Food Photography, how Instagram changed the Business


I have in the past worked with an award winning food photographer and from what I know, they are in a class of their own but as technology would have it, a slew of foodie pictures found regularly on Instagram has made life a little more difficult. 

Foodies blog about where to eat and what to eat, and in the process take photos for their Instagram feed as part of their promotional efforts. Some of the pictures showcase capture the unique atmosphere of the eatery or restaurant while others are styled in such a way that reflect their creativity and lighting. 

There are still people who shoot food but budgets for a stylist would depend on the client. Today, almost anyone who wants to get creative can look through the numerous instagram photos that are tagged with #foodphotography to get an idea on what is possible. This comes at the expense of professional stylist who once commanded decent paychecks just to style food. 

Today, the digital photographer is nothing more than a journeyman, who goes out of his way to make a budget shoot possible. Food styling was once an art. If it looks good on picture, then it's good to eat...except that it wasn't the case. Industrial glazes and chemicals were added to bring out the color and making it look exceptional during the age of analogue film was an art in itself. you needed quality studio lighting and exposure readings had to be made at every step to avoid unexpected results. Photographers would burn through boxes of Polaroid prints just to check the color and lighting. It was, ultimately a time consuming process. 

With Photoshop, changing the colors isn't a big deal anymore. You want the lobster to look more crimson, it can be done with the right tint. Selective tinting is a boon to food photography and for that, you can ask any digital artist. 

How Instagram made Food Photography Fashionable 

The advent of social media changed the food photography landscape. First, people posted to Facebook and Flickr, and when Instagram came along, that became a food fashion statement on where you have been eating. 

It also helped to promote the eateries themselves, forcing chefs to style the food in a platter that is welcoming to the eyes and photography aficionados. The choice of plates, cutlery and table setting had to be tempting enough for people to drop by and take pictures for their friends to see.

This sort of thinking started to influence how food photography was conducted. It was not about shooting the images at at studio anymore like what you find at Dominoes Pizza or McDonalds. 

Today Food Photography is a mass market exercise that is not dominated by professionals but amateurs. 

Pros help to style the photos in the menu but they don't sell the restaurant. It is the mass market posting on social media that ultimately decides your success. 

This has led people to believe that food styling and photography is but the tip of the ice berg. An image with the right food proportions is what gives the idea on what your guest are getting but ultimately, it is the posting on social media that builds your reputation. 

We no longer have to wait for a jaded food reviewer to tell you that the food doesn't taste as good as it looks, you can already get that if you mates are foodies who eat in many places and post what they have tasted on Facebook. 

Social media campaigns have to tied with socially shared pictures and that's what builds branding and interest in the long term. The short term is always about putting up a print ad or two to get the ball rolling. Promotions at this point is just to tell people you're open for business. And as long as your food comes out of the kitchen that is great to look at and inspires the appetite, those pictures will go viral. 

Food Photography as a Business

The prospect of an Instagram foodie styling and shooting your menu is a reality. Restaurants don't need to hire professional photographers these days as budgets for them will run into thousands of dollars just for the menu pictures alone. 

Pros would like to take that business but with the onslaught of Instagram foodies, that makes it a very difficult proposition. 

What's more, being a pro food photographer would also mean starting up in a location where there is a food culture and with competition coming from amateurs, it gets more difficult to include a professional food stylist as a part of the package. 

So not only would you have to be the photographer and stylist, you also needed to be a good digital artist to know how to enhance those shots you made. 

The good part of this is the simplicity of it all. No DSLRs are necessary. You can shoot with a portable strobe (like the Foldio 2) and an iPhone if you knew how and as long as your services are priced accordingly (and not by the thousands of dollars) you probably can have your cake and eat it.

UPDATE: Instagram photos now in portrait and landscape

So what better way to sell your restaurant than with a full size picture instead of a square one? Get your customers cracking, dress the tables and dining area and color coordinate your table wares. The food is going to be complemented with more than just a square close up of the food but everything else about the restaurant can now be experienced.