Is half a loaf better than one?

By and large, I think food photography has only gotten better and better in the decades since its aspicky, orange 1960's lowpoint.  Digital cameras mean mistakes are cheap and easily fixed, and the food blogging revolution has made outstanding imagery pretty much the norm.

The technically perfect photo - crisp, well-lit, large as life or larger - has been a cookbook staple for years. But more creative framing, props, and atmospheric lighting have been on the rise; in a sense, there's now some focus on eating and enjoying the food, not just cooking it.

As food photography's gotten more casual and more arty, a new phenomenon has cropped up -  the plate captured mid-delectation, crumb-strewn and half dismantled.  Maybe this has to do with the Instagramming and tweeting of dining experiences. I'm not sure.  But I think the intent is to convey the anticipation, the sensuality and immediacy of the act of eating. 

The most extreme of this that I have seen is the Culinary Institute of America's new pasta book.  It's true that many of the recipes are presented traditionally, with perfect plating and clean rims.  But a great number are shown in such an advanced state of consumption that you almost want to grab a scraper and a dish sponge.

It's only once in a great while that this bothers me, and mostly it's because I was hoping to use the picture as a guide to whether my own finished product looked right.  But I can also see why someone might be turned off by the half-eaten plate - the food photographic equivalent of chewing with your mouth open.  What do you think? Do you find this style of photography to be a sensual vision?  or an offputting one?  

5 Comments

  • Lindsay  on  7/1/2013 at 4:38 PM

    The photo in a cookbook should be part of the instructions - usually showing the final product but, sometimes, showing a particularly tricky preparation step. If I want to see an "artsy" food photo there are a lot of other places to go. So I feel cheated with food photos in cookbooks that obviously look like they're done for artistic and not instructional reasons.

  • Jane  on  7/1/2013 at 5:35 PM

    I don't mind too much seeing photos of food being eaten but I don't like seeing bite marks on food e.g. a brownie with a bite taken out. But the photos I really hate are the cutesy ones that put eyes and smiles onto the food. Anthropomorphism in food is horrible!

  • Breadcrumbs  on  7/1/2013 at 5:42 PM

    I'd call that style of photography "relatable". I have no issue with any photo that accurately depicts the dish that one can reasonably expect to produce from a recipe. What I do take issue with is photos that have been produced for artistic value only and that do not depict the dish as set out in the recipe. Beatriz Da Costa is an example of a photographer whose work turns me off. If you take a look at Mario Batali's books you'll see the difference. When Quentin Bacon is photographing dishes, you know that you can produce a dish that resembles the photo. Whereas in books like Italian Grill, where Da Costa is at the lens, the photos don't depict the dish as described in the recipe and often include ingredients in the photo that aren't even called for in the recipe.

  • Christophers  on  7/2/2013 at 7:50 AM

    Breadcrumbs, Beatriz works with some of the best art directors, food and prop stylists in the business (as done Quentin), and the outcome of a shoot is rarely attributable to just one member of the team. Just like any other trend, the half eaten plate will come to be associated with a particular period in time, and eventually feel a bit tired; then it's on to something new. But Lindsay, I hope we aren't assaulted with "instructional" photography void of any "artistic" merit

  • TrishaCP  on  7/4/2013 at 10:41 AM

    I am fairly open to most types of food photography, but have three pet peeves. 1). When a photograph of a finished dish clearly shows the recipe wasn't followed exactly, either instructions or ingredients. (Most recently noticed in "Jerusalem.") 2). Photos that make the food look unsanitary (a bandage on a bare hand making pizza in one cookbook comes to mind). 3). Too many photos of people- a few are fine, but not when they bulk out a cookbook to unwieldy levels.

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