I have a confession to make: my name is Adam and I photograph my food.
All the time.Â At home and in restaurants, whether I cooked it myself or paid for a team of others to labor over a hot stove.
I photograph the simple (pasta with pesto) and the complex (recipes with 14 ingredients, 13 of which are individual recipes in and of themselves).
I do this often without regard for how it makes my family or friends feel when Iâ€™m with them.Â I know it has made many a dining companion uncomfortable, as I whip out anything from my iPhone to my Nikon DSLR to take photos of what weâ€™re about to eat.Â From different angles.Â With different settings for lighting.Â All just to remember the sweet and the savory on this particular day.
But recently, this hobby/passion/quirk of mine has been validated on multiple fronts, helping crystallize that Iâ€™m not alone and not as much on the â€œfringeâ€ as I used to think:
- Last week, the New York Times published an article entitled, First Camera, Then Fork: People Who Photograph Food and Display the Pictures Online.Â Â It talks of the growing phenomenon of â€œphoto food diariesâ€ and specific point-and-shoot cameras from Nikon, Canon and others that have dedicated â€œâ€™foodâ€™ or â€˜cuisineâ€™ modesâ€¦that enable close-up shots with enhanced sharpness and saturation so the food colors and textures really pop.â€Â The article also tells the story of a man who left his wife sitting at a table at Alinea because he forgot the correct lens for his camera. Â What the article doesnâ€™t mention is that Alinea is a mood-setting, dimly-lit restaurant in Chicago that only allows photography without a flash. Â It also only serves two two menus, currently priced at $150 or $225 respectively. Â Add in wine, tax and tip and a dinner can easily set you back as much (or more) as a front row ticket for a major concert.Â Order from the reserve wine list or a add decadent treat like shaved white truffles, and youâ€™re talking about sitting in the â€œfront 10 rows, center sectionâ€ so to speak.Â For that kind of cash, you want the right lens.
- The day before that article came out, the Timesâ€™ Dining Blog published this article with great practical tips on how to photograph your food.
- In March, the folks at Foodspotting unveiled their iPhone application which allows you to â€œspotâ€ your favorite food and take a photograph of it to share with your friends and others in your social network.Â Looking for a spicy tuna roll at a nearby sushi joint?Â Just search for it and you can see what youâ€™ll get before you arrive.Â As with many other popular geo-location applications, FoodspottingÂ gives you a chance to earn points and social currency but its heart lies in its fundamental proposition: our users photograph food and theyâ€™re proud of it (as illustrated by the graphic on this great t-shirt they were selling at South by Southwest in Austin).
Other validation came before these two, ones that also made me think about the food I eat and the pictures I take of them, but none in a form that I could help me acknowledge my “condition”:
- For the past 3+ years, Carol Blymire has been blogging (and posting step-by-step photos) as she works her way through a pair of the most complex cookbooks from two of the nationâ€™s most well-regarded (and most expensive) restaurants: The French Laundry and the aforementioned Alinea.Â I love her blogs and own both of these cookbooks and to say any single recipe is an investment of time is an understatement.Â To then stop and photograph each recipe every step of the way as you might for a cookbook only adds another layer of complexity to an already tough task.
- My palÂ James has been officially documenting what he cooks for nearly a year now and unofficially long before that.Â Heâ€™s much more talented without a recipe/cookbook in front of him than I am and he recently finished up his â€œ30 in 30â€ challenge: making 30 recipes heâ€™s never made over 30 consecutive days. Â And some of his best posting have come since he’s started cooking with his son, something I too enjoy with my daughter.
As I reflect on the photos Iâ€™ve takenâ€¦surely hundreds if not thousands by this pointâ€¦the sites above made me think of the five key reasons why I photograph the food I do (and why I skip others).Â Let me know if you have any to add to the list!
- Sadly for my liver, alcohol seems to be a common denominator.Â At home or in a restaurant, if thereâ€™s a glass of wine or a bottle of beer, somehow that makes the food more photogenic.Â I love an Egg McMuffin or a thick chocolate milk shake, but when thereâ€™s booze, a camera comes is more likely to come out.
- The meal doesnâ€™t have to be organic, directly from the farm or only reproducible on a small or expensive scale.Â Itâ€™s just fine if the food is from a box or a freezer.Â One of my all-time favorites was this â€œadultifiedâ€ macaroni and cheese I made using a box of macaroni & cheese and frozen edamame.
- Price can be an influence.Â Whether Iâ€™m purchasing ingredients to cook at home (sushi grade tuna, Alaskan King Salmon) or eating in a restaurant, the more expensive the meal, the more likely I am to photograph the food.Â But thatâ€™s not to say that an inexpensive meal or ingredients are NOT worth photographing.Â One of the best meals I can remember in recent memory was at Austinâ€™s The Salt Lick. Some of the best BBQ Iâ€™ve ever tasted, smelled or seenâ€¦and it just wasnâ€™t complete without taking some photos of the meat smoking.
- Travel.Â Whether for work or for pleasure, when Iâ€™m in a new city and enjoying a meal, taking pictures helps document that experience (like the time I visited Santa Fe and took pictures of the Hatch chilies roasting roadside, then packed as many as I could unroasted into my suitcase to take home).
- At the end of the day, food is a full sensory experience, most often enjoyed when shared with those around you, family that you love and friends you enjoy.Â You can see food, smell food, taste food, touch food and hear food (when itâ€™s cooking, at least).Â Few other forms of socialized entertainment can connect all five of those senses.