My interest is food photography and so that forms the basis from which I have looked at this topic.
Putting things into context first.
The aim of photography in general is to purposefully create compositions that have a clear message and that are visually impressive and influential.
How effectively a message is conveyed is dependent upon a combination of strong composition and skilful photographic technique.
There is a number of fundamental skills that are essential to all genres of photography, irrespective of subject and type of equipment being used. These are, for example, composition and lighting.
There are, however, types of specialist knowledge which are unique to some types of photography which derive a series of skills which are seemingly unimportant, sometimes understated, quite often overlooked and which sit quietly in the background. These skills are referred to as interdisciplinary skills which draw upon knowledge and experience gained through the study of non-photographic subjects.
In addition to photographic knowledge and technique, two disciplines underpin the practice of food photography: the culinary arts and design.
Such knowledge and skills are essential in order to produce images which are not only compelling but which also withstand the translation of a tangible three-dimensional entity into a two-dimensional image.
Morris, 2016. Still-life with Garlic, Olive Oil and Tomatoes
The culinary arts are defined as “the art of the preparation, cooking and presentation of food” and draw upon such bodies of knowledge as food science, and diet and nutrition.
Food science is: “the application of basic sciences and engineering to the study of physical, chemical and biochemical nature of foods and the principles of food processing” (Food Science).
In real terms, the purpose of food photography is to produce images which portray the food’s intrinsic characteristics in order to stimulate, in the viewer, the sensation of hunger and a corresponding desire to consume the food they see.
Preparing, cooking and presenting food in a way which portrays it in the most appealing manner requires, for example, a knowledge of the way in which the food’s molecular structure will respond to the cooking process.
Whilst food science provides knowledge of how ingredients react during cooking, sensory evaluation, the scientific discipline that analyses and measures human responses to the composition of food and drink, is concerned with such qualities as appearance, texture, odour and temperature and the way that these characteristics interplay with the senses of sight, touch and smell.
In culinary terms, the following qualities and corresponding senses are important:
Appearance – sight: shape, size, colour and surface texture; food needs to look appealing; temperature (yes – you can see temperature, trust me!)
Texture – touch
Temperature – touch
Odour – smell: volatile aromas released from food; odour and taste work together to produce flavour
Taste: bitter, sweet, salt, sour, umami
Sound – hearing: sounds of food being prepared, cooked, served and eaten influence preferences.
Practically, the culinary arts provide food photographers with a base of knowledge which is essential in order to accurately identify and then portray the physical characteristics of food in an appealing and influential manner through the use of a two-dimensional medium.
Additionally, food photographers require such knowledge in order to communicate successfully with other professionals such as chefs, food stylists, art directors and editors on collaborative projects.
Morris, 2016. Chocolate Brownie with Raspberries and Cream
The art of design is a systematic approach to the construction of compelling images.
The system provides a number of principles and elements which can be studied and then applied in order to produce images which convey a clear message.
Having knowledge and understanding of the principles and elements of design allows compositional decisions which improve the way that photographs both look and read to be made.
It’s practical application in relation to food photography is for food styling, complimenting and supporting the knowledge of food presentation arising from the study of the culinary arts.
Morris, 2016. Sushi
Two important but often unasked questions related to the making of photographic images are: “who will view my images?” and “how will my images be used?”
There are a number of categories into which a photograph can fall, still life and photojournalism being two examples.
The boundaries between these different genres can be quite grey and undefined and as a result it is possible to place a photograph into more than one category.
But what determines how we class a photograph?
Is it the intent of the photographer at the time of taking the photograph? Or, is it the end use to which the photograph is put that determines its photographic classification?
Why is this important? Well, it’s important because it determines when a photograph stops being a fine art or still life image existing purely to bring visual pleasure and instead becomes an educational tool.
This has an important interdisciplinary aspect because, perhaps arguably, at some point a collection of photographs illustrating a cookbook stops being a body of photographic work and instead become a significant contribution to the furtherance of culinary knowledge.
In conclusion, then, some knowledge is common to all forms of photography, irrespective of classification.
The subject plays a major role in determining into which category a photograph is placed.
In order to capture the true essence of the subject, it is essential that the photographer has an in-depth knowledge of the subject. To gain a sufficient knowledge of the subject requires the photographer to look beyond the subject and the photographic process and draw upon areas which lie outside photography.
In relation to food photography, the culinary arts and design are allied to photographic knowledge.
The knowledge and experience that derive from these areas enable the intrinsic characteristics of the subject to successfully make the conversion from three-dimensional reality into a two-dimensional image.