Is Food Photography in a Rut?

go your own way

 

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.

Cupcakes

I just like cupcakes

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.

 

Loose tea and hot tea in a cup

A photo from my very first food photography class. It's not square.

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.

Hershey Kisses kissing

This is square, because it works for the photo. And it's also very me.

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.

spicy squid in a black bowl

The shot that started it all. My very first food photo, taken in 2006 during my first Pic A Day project, where I learned so much! (with a point and shoot, by the way). Spicy Squid

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.

 

A smiley face made of jellybeans

The first comment I got on this photo was "this makes me happy". Way better validation than a gallery pick.

 

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.

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95 Responses to Is Food Photography in a Rut?

  1. Ethan April 14, 2011 at 9:29 PM #

    There is so much goodness in this post. As someone who is learning how to use the dials on my dslr, it definitely is a struggle but I’m doing my best to see it as a journey of improvement.
    I’m glad you won’t compromise what you want to shoot. I’m disappointed when I hear that happening. For what it’s worth, I think all your pictures are wonderful, I’d love to be in a “rut” if I was producing your pictures!

    • Melissa April 14, 2011 at 9:45 PM #

      Thanks for your nice words, Ethan. And your latest photos have been great! I’m so glad you’re persevering because it’s paying off :)

  2. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite April 15, 2011 at 3:48 AM #

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I needed this post so much this week. I have only been at this a couple of years and only had a DSLR for a year or so and even though I know I have come a long way, I still get in a rut myself about pics *I* love not getting accepted. I totally know what you mean about the “look” – and yes, people play the game. But you’re right – if you are all about the numbers, you need to play the game.

    Personally, I need to make peace with the fact that *I* know my pics are improving even if they aren’t accepted every time by those sites. The particular style that regularly gets accepted (and it’s hard to put it into words but I totally know what you mean) doesn’t always work for what I am shooting. So I guess I am lucky when anything is accepted.

    And re: traffic? I take comfort in the fact that I regularly get 20+ comments from regular readers (some of whom have been reading since my blog began) with something interesting to say, not just “YUM” or “looks delicious” which fly by traffic will often leave (is they leave anything). I need to pin this up on my wall:

    “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.”

    • Melissa April 15, 2011 at 9:33 AM #

      yes Mardi, you’ve created a community with your blog, and to me anyway, that is much more important than traffic counts. Blogging in any field is an evolution. Writing takes practice, photography takes practice, learning the ins and out of good blog design and marketing takes practice. Very few worthwhile things come easily and it’s important to take a step back some days and remind yourself of just how far you’ve come. Plus, perfection is very very boring! ;-)

  3. Jodi April 15, 2011 at 5:45 AM #

    You’ve started an interesting, worthwhile discussion with this issue, Melissa.

    I’m a writer first and foremost — always have been, always will be — but of course it’s nearly impossible these days to have a food blog without a photographic element to it. Once I started taking photos I found it fun, but lately I’ve been a bit bored with all of the tight close-ups that generally find their onto my blog and a lot of others.

    Yet now that I’ve started to experiment with some different approaches — backing away from the food, not letting it fill the entire frame — the results are, well, less than great. And that’s frustrating.

    I was talking about it with my partner one night — he taught photography in another life — and he made a few good observations. Most of us food bloggers have come to photography by way of this blogging thing in an age when a good camera does most of the work. I can shoot in full manual — I don’t have to know a single thing about the mechanics of the camera or theories of composition, seeing, etc. — and get decent shots to show for it. Of course, the easiest shots to get in that mode are fairly close up, lit by a single natural light source, and pretty colour-saturated. Meanwhile, I spend my time reading many food bloggers who are doing very similar things, and that’s influencing what I think a good food shot looks like.

    As I’ve been trying to branch out, however (as I said above, standing much further away from the food, letting two-thirds of the shot be background), I’m finding that I don’t know how to do things like make the middle-to-back of the frame really sharp (hello, depth of field!) or diffuse or bounce light properly to illuminate dark spots.

    What’s required of me now is to learn how my camera works so that I am in full control of each shot (I’m one of those people who shoots a million photos knowing there’ll be a least one or two usable images in the lot). I also realize that I don’t know much about the history of photography in general — who shot in what way and why? what techniques are out there and how did they develop? Learning about those things will lead me, I think, to the most important question for me right now: What aesthetic meshes best with the particular kind of food writing I do?

    Now, this isn’t to say that a degree in photography is required to be effective with images. But for me at the moment, I see knowledge acquisition as a way to help me develop my own style and really learn what my own eye likes rather than being relegated to shooting only what I can at my current skill level and only what it seems others like or are shooting themselves.

    Looking forward to seeing your images in coming weeks, Melissa, and thanks again for this insightful post.

    • Melissa April 15, 2011 at 9:57 AM #

      Thanks for your reply Jodi! I think you hit the nail on the head when you said:

      As I’ve been trying to branch out, however (as I said above, standing much further away from the food, letting two-thirds of the shot be background), I’m finding that I don’t know how to do things like make the middle-to-back of the frame really sharp (hello, depth of field!) or diffuse or bounce light properly to illuminate dark spots.

      That is completely normal! David duChemin, one of my favourite photographers (he doesn’t photograph food though) once wrote a blog post about his new tilt-shift lens and it was so nice to hear that even the pros have to practice, practice, practice. They don’t just pop on a new piece of gear and shoot gorgeous photos! Whenever I get a new lens, I spend days and weeks shooting with nothing else on my camera. If I have to shoot something where I know I’ll need a lens in my kit that I haven’t used in a while, I’ll take it out a few days in advance and practice for hours.

      I straddle the line between an amateur and a professional. I do paid projects from time to time but mostly, I take photographs because I have to. It’s just something in me.

      Food is without a doubt, the hardest thing I’ve had to shoot so far and it has definitely improved my technical abilities through sheer force of will and practice. Keep at it and it will come.

      ps… try pushing up your f-stop to f7.1 or f8 or even higher to get a sharp photo from front to back. You will also need to slow your shutter speed so that you will allow in enough light and that will likely mean you will need to use a tripod. hope that helps!

      • Jodi April 16, 2011 at 8:07 AM #

        Yes! Aperture control!

        I had been shooting in shutter priority single getting my DSLR ~ for whatever reason that felt most comfortable to me. When in a fit of frustration one day I asked for advice, my partner (who is very kind to teach only when I ask for it, though it must make him crazy watching me sometimes!) suggested I try aperture priority. I’ve started doing that and it’s so much easier to control how much focus I get where, particularly when I’m not in tight. He also insisted that I buy a tripod, so I have that working for me now, too.

        It is my goal to know my equipment and the “science” of photography well enough to be shooting in full manual by year’s end. I really want to approach each shot being able to make any adjustment I need in order to get the image I want (not that surprises aren’t good, but I want that confidence in knowing I’m able to get the shot I need).

        Again, your post just really confirmed that all this effort is worth it, that working towards images that are a unique match for my writing is a good goal.

        And after reading through your post again and admiring the photos, I’ve decided I need a cupcake. Like, now.

        • Melissa April 16, 2011 at 9:44 AM #

          ahahaha… yesterday afternoon, i went and bought a cupcake while I was out doing some errands. I never normally do that but… that picture told me I needed one!

          keep on practicing with the camera – it’s the only way.

  4. briarrose April 15, 2011 at 5:47 AM #

    Great post with some wonderful points. :)

    • Melissa April 15, 2011 at 9:58 AM #

      Thanks, I hope it was useful!

  5. Cleo Coyle April 15, 2011 at 6:32 AM #

    As a storyteller by profession, I believe a picture should tell a story, and yours do in whimsical and colorful ways. Thank you for sharing your insightful thoughts, Melissa. I’m now a follower of your twitter, facebook, and RSS feeds.

    Cheers!
    ~ Cleo, author of The Coffeehouse Mysteries
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    • Melissa April 15, 2011 at 9:57 AM #

      thanks Cleo

  6. Danielle April 15, 2011 at 6:54 AM #

    Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else to wake up. I’m a tastespotting junkie and painstakingly look at every single post. I admire the work, wish my pictures looked like theirs, and long for the day I’ll see my name in lights on their site. But the truth of the matter is, I often wonder if those recipes actually taste good. I have sites that I know and trust. Sites that I know have similar tastes as mine and those are the sites I continue to go back to time and time again. I would love for my photography skills to be as good as some of the entrants on Tastespotting but I want my food to taste good even more than that. In raising 2 young children, I often have to make sacrifices with my time. My time is valuable and right now my time is best spent putting delicious, healthy meals on the table. My children’s nutrition couldn’t care less if I took a pretty picture of the food. I need to print out your last paragraph as a daily reminder. Thanks for the the wake up call.

    • Melissa April 15, 2011 at 10:02 AM #

      ah yes, I will be the first to admit, that while I’m a decent cook and love to experiment, I’m no recipe developer. Photography is my first love! The recipes I post on here are usually tried and true and I can make them in my sleep, which makes photographing them much easier.

      When I’m in full on cook/experimentation mode… well… that stuff rarely sees the light of day on here until I’ve made something many many times. I can’t multi-task in that way!

      You don’t need to be a pro. Just have decent light, a nice plate and keep it in focus. Simple is just fine.

  7. My Edible Diary April 15, 2011 at 9:05 AM #

    You could not be more right. I have been thinking that the particular style tastes of those two sites have homogenized food blogs. They particularly like the shallow depth of focus look, and anyone with a DSLR can achieve that. It’s easy. It’s wonderfully appropriate for some photos, but shallow depth of field for its own sake is just lazy photography. I am most impressed by magazines like Cucina Italiana. They are developing a new look full of simply composed photos where every element is crisp. It seems so modern and exciting to me. Thanks for posting this.

    • Melissa April 15, 2011 at 10:04 AM #

      Thanks for the magazine name – it’s not one I’ve looked at and I’ll have to check it out.

      And yes, shallow DOF is simple because, you don’t need much light, which in turn means you can hand hold. No tripod to set up, no reflectors and you can blur out a messy background. It has it’s place and can be beautiful but sometimes, I just crave something different!

  8. Kimmy April 15, 2011 at 10:13 AM #

    I love the honesty of this post. I too, have my galleries on those websites, and as a beginner in all of this, it’s exciting to get accepted. All too often though, I go through the same “square” issues. I also shoot full frame, and frankly, I like it that way. Not all things beautiful fit in a square box. I think, like most things, following your heart and happiness, will end up producing magic through the lens. Thank you for the reminder that this all should be fun and happy, and that we should find our own paths!

    • Melissa April 15, 2011 at 11:09 AM #

      of course it’s exciting to be accepted! there’s nothing wrong with participating in those sites at all! And if it pushes you to improve because you see it as a challenge, that’s geat.

      I just hate it when people get so disappointed when they don’t get accepted regularly because it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re taking poor photographs. It just means the person editing that day didn’t feel your photo fit with the overall site aesthetic. (I mean obviously, really poor light, bad focus, etc isn’t going to get you accepted, and it shouldn’t!)

      And wouldn’t the world be a boring place if everything DID fit in a square box? :)

  9. elizabeth April 15, 2011 at 10:59 AM #

    As a writer first and a photographer at a distant-but-closing-in second, I have to admit when it comes to traffic-boosting that I get frustrated, mainly because shooting in natural light is generally not something that’s feasible for most of the year and I have yet to jump into the dSLR pool (though hopefully our tax refund will allow for that purchase sooner rather than later) so I make the most with a tripod and P&S. But I do see it as a challenge to get accepted at those sites now and again so if I’m really pleased with a photo that falls within that aesthetic I will make every effort to submit it. I will also say that wanting to be accepted by them has made me a better photographer in the last year and a half.

    But it really should be about pleasing yourself first above anything or anyone else, because if you (meaning anyone) let outside influences to completely rule the aesthetics of your site just to drive traffic then some of that originality, that personal mark that made your site yours goes away. That originality, to me at least, is what ends up building quality traffic: maybe it doesn’t grow as quickly as you’d like it to, but it feels more real that way.

    This is a great post–I think you raise a lot of valid points and your final thoughts around practice ring true for me.

    • Melissa April 15, 2011 at 11:14 AM #

      Shooting in natural light in winter is hard. I have the exact same struggle. A DSLR will help you with that to a degree but you’ll still need that tripod. And try a reflector or mirrors to reflect more light back onto your subject.

      And as I said, there’s nothing wrong with submitting to the galleries. I do it too. It can be fun. But as you said, it’s important to remember that shouldn’t be your sole reason for taking the photo :)

      I think it’s Chase Jarvis who says “the best camera is the one you have with you”.

    • Melissa April 15, 2011 at 11:14 AM #

      oh, ps… love your avatar!

  10. Michelle April 15, 2011 at 6:04 PM #

    Thank you for this post Melissa. I was having a crisis of confidence today. Simply because I was looking at all these beautiful pictures and at professional blogs, and feeling miserable because I know at this point I am simply not equipped to do something like that.

    I am a full time mum, who will soon go back into the workforce as well. Its going to be a hard trek, but I do want to keep my blog going. I have invested so much into it, its not just a collection of recipes anymore, its become also a diary where I talk about old memories and whats happening with me and my family today.

    Photography is incidental to my blog, even though I have a lot of pictures. I love taking pictures, but they are nowhere close to being professional or even much good sometimes. I work with a basic point and shoot (and to think I was so proud of it when I first saved up for it) and I am not going to be able to afford a DSLR for a long time.

    I feel that you spoke to me with this post. What I infer from your post, is that I should stop copying other people’s styles, and just be myself. Funny that, because as I was thinking that somehow I feel lost. Like I didn’t actually belong with all these bloggers, who were creating amazing food with even better photography. But now, after reading your post, I have realised that I have something to say, and even though I may not be the best blogger in the world, its my blog, and my little corner of the internet. And I will keep improving it, but I am not going to be pressured into being what I am not.

    See, the very first post of yours that I read was about props in food photography and it made a big impact on the way I looked at how I took pictures of my food. I keep coming back to your blog, not just because I am seduced by your pictures (which I am, hard not to be) but also because I enjoy reading your accounts of how everything works and how to do things.

    So, thanks again. I think you’ve just helped me find myself with this post :)

    • Melissa April 17, 2011 at 12:03 PM #

      I’m so glad it helped Michelle, I sent you an email.

  11. BIg bOys Oven April 15, 2011 at 8:15 PM #

    I truly love what is be written here, thank you for sharing your thoughts! :)

  12. fooddreamer April 16, 2011 at 7:01 AM #

    It’s interesting to see how various food bloggers come at this from different angles. As you say, you are a photographer first. Me, I am a writer first, a baker/recipe developer second, and a photographer dead last. Or maybe I am a baker first and a writer second, but either way, photography comes last. So I play with it, and I confess that I often style my photos so that Foodgawker or Tastespotting will accept them. But in almost every post is a picture I love, but that I know they wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

    And as you say, I’ve been surprised by what they have accepted, and frustrated by what they reject. I try not to let it get to me. I have no training in photography and I am simply blessed with a big south-facing window and a decent camera. I love it when I get a good shot, but if I am struggling, I just let it go.

    In terms of my own photography style? I am not sure I have one…yet. I think if I keep at this and keep playing, it will develop. It’s all part of the growing experience.

    • Melissa April 17, 2011 at 12:08 PM #

      it is a growing experience – definitely. I can’t agree with you more!

  13. Kate@Diethood April 17, 2011 at 7:16 AM #

    Thank you, Melissa, for writing this post!!! I love taking photos of my food, and I’ve only been doing it for a few months, but I know what, or which photo, I like and I get so discouraged when that photo does not get accepted. In all honesty, I can’t stand that overly exposed look … I sometimes appreciate a more romantic, darker, softer approach to photography…if that’s what you would call it. Anywho…great post and very encouraging…thank you!

    • Melissa April 17, 2011 at 12:10 PM #

      your photography has improved by leaps and bounds Kate, so please don’t get discouraged. And if you hate the overexposed look, don’t photograph that way! There is nothing wrong with a properly exposed photo or one that is darker and moodier – sometimes that’s exactly what the post it’s attached to, or the meal requires. If you like it, do it. People will respond to it.

  14. Kristen April 17, 2011 at 10:21 AM #

    I know that I easily get in a rut… there are so many photographers I admire, but I hate it when I find myself trying to model them. And I know there are some photographers who have a specific formula to their photos and each picture kind of looks like that formula. I’d love to see people shake it up more (including me).
    Great post and great things to think about!

    • Melissa April 17, 2011 at 12:11 PM #

      I think that’s what frustrated me the most – photographers who seem to have gotten themselves in a formula. There is nothing wrong with having a defining style but even the masters shake it up from time to time just to keep fresh and feel that they are challenging themselves.

  15. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle April 17, 2011 at 11:03 AM #

    Terrific post Melissa! I’ve said it over and over to myself and friends that we can’t let food photo sites define our capability but it’s good to hear that from someone who is more photocentric. I’m an accomplished cook who has been thrown into learning photography; who says those two fields meld? It’s a huge learning curve that while I might enjoy it, I have precious little time to learn it.

    Regarding the whole idea of a rut? Not only do I think I might confuse your two unnamed examples but I see so many try to duplicate the exact look of known photographers that I feel like I see the same old same old everywhere. If I’m going to make this work, I want it to be in MY style, not someone else.

    Your photographs are beautiful by the way…I see no rut there!

    • Melissa April 17, 2011 at 12:14 PM #

      Thanks Barbara :)

      that’s what has me most frustrated – far more than the food galleries. It feels like food photography has become somewhat homogenized. The galleries have contributed to that to a degree, but it was such an eye opener when I saw these two photos from people who used to have uniquely different styles and now they seem to have almost morphed into the same person. That was the sign to me that it’s time to step back and adjust.

  16. Jenn April 17, 2011 at 11:03 AM #

    Great post, really! One of the biggest transitions in my photography came only after realizing that those sites do not have to dictate my self-esteem. After I stopped “trying” to get on those sites, a funny thing happened – my photography found it had a lot more freedom to experiment, and I think as a result it improved a lot – I don’t shoot for a 250×250 square, and now if I don’t get accepted it’s just another thing to have a laugh about more than anything.

    • Melissa April 17, 2011 at 12:17 PM #

      AH HA! see – you just hit the nail on the head! They are NOT responsible for your self-esteem! And yes, yes, YES… free yourself up, play, experiment, do something that speaks to you and oh wow… look what happens?? suddenly, you get something you really like and are proud of and you learn so much in the process! Thanks Jenn.

  17. Susan April 17, 2011 at 12:11 PM #

    I’m so excited to read your post as it has encouraged freedom for me as new blogger. Looking forward to follow up posts. Also could you recommend a camera for a newbie like myself please?

    • Melissa April 17, 2011 at 12:18 PM #

      Thanks Susan, glad you stopped by :)
      I will email you directly about camera suggestions.

  18. Crystal's Cozy Kitchen April 17, 2011 at 1:39 PM #

    I have to admit I’ve always felt a bit inadequate with my food photos. Less than 10% that I thought were good were accepted by the food photo sites. I take photos of dinners as I make them for my family, sometimes that means it is dark outside. I don’t make the same dish in the light and perfectly set up the photo, so I decided that I just had to forget about them and take the photos I thought worked. They may not be great, but they at least show the food. Since I haven’t tried to submit a photo, I’m not as worried that it looks ‘perfect’. In fact I had a conversation with a friend (not a blogger or photographer) and she thought my photos were great. Sometimes it does help to get a perspective from someone outside the subject matter! Thanks for this post, I loved reading it.

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:34 PM #

      glad you enjoyed it. It’s always a challenge when you have to rely on natural light in winter and want to eat before the food gets cold!

  19. Jean April 17, 2011 at 6:55 PM #

    Well said…all of it. I will admit that as a new blogger, I get caught up in the need to get accepted by those popular sites. I’ve found myself trying to achieve the aesthetics they’re after and not necessarily my own. In my last few posts, I’ve gone back to setting up my shots the way I like and not necessarily the way they’d be accepted. And you know what? I feel like I’ve been more true to myself AND happy with my pictures. Thank you for this post. :-)

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:35 PM #

      it’s very tempting sometimes… the lure of that traffic spike! It can be powerful. I’m glad you’re finding your own way and you’re happier!

  20. Rachel April 17, 2011 at 7:11 PM #

    I stumbled on this post from twitter, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it! I’ve had a couple photos declined on these sites b/c they didn’t fit the “square” peg. At first, I was a little disappointed but now I don’t even bother. I remind myself that (1) I keep a food blog for the love of food and photography, (2) don’t need others’ validation (of course, it never hurts), and (3) everyone has a unique perspective, (4) and people will like different blogs for diff’t reasons.

    It’s so true what you said about successful food photographers’ pictures all starting to look the same! I sometimes wonder if they’re using the same cloth napkins, bowls, utensils, and distressed wood in their photos! Seriously, everyone uses distressed wood in their pictures. Just tonight, I was wondering who started that b/c everyone’s doing it.

    Btw, I love the photo of the Jellybellies! They make me happy, too. Buttered popcorn is my absolute favorite which just about grosses out everyone I know.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:37 PM #

      I love the buttered popcorn! Blueberry is my other fave :)
      Distressed wood… all I will add to that is… ummm. yes. it is everywhere. hehe.

  21. Kimberly April 17, 2011 at 7:59 PM #

    Melissa, I loved this post! I have been feeling so out of sorts about what has been coming out of my camera lately, and i know it is because I haven’t felt overly inspired as of late. I find that is something I struggle with often as spring is approaching and the days are still rather dark. I don’t do galleries as I find that for myself, if I were to, I would fall into that same cycle of worrying about having them accepted. Thus, this week, I am going to set a number of food goals for myself and really focus on shooting with purpose and focus.
    Thanks again for such a fabulous post!
    Have a great week,
    xx

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:39 PM #

      I think it’s important to remember that all photographers struggle with inspiration from time to time. Not that that makes it any easier to deal with but, you are definitely not alone in that struggle. Sometimes, I find putting the thing down for a few weeks, or photographing something completely different or just getting outside for a while and absorbing my surroundings will help me break out of it.

  22. Kaitlin April 18, 2011 at 4:24 AM #

    Great, great post! I’m definitely in a rut, which has been making me sad lately. This post has been good to read.

    I’m happy that you’ve mentioned the Tastespotting/Foodgawker/Tasteologie thing. I’ve been getting bummed out by new bloggers fretting over rejections from those sites. I remember feeling the same way – as if getting a photo accepted was some sort of indication of success – but have come to realize that they reject a lot of quality stuff from some very talented photographers, and that it’s all so biased that it’s hardly worth it most of the time.

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:42 PM #

      it’s always nice to get accepted but it’s easy to mistake that acceptance as validation of your abilities when it’s not. It just means you met their aesthetic on that day. So when you don’t get accepted, it bums you out. And it shouldn’t! It just means you did something (heaven forbid) different from the trend. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

  23. Cristina April 18, 2011 at 3:38 PM #

    Hi Melissa:

    I’m so glad I found your blog through a link on Twitter. I very much appreciated and enjoyed your post. I have been feeling and thinking many of the same things these last weeks/months about what’s very prominent in food photography coming from bloggers. The images are gorgeous, light and airy…but whose photography it is, is not as identifiable anymore.

    I’ve noticed the food photography styles are changing in printed publications. I’m enjoying the change and the challenge. Lately, I’ve been shooting more of what originally drew me to food photography. My posts don’t nearly receive the acceptance and traffic since my heartfelt change…but I’m feeling much better and rejuvenated about following my heart and love for food photography by shooting for me, and not because it molds to the norm on the blogosphere right now. I’m not getting accepted on food image sites (which hurts traffic), but I think I’m over the analytics obsession and now feel like I have a defined purpose with my site and what I want to do and where I want to go with my photography.

    Again, thank you for a good read! Looking forward to following your site. ;)

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:47 PM #

      Christina, I’m so glad you stopped by! I enjoy both your blogs and I really love your photography – I find it really refreshing. I agree… things out there feel a little homogenized lately but it’s nice to discover some new photographers who are doing things their own way and breaking the mold.

  24. Amy | She Wears Many Hats April 18, 2011 at 6:51 PM #

    Totally on the same page with ya. I find myself not pushing myself, doing the same thing over and over. And like you, I see it with some of the photographers I admire. It’s almost formulaic. And I don’t wanna be formulaic. Photography for me is about capturing something in a way that makes people look at it differently. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement to hop out of the rut.

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:48 PM #

      I completely agree. I’d always rather go against the grain. With food, when you want to eat it while it’s hot, sometimes it’s easy to fall into that formulaic rut just to get the photo and move on. Sometimes, it’s important to slow down a bit and take your time and think about what you want to do.

  25. Karen April 18, 2011 at 6:52 PM #

    This is a fantastically written post! So many of your points could have come out of my mouth. I so agree with you that the photo sharing sites are a bit off. I know my photography isn’t the best ever, but some of my photos that have been declined? I just don’t get it. As you say, I don’t always want overexposed, square photos, and if you don’t have those, well, I guess you can’t play. It’s too bad there is such a focus on success being equated to getting on those sites. I’ve given up caring and am pleased if I get posted, but don’t rest my laurels on it.
    I’ve also noticed that I tend to go back to the same kind of photo because I’m comfortable with it, and have really been trying lately to compose different shots or take different style photos. It’s all a learning process, right?

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:50 PM #

      Absolutely! Sounds like you have the right attitude about it!

  26. BigFatBaker April 18, 2011 at 8:11 PM #

    This post is amazing. I am still new to the food blogging scene, and I am struggling to learn my camera. I by no means take the best pictures, and you won’t find anything of mine on one of those sites…but I am okay with that. I just want people to look at my food and think “yeah, I want to eat that.” I am glad to hear other people sticking to their roots, because for someone like me that needs that inspiration it’s not much fun looking at the same thing over and over again. I will be coming back again and again because your photos are beautiful and hopefully I can learn a thing or 2 :)

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:51 PM #

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I hope I can pass on a few tips that will help you out!

  27. megan @ whatmegansmaking April 19, 2011 at 6:37 AM #

    I’m late on this post, but just saw it come through my SU toolbar, and had to comment. Very well done. I love your photos on this post, whether they appeal to FG and TS or not. I have started to come to terms with the same thing you’ve been talking about. I don’t claim to have my own “style” because I’m still learning so much about photography. But I know what I like, even if I can’t always get the picture to look like what’s in my head. I’ve stopped shooting so much for FG and TS standards (although it’s nice if their standards and mine overlap!), and have tried to start telling a story with my picture. Or setting it up the way it looks appealing to me. After all, I’m the one that has to eat it after I photograph it! :) And as a side note, normally after I photograph my food, I sit down at my nice pretty place setting and eat it…and I really do enjoy it more because it’s visually appealing! So that’s a nice side benefit. :) I feel like I’m rambling, but your post struck a chord with me :)

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:53 PM #

      No worries Megan, I appreciated your comment. I still struggle at times with making what I see in my head show up in the final photo. I’m not sure if that ever goes away but, the better you know your camera and how to use it, the easier it gets.

      And I agree with you about enjoying your food more when it’s all pretty after a shoot – I’m exactly the same!

  28. Mike April 19, 2011 at 9:38 AM #

    You’ve perfectly articulated things I’ve been thinking for a while now. I just bought Tartine Bread and, looking at their beautiful photos, I also thought, “None of these photos would be accepted by Tastespotting.” Not every meal is eaten in a bright room with (perfectly diffused) sunshine streaming through the windows. At some point, your blog has to be your own and reflect what and how you eat, and your own style. I don’t take process photos because it interrupts my cooking. I think too many people think their blog is “failing” in some way if they don’t do certain things, yet they haven’t decided exactly what succeeding would be and what their goals are.

    Excellent post.

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:55 PM #

      Mike, you are so right on. I think it’s important to step back from your blog every few months and think about what you want to accomplish with it and ask yourself if that’s what you’re actually doing, and if you’re happy. If not, you need to rethink things.

      And I just bought The Happy Baker which had gorgeous, dark, moody photos in it and I know not a one of them would have made the gallery sites, but they were so beautiful, I had to buy the book.

  29. Chef Dennis April 19, 2011 at 12:25 PM #

    hi Melissa
    what a wonderfully written post, I have been feeling the same way. You look at what is being accepted and there all cookie cutter pictures for the most part….I do feel its a challenge though, and I want my images to be better than they are! I too don’t shoot square, its not a natural concept to me. A lifetime ago I was a fine art B&W film photographer and shot with a pentax 6×7, I wouldn’t use a hasselblad because I did not like squares…sigh
    I am going to link your post in my next post, I know my readers will enjoy it.

    Cheers
    Dennis

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:59 PM #

      Thanks Dennis, I appreciate that. I like that the gallery sites make people want to improve – I think that’s great. But, it can be too cookie cutter.

      I would love to shoot with a Hasselblad one day. One of my dreams :) I do like square when it fits the photo, but it doesn’t always fit the photo! I’m on a bit of an instant film kick right now to experiment with some of the neat effects you can do with it but I haven’t found it really suits food blogging. Always nice to have something different to play with – keeps the creative juices flowing!

  30. DessertForTwo April 19, 2011 at 10:17 PM #

    Wow, I really needed to read this post. I have fallen into the rut of only taking photos that I feel will be accepted by said galleries. And it’s making me miserable! I don’t love all white backgrounds. I don’t love squares! I actually love kinda dark and grey tones in my photos, something that would get me rejected for sure.

    Thanks so much for opening my eyes to this :)

    • Melissa April 19, 2011 at 11:01 PM #

      I think you have some beautiful photos! I love some of the softer, muted tones. Lovely. If that makes you happy, please, please… do more of that. I would love to see it!

  31. Firefly April 20, 2011 at 12:30 AM #

    Beautiful post :) and so true. I struggle with food photography and always feel like my pictures are not good enough or worth posting. My readers seem to like it and that makes me happy. As for food galleries few of my pictures were excepted, funny the ones I thought were the best were declined ;)

    Love your site BTW visiting you from Chef Dennis :D

    • Melissa April 26, 2011 at 7:05 PM #

      thanks! glad you enjoyed it. And don’t sweat the rejections. if you like the photo, that’s what matters.

  32. Elle April 20, 2011 at 10:13 AM #

    Yes, yes, yes. I used to get offended if I thought a photo was perfectly acceptable to the photo sites and it was rejected. Now, I’ll take what I have, edit them for my blog, and then go back to see if anything crops well into a square. If it does, I’ll submit it. And if it gets rejected? I don’t sweat it.

    I also get a little sick of the copycat styles. And I know this is probably silly and it may offend some, but I have to get it off my chest…

    I’m sick of seeing photos of two hands holding the food. Do you know the ones I mean? Photo shot of a person holding out their hands, and holding the food? They’re nice, yes…but I’m seeing them everywhere!

    • Melissa April 26, 2011 at 7:04 PM #

      hehe – this is kind of funny. the day after I read your comment I was asked to pose for exactly the kind of photo you mention. your comment was running through my mind the whole time! :)

  33. Megan April 20, 2011 at 1:32 PM #

    TOTALLY totally love this post. Thank you for writing it. It speaks to me!!

  34. Brian @ A Thought For Food April 21, 2011 at 4:10 AM #

    Clap, clap, clap! I’m so glad you said all of these things because you covered all of my feelings about food photography and the way bloggers strive for acceptance through those site… That’s not why we all do this, so when did it become all about that?

    Great post!

    • Melissa April 26, 2011 at 7:02 PM #

      Thanks Brian. I think we all need to step back every few months and think about the reasons we do this and make sure it’s still fun!

  35. Jan April 21, 2011 at 11:55 AM #

    This came at a good time for me. I’ve been having a lot of trouble with photography, and it’s nice to read from the comments that I’m not the only one. Your photographs look beautiful to me, and I hope one day to be so artistic and creative. I find my “inner artist” has long been quenched and buried as I pursued my studies in Chemistry, and now that I am blogging about food, and having to photograph, I find it very, very difficult. It’s frustrating. I often can tell that there is a problem with lighting or the set-up of my photo, for example, but I don’t know how to fix it… You are right that it is practice. And I will try to not take it to heart when the few photos that I like that I produce get rejected from the “food porn” sites. I don’t want to necessarily fit into their “perfect” box and I love that you are encouraging us not to conform!

    • Melissa April 26, 2011 at 7:02 PM #

      Jan have you thought about taking an intro photography class, or even a class that focuses on food photography? I found taking a food photography class really helped me improve my lighting. Sometimes, that’s something that can be hard to learn from a book or article and sinks in much better when you get to do it hands on. Good luck and keep trying!

  36. Jennifurla April 21, 2011 at 1:56 PM #

    Chef Dennis sent me over, great read! Inspiring me to be less hard on myself.

  37. Jenious April 26, 2011 at 5:57 PM #

    Thank you. I needed a post like this right about now. Well put.
    Cheers, J

  38. denise vivaldo April 26, 2011 at 6:27 PM #

    Whenever you want to shoot with a Hasselblad Melissa, I’ll arrange it for you. Great piece.

    • Melissa April 26, 2011 at 6:59 PM #

      wow, thank you Denise! Maybe one day :)
      ps… funny coincidence – I just bought your foodstylists handbook last week from Chapters.ca. Just waiting for it to arrive!

  39. Sandra April 29, 2011 at 7:42 AM #

    Hello Melissa, I found you through Chef Dennis and thanks to both of you. I enjoyed this post, it’s a great confidence booster. It’s easy sometimes to get caught up in being accepted by the food photo, sites, and getting into the Top 9 on Foodbuzz. When I started food blogging I’d never heard of either of them. I just wanted to bake, and share my recipes and pictures with as many people as I could. Approaching it from that perspective relieves a ton of pressure. That doesn’t mean stop trying to improve and spread your wings; it means relax, have fun and keep in mind why you started in the first place. Thank you again.

    • Melissa April 29, 2011 at 9:07 PM #

      Thanks Sandra, and you said it all very well – it’s not a competition!

  40. Paula Walters April 29, 2011 at 7:26 PM #

    Hi Melissa, I just found your blog this evening and find it so refreshing! Your posts are very straightforward, and the comments open up such great points for discussion. I have been a professional photo stylist to commercial food photographers for years, and yet only recently have become interested in using a camera myself. It has taken me a long time to recognize that I have a style of my own, a way of seeing things independently from the professional photographers I work with on a daily basis. However, I have little patience to develop the technical skills , and my true passion lies in the realm of props and styling, so how far I go beyond my point and shoot is yet to be seen. I truly can relate to those trying to tackle every aspect of producing a food blog of note, it can be overwhelming. Especially when you are trying to hold down another job and/or manage a family! I enjoy writing my blog , and use my personal photos to provide contrast to the ones I style for professionals. I wish there was less of a quality gap, but it is not a high priority in my life right now. I would encourage everyone who is struggling to keep your focus where your heart truly is, and the rest will fall into place, don’t you think?

    • Melissa April 29, 2011 at 9:06 PM #

      you are absolutely right! Sometimes, you need to step back and remind yourself why you’re doing something and ask yourself if you’re being true to your heart or not. Thanks for stopping by!

  41. Anamika June 21, 2011 at 4:26 AM #

    I’m so happy to have stumbled upon this post of yours. I’m a new blogger on the block, with a fancy camera I’m getting to know better. And lately the success rate with these galleries have become my benchmark of my improvement in photography (due to lack of any other feedback channel, other than fellow bloggers appreciation). And sometimes it shocks me to see a softly lit, beautiful looking picture getting rejected (at times same pic pic is accepted by other blog). And I rake my brains to think how much more ‘expose’ it should be/?? Feeling better after reading your post.
    Coming to your other mention; I too can’t differentiate between so many bloggers pics. Its the same cracked up wooden table as base, white round bowls, soft airy lighting with few red/bright cherries/ tomatoes as garnishes along with antique silverware. It’s all the same. You are encouraging me to discover my style, which may not be the most acceptable to galleries, but that’s ok. Right?

    • Melissa June 21, 2011 at 9:47 AM #

      Hi Anamika – I think you have some lovely photos! And absolutely – your style is your style and that’s better than ok!

  42. Laura @ Family Spice June 21, 2011 at 12:35 PM #

    I didn’t take FG or TS seriously until January of this year. Most of what I shoot doesn’t look good in a square, either. For me, it’s all about the food. I’m not setting a mood. I’m not being artistic. It’s more like, here’s what I made and this is the recipe – don’t you think it looks good enough to make yourself? So, it’s a balancing act. The food porn sites do have a “look” as you described – like a bright white light is shining through the window down onto the plate. It’s easy enough to mimic in photoshop, but that’s not my style. It’ll pass. But, I have to admit, that my photography has improved since I’ve been paying more attention to those sites. I just don’t let my panties get in a bunch when I can’t get that final shot cropped nicely in a square. Great post! Glad I found you!

  43. Richard Haber June 29, 2011 at 7:35 AM #

    Melissa,

    Well said, and from the number and tone of the comments, I no longer feel alone.

    I just had another photo rejected from Foodgawker, and am now batting a perfect .000! I believe that these sites reject a large number of shots to make them seem more exclusive. They are useful to avoid hubris…when I begin to think that I’m getting really good, I’ll submit one to them and it brings me back to earth with little damage.

    When I want to get inspiration for a food shot, I will go to my ‘blog roll’ of cooks, food photographers and stylists to see how they are doing things today. Then I try to forget the photos and remember the feelings that I got from them instead.

    There are many styles of anything out there. It is OK to become proficient in many of them so that your tool kit is complete enough to handle any challenge, but to only use one tool is to limit one’s craft.

    But I guess I’ll still keep submitting to them and one day, when they accept one, I’ll know I’ve finally become good…;->

    • Melissa June 29, 2011 at 9:20 AM #

      oh my gosh Richard, I’ve been a fan of your for a while now and the fact that you are batting .000 is proof of my point! You take some absolutely lovely photos.

      I found it interesting what you said about getting inspiration by looking to see what others are doing and then trying to forget what you saw and just remember how you felt. I’ve been trying to look to other places besides food for my inspiration lately, just to try and keep fresh. Not sure I’ve succeeded much of late but I’m enjoying photography more than I was for a while there.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  44. Atria July 25, 2011 at 1:24 AM #

    Hello,

    I’d like to add something about Food Gawker and they sumbmissions. Generally speaking I feel that they submissions criteria are .. well, random. Once I’ve uploaded a photo, they said “underexposed”. I shot RAW so I could easily fix it. Verdict: “rejected, overexposed”. I’v tried again but Ive upload the first photo and, guess what? It was accepted! So people shouldn’t worry about Food Gawker too much in my opinion…

    • Melissa July 25, 2011 at 10:18 AM #

      Exactly. That is exactly right. It is more than one person viewing the submissions and what one person likes, the other might not. It is so subjective, which is part of photography. There is no point in dwelling on it or getting upset!

  45. Daisy October 25, 2011 at 3:35 PM #

    I wholeheartedly agree with your post. A couple of weeks ago, I got my first photo accepted on Tastespotting and the traffic on my teeny tiny blog with 10 visits a day when through the roof. I got a taste of what real food bloggers must feel. But, you’re right. I got maybe 5 new subscribers. I’m still submitting my photos on those sites, but it’s not as important to me. I just really love cooking/baking and photography and I’m going to keep doing it for me and those who are interested in what I’m doing. Thanks for verbalizing what I have been thinking.

  46. Nicola @ unhip squirrel November 11, 2011 at 11:44 AM #

    This has been bothering me for quite some time. I’m not a professional photographer (I’m pretty beginner), and my photos do need a lot of work. However, I do know that I am not aspiring towards the tastespotting and foodgawker aesthetic – it’s way too washed out for my taste! Further – I like my food to look like I’m about to eat it. A lot of the stuff on these sites is not only drained of its natural vibrant colour, but it looks far too stagey. Sure, I guess that’s acceptable for magazine shots (even if it’s not to my taste), but isn’t the point of having a food blog which you cook for out of your own kitchen to share the food that you put your heart into? Food that you’re about to eat for dinner? That’s what I want to showcase – that the food came from my kitchen, not from a studio.

    I’m all about trying to make my shots look as good as possible, but I try to do it in a way that complements my cooking and my style, simple but not lacking imagination.

    By the way, the colours in your shots are outstanding!

    Thanks for writing this post.

  47. Elaina @ Flavour November 28, 2011 at 3:10 PM #

    I absolutely loved this post of yours (along with the rest of your site), but this one in particular hit me! I completely agree with what you said about everyone trying so hard to be accepted… that’s why I’m always looking for new ways to be different in the food/drink blogging world (which isn’t easy I might add). But as you say, I shoot what speaks to me…sometimes I think of a shoot days before, and other times, it just comes as I’m shooting…I let my subject guide me :)

    Love your work, your photos and your blog, it seems like you truly are posting what comes from the heart! Glad to have ‘met’ you through FBC! x

  48. Angela December 9, 2011 at 12:53 AM #

    I’ve only just discovered your blog, so am commenting rather late on this post. But you have said everything I feel about food photography. There is a fashion in the style of food photography that everyone feels they have to adhere to, not realising that it is the unique style that will eventually stand out and give you your signature. I’m new to photography, and have been very depressed at not having been accepted by all the food porn sites (I’ve had one photo accepted in each….) but I also remind myself that I am shooting for my blog, not for a magazine and I am not a professional. My husband made me laugh one day looking at a food magazine and saying how everything was out of focus and he couldn’t see anything! Its true, it’s become slightly ridiculous. In the seventies or eighties it was fashionable for everything to be in sharp focus……the trends come and go……

  49. Sheila February 3, 2012 at 10:36 AM #

    Really enjoyed this post. I too, as another commentor stated, found your blog through the post on using props in food photography. I know I have a long way to go with my photography skills but this was such an encouragement to read.

  50. Ana August 9, 2012 at 5:26 AM #

    Oh wow!
    I wanted to address your beautiful photography in my previous comment and then I saw that you had a whole article, with a caption that spoke to me… and I decided to check it out.

    Yay for that, because this is an excellent read.

    Yes, lately (in the last year or two) I have been going through food blogs without feeling wowed by antyhing: “Oh, another white shot. Oh, another antique milk bottle. Oh, another out-of-focus crumble.”
    … And I’ve been turning more and more to sites with amateur photography.

    The trend makes me think of expensive doctors’ offices and Ikea catalogues: very beautiful, very clean… but there’s no life to them.
    I want to taste the food!

    I think this also ties in well with the commenting story: do you want high traffic, but with a high bounce rate and little interest (and I think that a good photography is a bit more interesting than one of the “cute FOLLOW” comments), or do you want quality traffic, people that stay here and like what you do?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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