Don't Shoot Your Food

Stop taking pictures of your food. You're a lousy photographer, and I'm tired of looking at your photos. They are disgusting. While you may be excited about the delicious / unique / unfathomably fattening food you are about to consume, that does not mean you need to mark the occasion with an Instagram or Twitter post. Just don't. Eat your 17 pound burger, or your pizza with a fried shrimp crust, or your bacon ice cream sundae, and keep it to yourself.[Image credit: RJ Aquino]

I have been searching for accompanying images for this story for a while, and I finally found one. A Twitter friend posted this lovely image of Chicken Fried Bacon. You may have never heard of chicken fried bacon, but I live in Texas, and we invented frying things unnecessarily. We invented the corny dog, a hot dog dipped in cornmeal batter and deep fried. Chicken fried steak is our state bird. At the Texas State Fair, you can eat fried everything from ho-hoes to Frito pie to beer to butter. Yes, someone dips frozen butter in batter and fries it in oil. It's not just a heart attack waiting to happen. It's an offense to God and cows alike.

[Image credit: Chris Sorensen]

So, anyone surprised by chicken fried bacon? No. In fact, it could actually be pretty good. I'm not endorsing its consumption, but bacon plus fried must equal delicious, right? Except, look at that photo. It looks like dried dog poop in a serving tray. That's not an exaggeration. It is the most disgusting looking food photo I have ever seen. And the accompanying hashtag to go with this picture? #sowrongitsright. No. No. Just . . . No.

Food photography is hard. It takes hours and hours to get the perfect shot used in commercials and promotional materials. The ice cream melts. The burger gets dry. The cheese goes from melty-gooey to stiff and still. Food does not behave. Which is why food photographers often have to augment their photos with unnatural, inedible substances. Concrete is used to stiffen milkshakes. Soap is used to create frothy bubbles. Plastic is used with wild abandon.

If professional food photographers have trouble making food look good with all of these tools at their disposal, how could you possibly imagine you can make your food look good when you snap a shot with your cameraphone? You cannot. Your food looks awful. Instead of making me drool, or envy your experience, or marvel at the spectacle, it simply makes me nauseous. If that's what you're going for, congratulations, you have succeeded.

The first problem is lighting. Phone cameras require a great deal of light to take an excellent, appealing photo. That's why most of your indoor shots look lousy, while brightly lit outdoor photos look much better. The color of the light also makes an enormous difference. Tiny cameraphone sensors tend to have more of a problem discriminating and balancing colors. Reds and greens are especially problematic. This leaves many food photos looking yellow indoors, and bluish outdoors.

The second problem is context. Sure, I can spot a burger from across a room. But how about a lobe of foie gras on a plate of lentils? How about slabs of gnarled, curly bacon fried dark brown in batter? How about a ghoulash of some sort with ingredients I could hardly name if it were right in front of me, let alone the subject of a poorly lit, off balance cameraphone photo?

[aquote]It's time to stop glorifying food[/aquote]

But my biggest problem of all with food photography is that it's time to stop glorifying food. I hate the term "foodie," but I do consider myself knowledgeable about food, food culture, and cooking. But I think we've taken a dangerous turn when it comes to an obsession with food on the Internet.

When people are extraordinarily happy with their food, they take a picture and share it. Why? Because they know their friends will relate. Because it makes them feel special and important to be eating something so tasty or unique. Because it's a way of marking where you are and telling people what you are doing. Whenever we travel abroad, we always make special note of the food. When you think about it, that seems odd.

We spend 3-4 hours a day eating, at most. So, 1/8 – 1/6 of the day is spent at meals. What about the rest of the day? Sure, you can have a great night's sleep, but you don't take a picture of your bed afterword. When you have an easy commute, do you take a picture of the open road? When your boss is happy with a project you've completed, you don't snap a picture and share it (confidentiality aside). I would fully expect to see photos of a movie poster if someone liked the film, but I've never seen that shot on social networks.

My problem with the current obsession with documenting our meals like photojournalists is that it only promotes more eating. And because we usually snap the most unique and unhealthy dishes, it promotes the worst type of eating. If I see a picture of a juicy, well-adorned burger before lunch time, I want a burger. If I see photos of the awesome dumpling shop you found, I want dumplings.

I don't deny there's a level of personal responsibility involved. Sure, it's my job to make the right decisions for myself. I don't have to open your photos. I don't have to eat what you've photographed. But if our decision making process were so easy, weight problems would not be such an issue hanging around the waist of the public's health. We're already bombarded enough with photographs from professionals working for hours to make food look unnaturally appetizing.

Before you post photos of food, ask yourself what you're trying to achieve? Is there really any positive benefit? At worst, you're posting an ugly picture. At best, you're showing off and glorifying your meal. If you don't agree that it promotes an unhealthy obsession in our society, at least understand that it's boring, unless you have the skill to do it right. Which you don't. So stop shooting your food. You're a horrible photographer, and I'm having enough trouble sticking to my diet without your help.