FOOD HONESTLY

Why taking pictures of your food is a good thing

Photo: Matt Russell

Contrary to reports, putting pictures on social media can have many positive effects on the way we enjoy our food. The reason? We eat with our eyes, says Anna Jones

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By Anna Jones on

One of the best things that have come out of writing is that I have been able to talk with lots of different types of people about food. I have made new friends over questions about types flour, discovered new ingredients and places to eat over a query about polenta. Food is universal, it’s a talking point for everyone and I love talking about food so I am always happy to answer questions about it. One of the most common questions I get asked is from people who want to take nicer picture of their food. Be it for their blog, instagram, restaurant or just for fun.  

Whilst some people claim that taking pictures of your food can be good for you and even make you eat more healthily, others are adamant it has the absolute opposite effect and has become an unhealthy obsession. I imagine, like so many things in life, the answer lies in moderation, and avoiding the latest craze. Some of these fads do seem to be out of control (see instagram for unicorn toast and cloud eggs) and once it becomes the daily occurrence and you forget your dinner companions, then it’s probably gone more than a step too far.

Sometimes it seems as though we are living in an age where, unless you photographed it, you might as well have not been there/ done it/ eaten it. Instagram especially is connecting us in completely new ways, which of course is bringing complicated new challenges. I am lucky in that my instagram account has connected me with people the world over, made me more than several genuine new friends, and given me invaluable inspiration for my books and columns.  

As well as the amazing people, I think there are some helpful things we can take from our recent romance with photographing our food. My job for over fifteen years has been about making food jump off the page, or the screen. The slick of chocolate drooling out of a chocolate fondant, the drops of water on a freshly washed leaf of the freshest, crispest salad, the melting cheese and crumble of perfect flaky pastry around the edge of a tart. It has been my job to make you run into the kitchen and get cooking.

How we present even the humblest home-cooked meal makes our food look more thought out. It can also make you look like a really good cook without really having done anything at all

Something that I’ve learned from my job as a food stylist is that, unquestionably, we eat with our eyes first. How we present even the humblest home cooked meal makes our food look more thought out, and a final top note or garnish shows that we care enough about the person we have made it for to take that extra minute. It can also make you look like a really good cook without really having done anything at all.

Even when I’m just making a quick breakfast or hurried lunch, I take a few extra seconds to make the food I have cooked the very best it can be – a slick of yoghurt to top a dahl, some bright herbs atop a plate of pasta, a drizzle of quick herb oil on a bowl of chilli, crispy sage leaves strewn on a bowl of soup. I know that we start eating before we’ve even got a fork in our hands, so I will plate a salad with a bit of thought and finish with a crunch of spiced seeds or some quick sourdough croutons.

To me, it’s these final considerations that set a good meal apart from a great plate of food. Usually the quickest thing to do, these finishing touches layer flavour, texture, and create a contrast of hot and cold. They also unquestionably make the plate look more beautiful and appetizing.

HOW TO TAKE GOOD FOOD PICTURES

1. Focus on the photography. The food could look incredible in reality, but if the photograph is poor then you have lost the battle. The biggest tip is to take your pictures in natural light – turn the lights off and carry your plates around the room to see where the light hits it best.

2. Decide on the mood you want to evoke. Clean and crisp, summery and warm, festive and decadent? Think carefully about the season and recipe you are using.

3. Choose your props wisely. This is how you can inject more of your chosen mood and personal style. I like clean colours and shapes, but the possibilities are endless. You can do all light, all dark, accent colours, more themed (though don’t be cheesy). Props can help tell you the time of day, or the type of meal. Is it dinner, a sharing meal, a picnic, breakfast in bed?

4. Keep the food natural  As all food photographers know, a picture is only as good as the food that is in it, and this is where food styling comes in. I often get asked about glues, varnishes and tricks of the trade. In advertising there are some little tweaks that can be made and some stylists use them a lot. To me though, it feels wrong to put varnish on food. What I like to eat is naturally beautiful and vibrant and I like to get that across.

5. Bear in these points in mind when you start shooting:

  • Think about the angle of the photo – the way you plate something to be shot overhead and the way you plate something be shot straight on will be completely different.

  • Colour – get as much colour in as possible.  A bland coloured soup can be topped with something more vibrant.  That said there is beauty in tone on tone.

  • Freshness – make sure you get that across. Take the picture quickly, keep herbs in ice-cold water, and re-plate a dish if it has been sitting there too long.

  • Always make sure there is a fresh element on top – plate it as late as possible and put the final element on at the last minute when you have decided how to take the shot.

  • Tell the story of the dish – show all elements and ingredients.  This is your chance to convey the flavour and deliciousness, pull out all the different elements to tell the story.

  • Space – don’t overfill the plate. Allow space for the light to play in the food and for there to be some air in the picture.

ANNA'S ENDLESS LEMONADE
 

We’d all like an endless summer. I make this throughout summer and into autumn, trying to stretch out the season as long as I can. I keep a bottle in the fridge for sipping. When I am in LA I go to a lemonade bar that has at least ten different homemade flavours, and I am like a kid in a candy shop.

It’s so easy to make lemonade, and using agave syrup makes it even easier, as there is no need to make a syrup. If you can’t get agave syrup, 125g of sugar bubbled until dissolved in 125ml of hot water will do – just pull back on the added water a little at the end. When I have a party I like to make a few flavours – try strawberry or watermelon – and line up the candy- coloured lemonades in glass bottles for people to pick and choose. They make a really good base for a great cocktail – just add some booze, fruit and a couple of sprigs of mint or basil.
Makes about 1.5 litres

  • 6 unwaxed lemons
  • 125ml agave syrup or honey
  • 1 litre ice-cold water (still or fizzy)

Slice 1 of your lemons and put it into a big pan with the juice of the other 5 (about 200ml of juice). Pour in the agave syrup or honey and 100ml of water and bring to the boil. Mix well, then turn off the heat and allow to cool completely. Top up with 1 litre of still or fizzy water. For something different, try:

WATERMELON

Instead of the litre of ice-cold water, add 500g of blitzed deseeded watermelon and 500ml of cold water.

LEMONGRASS & CHILLI

Put 2 sticks of lemongrass and a red chilli into the agave syrup. Leave to infuse as it cools, then discard the lemongrass and chilli. Top up with ice-cold water in the same way.
 

@we_are_food

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Photo: Matt Russell
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