If you’re a Chive frequenter you might have seen the their recent 22-count photo compilation post titled “Pictures of hipsters taking pictures of food“. We get it. It’s a little silly, maybe even off-putting watching people whip out their cameras – whether it’s a DSLR, point and shoot, or phone – and snap a photo of the meal that was placed in front of them merely seconds before. Sure, people go to some interesting if not comical lengths to capture an interesting shot. (We’ve been known to get a few stares and find ourselves in some interesting positions.) Again, we get it. But we have a few things to say in defense of hipsters taking pictures of food.
Not everyone who obsessively takes pictures of their food is a professional photographer and for that matter, even self-identifies as a “hipster”. Obviously. Even Martha Stewart’s Twitter feed a year ago was filled with nausea inducing photographs of
vomit food. Not everyone who takes photographs of their food is a professional critic, or even a blogger. But, two things everyone who photographs food does have in common is that they, along with every living being on this planet, needs food to survive, and that they, unlike most beings on this planet, have found an appreciation for culinary craft. That’s right. Taking a photograph of your food can either be meant as a compliment or a criticism.
Like social media, food connects us. It grounds us to our geographical roots, allows us to travel vicariously, and creates community around a shared experience. Food allows for expression, and artistic creativity. Some people prefer paint brushes, others prefer a pantry full of ingredients and a set of chef’s knives. No one bats an eye when tourists at the Smithsonians snap a subpar shot of a priceless painting to share online with their friends and family. That may be the only time they’ll have the opportunity of appreciating the painting in person. But that photo, may move someone too. That photo might convince others they need to go see it for themselves. That photo may start a conversation about art and encourage the sharing of opinions and interpretations. Art after all is subjective. And, to us, food IS art.
We’ve all seen food in advertisements and magazines. Especially when it comes to fast food and chain restaurants, we know the food is staged (because it NEVER looks the way it does IRL). There are quite a few tricks photographers and food stylists use to get the best shot. That steam you see coming off of the food so clearly? There’s probably a microwaved water soaked cotton ball hidden behind the plate. Those pancakes that look so perfect? Yeah, those were likely sprayed with Scotchguard to keep the syrup from soaking in. And by the way, there’s also a chance that syrup is motor oil. Gross. However, that “hipster” at the next table over, iPhone in hand, grabbing photos of every plate on the table, is doing everyone a favor. Those photos, whether they show up on Urbanspoon, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr, are accurate and honest representations of what you – as a diner – can expect at the establishment…for better or worse.
We appreciate the ability to eat with our eyes before deciding whether or not we care to try a new places and dishes. We appreciate the trend of what we’re calling “honest food” documentation. And all this comes back to customers’ photos providing compliments or criticisms. In our experience, a truly beautiful and creative plating will come across as such, and will usually be met with a minimum of 140 characters of praise. It is essentially free advertising for the restaurant and we believe a direct complement to the chef. Word of mouth is still the number one trusted source of advertising. Assuming that the photo isn’t just downright bad, a photograph of food that looks subpar (i.e. disgusting) acts as a warning to potential customers, but we think also provides constructive criticism to the restaurant. Is this really what you want your food to look like? Is this what it was supposed to look like? Have you had this sort of criticism before?
Of course we admit some people just take it way too far and need to back away from the camera. No one needs to see your Starbucks order. We all know what that looks like. We all know what McDonald’s looks like. We all know what Olive Garden looks like. Mass production is hardly photo worthy. But for the true innovators, the start-ups, the curious, and the adventurous – food photography serves the purpose of creating a space for those to share their infatuation for food while informing consumers. We haven’t met many (read any) chefs that don’t have a passion for cooking for others. In fact, we’re not sure it’d be possible to be successful in their chosen vocation without that driving enthusiasm. It’s hard work, long hours, and often times thankless.
With all that said, keep in mind there are some rules one should follow when photographing your food. Don’t be rude. If you need to stand up, make sure your butt is not near anyone’s face, and for the love of all things holy don’t bump into the chairs and tables near you. It’s not a bad idea to ask your table mates if they mind that you snap a quick photo. Your conversation and time spent with them is far more important than a photograph. Don’t be loud. Don’t be a spectacle. Don’t lessen the experience for the rest of the customers just so you can get that perfect shot. That also includes using your flash, moving your food to a better lit table, or putting it on the floor for the sake of an angle or better backdrop. And finally, there are establishments who prefer you put all of your electronics away for the sake of other guests and your overall experience. Restaurant rules should always be respected. You are their guest. In other words, don’t be a douche.
So there you have it; our defense of “hipsters” taking pictures of food. We just have one thing left to say.
Keep calm and photograph on!
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