­ra­pher tan­dem Every­where We Shoot (EWWS), aka Ryan


and Garovs Ver­gara, so­cial me­dia has upped the ante when it comes to food pre­sen­ta­tion. “It has be­come an av­enue for ad­ver­tise­ment. Ev­ery restau­rant with good food or even just In­sta­grammable food gets a free en­dorse­ment.”

In­deed, be­ing snap-ready has be­come yet an­other task restau­rants have to ful­fill, as if in­ven­tory and cus­tomer service aren’t enough. It wel­comed the likes of cot­ton­candy coif­fures on top of milk­shakes and ice cream sun­daes ac­ces­sorized with the en­tire su­per­mar­ket snack aisle— pho­to­genic from all an­gles, all meant to tease your eyes into pur­chas­ing th­ese spectacular and cap­ti­vat­ing works of art and con­vinc­ing you that they’re worth ev­ery sin­gle bite.

For food and travel pho­tog­ra­pher Miguel Nacianceno, a per­fect shot re­quires just the right color pal­ette, tex­ture and phys­i­cal pro­por­tions. A com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­pher trained to cap­ture any sit­u­a­tion, Miguel, whose port­fo­lio in­cludes Yummy, Grid and Pep­per.ph, among many oth­ers, fell into food pho­tog­ra­phy be­cause food is some­thing he en­joys. His light-hearted ap­proach to the sub­ject in­stinc­tively leads him to pre­fer min­i­mal ef­fects: His pho­tos are in­ten­sive and fo­cused on a sin­gu­lar sub­ject. To do this, he in­sists on nat­u­ral light— mim­ick­ing it if the real thing isn’t avail­able.

Gabby Cantero, mean­while, stud­ies all an­gles, look­ing for the best way to present a dish. At the last Madrid Fu­sion Manila, for ex­am­ple, she could be seen weav­ing through the crowd with plates full of food, which she laid down on a makeshift stu­dio she set up in a cor­ner. This al­lowed her to have more room to find the dishes’ most pho­to­genic side, as well as to pro­duce con­sis­tent qual­ity in her pic­tures.

Now one of the busiest pho­tog­ra­phers in the busi­ness, Gabby worked on the de­but is­sue of The Philip­pine Star’s Let’s Eat. She asked the ed­i­tor if she could con­tinue work­ing for the mini-magazine, and a few years later, food pho­tog­ra­phy has be­come her bread and but­ter.

Like Miguel, Gabby never for­gets what should re­main the high­light of the shot. “I love fo­cus­ing on the food. Ev­ery­thing else there is just to com­ple­ment our main sub­ject.” Her trick: “I’m al­ways try­ing to find new ways to shoot food,” she says. “There’s more to life than a top shot and a flat lay.”

For ace pho­tog­ra­pher Jeanne Young, who’s been in the in­dus­try since 1997, tex­ture also em­pha­sizes the qual­ity of the pic­ture—which is espe­cially im­por­tant in more com­mer­cial shoots. Jeanne, who al­ways ad­justs her style de­pend­ing on the de­mand of the client and con­cept, puts spe­cial im­por­tance on the collaborating food stylist: “Food [di­vi­sion] be­tween the pho­tog­ra­phers and the food stylists— there’s not much a pho­tog­ra­pher can do if the food styling is medi­ocre,” she says.

With vi­su­als de­ter­min­ing whether or not a cus­tomer will take a first bite, mak­ing food look ir­re­sistible is a care­ful and co­or­di­nated act. Gabby even jok­ingly ad­mits that she’d some­times strug­gle be­tween pro­fes­sional con­duct and per­sonal hunger at work. Iron­i­cally, for the pro­fes­sion­als in­volved in this tricky process, food shouldn’t be skin-deep. Per­haps it’s be­cause they un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion bet­ter than oth­ers. Miguel con­fesses that ev­ery time a dish is brought in for him to shoot, what he thinks about is “this bet­ter taste good.”

Even EWWS, who spe­cial­izes in a dif­fer­ent kind of food pho­tog­ra­phy, says that even in this day and age, looks shouldn’t mat­ter at all. “No mat­ter how beau­ti­ful, it is still food, it has to be en­joyed. You can al­ways take the pic­ture and you have it in your file for­ever. For taste, you have to keep com­ing back for more.”

Af­ter Ryan and Garovs tied the knot in 2013, they held an ex­hibit called FOODS in Pablo Gallery, which fea­tured their lives as new­ly­weds. “We found new plea­sure in go­ing to the gro­cery, se­lect­ing food to buy, pick­ing through fast food,” nar­rates Ryan. The way they pho­tographed food was in­con­spic­u­ous, pur­posely or­di­nary—a fried drum­stick, un­marked french fries, a mul­ti­lay­ered sand­wich all shot against bright back­grounds. One of the pieces from the col­lec­tion, a block of but­ter against a pas­tel pink back­drop, was briefly dis­played at the now de­funct The Girl + The Bull. The cou­ple con­tin­ued this theme with their sec­ond ex­hibit, FOODS: PANIC BUY­ING.

Per­haps the only pho­tog­ra­phers in this set to pre­fer shoot­ing the messy af­ter­math than the ac­tual dish, the Ver­garas opt for a more pop-art can­did­ness in their shoots, rem­i­nis­cent of ’70s ads.

But whether they’re shoot­ing a plate of half-eaten spaghetti or a foie gras-topped, truf­fle-in­fused piece of rib eye, all pho­tog­ra­phers agree that they have to make their sub­jects look good, or, rather, look like they taste good. Ev­ery time a dish is brought out for the Ver­garas to shoot, the first thing they think of is al­ways: “Pro­fes­sion­ally, is it ed­i­ble? Per­son­ally, it’s time to eat.”

Gabby agrees. “It doesn’t hurt if your food is both de­li­cious and In­sta­grammable.”

Eat­ing be­gins with the eyes, that much is cer­tain, but as with any ex­pe­ri­ence, try­ing food out is so much bet­ter than star­ing from the side­lines.

Al­ways SHOW the TEX­TURE of the food when do­ing pho­tog­ra­phy. —JEANNE YOUNG

“We’re trend­ing to­ward sim­ple food, but with peo­ple be­ing mind­ful of cor­rect prepa­ra­tion so taste be­comes para­mount,” Miguel re­flects. “That said, some­one will al­ways try to el­e­vate the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on the vis­ual level, and that’s fine, too.”


“Ex­plore your an­gles and pick a spot with nice light­ing,” Gabby urges. “There’s more to life than a top shot and a flat lay. I look for the best an­gle of the dish and work my shot from there.”

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