Food photography is a still life photography genre used to create attractive still life photographs of food. It is a specialization of commercial photography, the products of which are used in advertisements, magazines, packaging, menus or cookbooks. Professional food photography is a collaborative effort, usually involving an art director, a photographer, a food stylist, a prop stylist and their assistants.
In advertising, food photography is often – and sometimes controversially – used to exaggerate the attractiveness or size of the advertised food, notably fast food.
For a long time, food photographs tended to be shot and composed in a manner similar to the way people were used to encountering their food: laid out on a table setting and shot from an overhead perspective, i.e., from the point of view of the eater. Stylists accordingly arranged the food to appear good from above, with the items arranged flat on the plate and clearly separated from each other.
A still life photograph of a Chinese dish using the technique of selective focus.
Later, romantic lighting, shallower angles and more props came en vogue, with extreme cases leading to the term “food porn”. Most recently, the prevailing trend in Western commercial food photography is to present the food as simple, clean and naturally as possible and with little props, often using effects such as selective focus, tilted plates, and extreme close-ups. This complements trends in professional cooking to make the food more visually interesting. For instance, the height of dishes tends to increase and their elements are often layered, which lends itself well to narrow-angled shots.