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Take a brief tour through the origins and history of food photography, and learn what food trends are heating up in 2020.
We eat first with our eyes. And if the sheer amount of photos of food that appear in stock marketplaces, magazines, cookbooks, journals, and on our screens tells us anything, this has never been more true.
Food photography has been around since the 1840s, but the recent surge of interest in food over the past few years has tipped #foodporn into mass culture. Here, we explore the trajectory of food photography and what trends will define this next era of eating with our eyes.
Healthy (and delicious) food. Offset Images by Shana Novak.
The Rise of Food Photography
For many of us, food is more than sustenance. It’s a form of communication. And because of its complexity and versatility, it also happens to be highly visual.
Food and photography have gone together like peanut butter and jelly since the medium of taking images was introduced. One of the first photographs of food—a photo of carefully arranged peaches and pineapple inspired by the still-life paintings of the era—was taken in the 1840s by William Henry Fox Talbot, not long after the first daguerreotype was unveiled (the first commercially viable photographic process).
Fast forward to the advent of advertising in the mid-1930; food became a vehicle to sell, not just an art form. Following that cookbooks introduced technicolor photography to the home cooks, which encouraged them to focus not just on taste but also on visual appeal.
Meat for days. Image by Casaniva.
Food Blogs and Digital Food Marketing
With the internet came food blogs and Instagram, which catapulted food into pop culture. In today’s food world, cookbooks are more like photo books with recipes while Netflix and the rise of celebrity chefs dominate our newsfeeds and timelines. It may seem like we’ve reached the peak, but the 2.1 million photos uploaded to Instagram are merely a culmination of two centuries of our interest in the subject. Susan Bright, author and curator of the book “Feast for the Eyes,” which documents the evolution of food photography through the ages, says of the recent experimentalism in food photography, “Here food seduces the viewer in another way altogether.”
We’re predicting food culture will continue to sit at the forefront of culture in the next decade. So what does this mean for food photography? Here are five trends to explore when it comes to creating images of food.
Trend #1: Ugly Delicious
Perfection fatigue is real. We’re told how to look better, feel better, act better, save better, do better. It’s no wonder we crave authenticity and transparency.
For food, this translates to what top chef David Chang epitomized in his Netflix show: Ugly Delicious. Images of half-eaten dishes, dinner plates stacked up in a sink post-meal, kitchen messes, crumbs and wayward bits of food all illustrate the pleasure, process, and joy of cooking. We have the rise of the home cook, plus media brands like Bon Appetit—who has built a cult-like following in embracing the persona and realness of the kitchen—to thank for this trend. Food is honest, so embrace this trend in all its ugly, delicious glory.
A whole new meaning to fresh fish. Image by maxtimofeev.
Trend #2: A Color Story
There’s a story behind every color.
Burnout orange. Millennial pink. Cyberpunk green. Dystopian red. For 2020, Pantone selected Classic Blue as its Color of the Year—a hue that, according to Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute, “…anticipates what’s going to happen next.” Shutterstock had similar sentiments with our Color Trends for 2020, outlining Phantom Blue as a top color for creative industries to use.
Colors that contrast. Image by Picture Store.
We also have food to thank for many of our color names (just think of mint green as one example). This next era of food photography will see images incorporating colors in more interesting and arresting ways that bring out the texture in food or highlight one element in a dish.
Trend #3: Give Props to Props
Props are a key element in food photography. Increasingly, photographers are experimenting with unusual props that create abstract and high-concept food images, such as an unconventional take on the time-honored still-life which shows decomposing food instead. Like food, this trend sees photographers instilling a sense of play and fun into their images. Food is fun, so have fun creating images with it.
Dinner companion. Offset Image by Vira Simon-Nikulina.
Trend #4: Food is Futuristic
The world is becoming futuristic. The images we take of food in the 2020s may reflect our changing reality.
What will this look like? Perhaps it’s heirloom seeds being preserved in a cryo chamber for future generations. It may be documentary-style images that call attention to wasteful—or alternatively, eco-friendly and sustainable—packaging. Perhaps it’s frozen food: as we look to convenience, reducing waste, and increasing our self-sufficiency in this next decade of uncertainty and turmoil, fresh, flash-frozen foods may replace what we think of the modern pantry.
The future of meat and produce. Image by Zapp2Photo.
Trend #5: Cannabis, But Delicious
Think infused olive oils, honey, seltzer water, and salt rather than brownies. As the Cannabiz trend continues to take off in 2020, we’ll see more ways in which we are elevating our food through cannabis. These days anything can be edible (especially if you use CBD-infused butter or olive oil). So, the spotlight on ethical brands and companies who make food-based cannabis products is critical.
Marijuana butter, anyone? Offset Image by Maren Caruso.
Trend #6: Food Created by the People
Food is something we eat, but more often than not it’s something created by people.
Documenting the people behind food is a trend that cemented itself with the rise of cooking shows. The next iteration of this is highlighting people not typically shown in the limelight: the humble and hardworking farmers, producers, and artisans. The famed South Carolina chef Sean Brock says, “I want people to really respect the ingredients and respect [farmers],” he adds, “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Sweden or South Carolina.” Create images that put real people at the center of the story.
Note: At the time of writing coronirus (COVID-19) outbreak recommends safe social distancing. While we want to provide inspiration for future photoshoots, we recommend that photographers listen to government restrictions on social interaction to support flattening the curve.
Loved ones = loved meals. Image by Halfpoint.
Images with a Sense of Place
This also taps into another micro-trend in food: creating images with a strong sense of place. Most people still buy their groceries in the supermarket, but at least (for most of us) we understand this is not where food comes from. Creating food images that anchor a dish or ingredient with a sense of place will only contribute to our evolving cultural awareness and appreciation of food.
“The most personal is the most creative.” One of the more memorable quotes from this year’s Oscars came from director Bong Joon Ho when he quoted this well-known line by fellow nominee and peer Martin Scorcese.
This is true across the board in any industry. Food is a highly personal and subjective. And while stock marketplaces don’t always reflect highly personal food projects, this movement is about less post-production and more about capturing the everyday food that crosses your lips. Look to Martin Parr’s Real Food as an example of this.
Plated vs. unplated. Offset Image by Kai Schwabe / WestEnd61.
Trend(ish) #7: Regardless of the Trends, Food Still Has to Look Delicious
However you photograph food—whether it’s ugly, honest, highly stylized, or abstract—it still has to look delicious. Food can’t look fake. In fact, food photography should exude an effortless look because, after all, we eat first with our eyes.
Cover image by Offset Artist Peter Karasev.
Looking for more food photography inspiration? Check out these articles:
Artist Series with Food Photographer Joanie SimonPhotographing Vegan Food: The Growing Trend of Sustainable DiningCheap Tricks for Wallet-Friendly Stock Food Photography9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos#Instafood: Why Restaurants are Hungry for User-Generated Content
Read more: shutterstock.com