Thanks to smartphones, Instagram and yada-yada-yada, food photography — or “food porn” as some freaks like to call it — is having quite its moment.
You know what your cousin ate for dinner last night, and you know that Bob nailed that doughnut at lunch today. Food photography is what it is — raw info on raw food; straight shots of espresso shots; a continuous serving of tasty visual morsels. It’s pretty basic, right? Shooting food is easy, was always easy and has been mastered, right? Wrong. When everyone is doing it, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.
Vantage spoke with pro food photographer Anjali Pinto, based in Chicago, about her start in food photography, and how to make your dinner look amazing.
Vantage: How did you get started?
Anjali Pinto (AP): I fell into shooting food when I moved into Chicago. I was always interested in food and restaurants, as my older sister works in the industry. In college, I was studying photojournalism and was passionate about telling stories, but wasn’t cut out for hard news. I get far too attached to people, and invested in their lives. Being a reporter didn’t feel like a great fit for me. I would pop in, take photos, and hardly ever see or speak to that person again.
In comparison, with food photography, I’ve been able to develop relationships with chefs, servers, bartenders, PR people and photo editors. It’s felt like home since I started because I’m passionate about all things culinary, and I haven’t stopped learning.
AP: Rich Melman just received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation, and I have him to thank for my career in food photography. I photographed the Paris Club opening in 2011, and he saw my work. He was very interested in photography in that moment and saw talent in me, and an eagerness to shoot. I was 22 and working as a bartender at his first restaurant, RJ Grunts, and trying to find freelance work. He offered me a full-time position with Lettuce Entertain You, even though I had never shoot food professionally.
Maybe the position wouldn’t have stuck a decade ago, but now restaurants are responsible for their own marketing, photography and online branding. It’s a lot to maintain but having a staff photographer allows them unlimited visual resources.