Take a look at your Instagram feed. Yes, it may show a real-time survey of the places your friends are eating and what they’re cooking, but it reveals even more about the lasting influence of food photography.
That awesome aerial view engineered atop a stool to show a table bountifully crowded with small plates? You can thank the emergence of cooking shows for this visual technique, devised to put viewers in the shoes of the chef. Or how about the way your buddy manages to create that shadowy, noir-ish essence around a shot of an icy cocktail? That’s chiaroscuro, and it’s been around since the Renaissance.
A fascination with food as a subject is nothing new: French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce snapped the first reported food photograph in 1832 (picture above), and it was a table with a bowl, a few utensils, a goblet, and a heel of bread. Since then, the practice has given birth to a whole industry dedicated to capturing the beauty, symbolism, and down-right deliciousness of food.
Inundated in this day and age with food photography—both awesome and not so awesome—you may be wondering what makes for a great, inspiring, iconic food photo in the first place? We’re glad you asked.
We turned to experienced photographers, chefs, and art historians, asking them the very same question in an attempt to cobble together a recipe for success. For some, food photography is about the message conveyed, from the lasting impression of Gourmet covers to key historical moments that reflect the way we eat. For others, great food photography is art, and its finest practitioners aren’t trade shooters but rather legends like Irving Penn. And still others focus on ingredients themselves, arguing that the image is simply a conduit for their inherent beauty.
For the full picture, take a stroll through food photography history, narrated by our industry commentators.