Makes you hungry, doesn’t it? It shouldn’t, it’s not really bacon, it’s just a picture of three (perfectly cooked) thick slices of North Country Smokehouse bacon. It doesn’t have smell, flavor, or texture, but it still evokes the memories of these sensory perceptions, and hopefully makes you want to go break out the skillet.
Welcome to Offbeat Eats. Here we’re all familiar with the well-worn adage, “A picture is worth a thousand word.” In short, one of the goals of Offbeat Eats is to try to share my food experiences with other readers as accurately as possible, using words and images.
One of the difficulties in food writing is that you are trying to convey some very complicated sensual data using the relatively simple concepts of word and image. The restauranteur has this problem in particular, in that it’s often difficult to come up with a good mental image from simple words on a menu; some of the very concepts that make food good, including taste, texture, color, and smell, don’t translate well to the written word. This isn’t to say that you can’t do a masterful job of describing food with words; I’ve long been inspired by Nigel’s Slater’s recollections in Toast, in which he recalls experiences such as his childhood enjoyment of a simple, well-done piece of toast. In fact, I try (sometimes successfully, but often not) to have that quality of prose in my own work. But often, photography can step in where words fail.
But we’ve all suffered from bad food photography as well. Chinese restaurants, in particular, are often guilty of this, having poorly exposed, washed-out, and often faded pictures of their food above their menus. But I’ve seen this in surprisingly high-end restaurants as well. A good picture makes people want to try the food. A bad picture makes them avoid it. I want people to be able the find the better places to eat, and the right things to order. And I want restaurants to be better able to show off their efforts to their customers.
There are a few principals I’m trying to follow when doing my food photography:
- Focus on the unique. Usually, the dishes a place serves aren’t fundamentally different than those served at similar restaurants. In its essence, a pasta dish at one place is basically like a pasta dish at another. So are burgers and hot dogs, for that matter. And even steaks. But what makes a dish stand out is the little details that make it different (and often better) than other versions of the same dish. The bacon is thicker. The roast has a better sear on it. The crust of the chicken is light and crispy instead of greasy and heavy. The pizza focuses on the crust and not the cheese. And my goal is to take photos that show not only the food, but focus on how it’s different and unique.
- Honesty. I try very hard for my photos I use here to be as natural as possible. I try to photograph the food exactly as it’s served to me, and generally try to avoid having the kitchen staff even know I’m photographing it (this isn’t always possible, and a few times the staff has explicitly “whipped up” something special for me, however, and when this happens I try to be honest about it). I try to photograph using natural light, avoiding flashes, since they annoy other diners and the staff. While sometimes the result isn’t perfect, and I could get better results with a flash or light tent, usually my approach results in a photo that shows other diners what they can expect to see on their own plates. And they usually respect that over staged studio prints.
Well, that’s what I’m trying to do here at Offbeat Eats. I’m trying to show people the interesting, offbeat, quirky, and/or regional gems that can make just about anywhere you go a true travel destination. And I’m trying to do it with photography as one of the key ingredients.
In any case, welcome to Offbeat Eats. Please check out my many reviews and discussions. And if you’re wondering, I’m not kidding about the “Professional Bacon Photography” cards, I’ve actually done quite of a bit of professional photography. If you are interested in hiring me for a photo shoot, or want to see my portfolio, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org