This post has been written over several weeks and is the culmination of several things that have been swirling in my brain, both personally, professionally and as a blogger. It’s not as articulate as I’d like it to be but it is heartfelt. It’s not meant to be critical – instead, I hope it inspires you to reach inside and do what speaks to you and makes you happy.
Lately, I’ve been feeling in a rut with my food photography. I notice it when I set up a shot, when I look at my proofs, and when I flip through my recent photos on flickr.
Recently, two of my absolute favourite food photographers both posted new photos to their flickr stream. These are people I admire greatly, who have wonderful technique, and who have highly influenced my photography. Not to mention, they are both very successful professionally.
So here’s the thing… at first glance of the photos, I didn’t differentiate between the two photographers. I though they were both by the same one… and I didn’t know which one. It wasn’t until I looked again later that I realized they had both posted new photos!
What does this say? No, they weren’t copying one another – the photos were of completely different subjects, and besides, they are both far to ethical to do something like that.
Food Photography Trends
Like all things, there are trends in photography. And it’s very easy to fall into a trend because it’s what you see, every day. It’s easy when you are starting out to be highly influenced by a trend because often, our first instinct is to try to imitate what we see – it helps us to learn and improve our technical skills. “Hey, I like that, I wonder if I can do that?” But it doesn’t help you develop your style. That is unique to you and it’s important to nurture that.
This leads me to something else that I have been noticing more and more of lately: the need by so many food bloggers to have their photos accepted by the food gallery sites. You know the ones: Tastespotting, Foodgawker, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, these sites are fun and pretty to look at and I have galleries on both of them. They also give you a wonderful traffic boost, and who’s immune to that?
But, I think it’s very important to realize that these sites encourage a certain look – generally highly exposed, bright and airy. And it makes sense – in that square format in a thumbnail gallery, high key images have the most impact to the viewer. And, as just stated, you are required to submit a square photo. Last time I checked, my camera didn’t shoot in square mode. I’m a full frame kinda gal and that’s how I compose my shots.
I wish people didn’t worry about having photos accepted so much. Not every shot is ideal for these sites. But that doesn’t make it a bad photograph. It’s so important to realize that. Don’t photograph your food with the end goal being that you want that photo to be in a gallery site. You will never develop your own style if that’s the case.
Some of the photos I’m most proud of would never be accepted by either Tastespotting or Foodgawker. In fact, I’ve had a few declined. And I’ve had a few accepted that I, personally, felt were rather mediocre efforts on my part – but they fit the mold and I knew they did when I submitted them!
After some initial experimentation, I’ve changed how I submit to either site. After I do a shoot, I go through and I pick my favourites – the ones I’m most proud of and that I think will fit the post I’m working on the best. After I write and post, I decide if the photos would work in a cropped variation and if I think they’re appropriate for the gallery sites. And more often than not, I don’t feel they are and I don’t submit them. It’s not whether or not I think they’re good enough, it’s whether or not I think they’re appropriate. That’s the key.
Do What You Love and People Will Come
Hey, don’t get me wrong, if your goal is to drive traffic to your site or jut get a photo accepted because you see it as a challenge, study the photos already on the site and follow their lead!
And while that traffic boost is great, how much of it converts into quality traffic? How many of those viewers stick around and read the rest of your blog, make a comment, subscribe, or follow you on twitter? All I have to do is look at my google stats to know that it’s a tiny percentage. Very tiny. I’ll have hundreds, sometimes over 1,000, new visitors in a day when a photo makes the food sites. But my pages/visit stat, which I consider much more important, will drop like a stone. Instead of being around 2, it will drop down to 1.1 or 1.2.
But, develop your own unique style and you will draw people to you… because the spirit of who you are will come through in your photos. And people are drawn to things that are genuine and heartfelt and full of passion. You don’t show your passion when you are doing what everyone else is.
Going Back To My Food Photography Roots
So in the spirit of this, I’ve decided to do things differently. I went back through some old photos from when I was just starting out and didn’t know any better. Those photos are not technically wonderful. But they are me. Full of colour, bright and bold. Simple and full of white space. Cheerful and happy. They draw me in unlike my most recent photos.
No, they don’t always showcase the food well. But, I don’t shoot commercially. I know that when I post a recipe, the food is the hero and I will still respect that and do my best to make you want to dig in. But I’m going to start throwing in more of those shots that make photography fun for me and that express who I am. I hope you all enjoy them, but I know some of you won’t. And that’s ok too.
Food Photographers Doing Their Own Thing
Is food photography in a rut? Mine is. But not everyone else’s is.
Over the coming weeks I’m going to showcase a few food photographers who are stretching out and doing things a little differently. They all have a very unique style. I know when I’m looking at one of their photos from a mile away, and they’re beautiful. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do too!
Till then, photograph what speaks to you and use your imagination. You don’t need distressed backgrounds or antique pots and pans or big airy decks, or all white backgrounds unless that’s what speaks to you.
Practice, practice, practice. Photography is not pointing a camera and clicking the button. That’s taking a picture. Read your manual, know your dials and buttons better than you know your keyboard, so you can operate them in your sleep or the dark. Improve your technique so you can execute what’s in your creative eye. Exit your comfort zone. Before you know it, your voice will shine through.