Why Should You Use Professional Food Photography

Why Should You Use Professional Food Photography
January 19, 2017 John McCallum

Why Should You Use Professional Food Photography

Once upon a time, very long ago, I looked after a client who was a food manufacturer. It was a well established business and they weren’t short of money.  One of the reasons for that was their habitual reluctance to spend any. The client, after very long discussions and consideration decided to change to a new form of packaging which was going to be supplied by a Scandinavian company. I was tasked with the preparation of the new packaging artwork which was to include a full colour photograph of a table setting with the client’s products and what could be created with them. The new packaging allowed use of photography far sharper and seriously superior to the images on the old packaging. I approached two photographers, both with high food photography reputations and excellent contacts with expert food stylists and both asked for the kind of money that, in my view, the client would not accept, and I wasn’t wrong.  I then spoke to a competent commercial photographer who came up with a quote that both the client and I thought was much more realistic. In those days we worked with transparencies and when they duly arrived from the photographer I thought they were fine and so did the client. The packaging manufacturer didn’t. He studied the transparencies on a lightbox, looked at them with a magnifying glass and pronounced them “ Not goot enough, not as should be really.” He was a very polite, civilised chap and, rather than have a confrontation with a very new customer, he simply gathered up everything we had given him and headed back home.

He reappeared two weeks later, opened his briefcase and quietly placed on the lightbox a selection of transparencies. It was the same table setting but that was the only thing that was the same. The photography was stunningly better. His triumph was complete when he announced, very quietly and politely, that there would be no charge for the photography; his company had footed the bill as an investment in the relationship but, could we please in future use a proper food photographer. You could say he made his point.

 Just as some photographers have a great talent for portrait photography food and drink photography is a highly specialised art. The combination of a skilled food stylist and a real food photographer just can’t be replicated by enthusiastic amateurs. Smart ‘phone ownership has put a decent camera into the hands of millions but it hasn’t made them photographers and it certainly hasn’t made them capable of shooting professional standard food shots. Quite apart from composing the shot, which is crucial, there is lighting to consider and that means a lot more than getting the subject near the window. Lighting needs a trained eye and lighting food and drink is quite different from lighting a pile of books.

Making the food look good takes far more than just a good cook or even a chef. When you attend a shoot and watch a food stylist draw lines on chicken breasts with an eyebrow pencil, paint them with baby oil and then see them suddenly, magically look perfectly grilled you get the feeling that she knows her business. Similarly, processed mashed potato frequently masquerades as ice cream and shaving foam looks like just the best whipped cream you ever tasted. Bricklayers lay bricks, opticians prescribe correct lenses and food photographers take good pictures of food and drink. They do it better than anyone who isn’t a food photographer and trying to save on their costs is always a false economy.  

About the author.

Roy McCallum joined the advertising industry in the mid 1970s and has created campaigns for a wide variety of food and drink brands over the years. He was a founder and creative director of Levy McCallum and is a consultant to Root & Toot.

 Food Photography



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