About two years ago I hit a wall with food blogging. To become on par with the great “mise en scène” food stylists & photographers-bloggers (Tartelette, Ilva, Matt, Aran), in addition to a lot of time to practice and refine your craft (talent doesn’t hurt either), food styling and photography takes a lot of props: plates, cups, napkins, placemats, silverware, backgrounds, baskets, utensils, textiles, sprigs of lavender, leaves, and vintage this and that.
It’s a lot of stuff.
And all those little details make some of the best food photos feel like you’ve really walked in on a party, stepped into someone’s kitchen, or sat down in a beautiful restaurant. I live in an apartment whose actual size I haven’t been able to accurately measure but we believe it’s in the neighborhood of 40 sq meters, about 430 sq feet. I know there are smaller apartments in places like NYC, but it’s about as small as I want to go. When I was moving into the apartment years ago, I took a look at the big container I kept full of interesting plates and cups, things I never used in everyday life but just for food photography, and I had to make a decision.
It just didn’t make sense to keep all of it.
So I pared down my food photography props to a small selection and continued to make do. Now I don’t wander into cooking stores looking for cute cups or bowls and I don’t crave linens or other things I see in beautifully designed food photography. If you look at my more more recent years of photography on this site, I stopped worrying about the props as much and just concentrated on the food. If you see the same plates or placemats in my photos, I know you’ll forgive me.
At the same time, I decided I really wanted to improve at taking portraits of people and capturing their uniqueness and helping to tell their story, too. My photography while traveling was always full of interesting sights and food, but not so much of the people that colored that landscape and those memories. From the street food seller in India to the taralli, bread, or mozzarella makers, they colored my food moments, too.
Jaden from Steamy Kitchen (awesome food blogger and friend) posted a video from food photojournalist Penny De Los Santos after I started writing this post, and Penny summed up almost perfectly what I love about food photography, and what I hope to embrace moving forward:
“It’s not just what’s about on the plate. It’s about everything around it – the details, the history, the scenes, the people, the culture, the history, the geography, and especially the moments. All of this is great substance for photographs.”
While I love cooking in my own kitchen and sharing recipes, it’s not what completely drives me. I stand in awe of those that can publish recipe after recipe and continue to make them fresh, interesting, and appealing.
Me? I just really love food. It’s the one constant with every person on this planet. And I love everything around it.
Case in point: here’s one of my favorite portraits from Thailand – a woman selling street food outside one of the temples near Chiang Mai. Though Thai people often speak English, for some reason I had to tell her in Italian she had “un bel sorriso” (beautiful smile), pointing to my own mouth and smiling.
She shocked me when she responded, “Grazie.”
I love that it’s now one of my food photography memories.