In the age of Instagram, is everyone a food photographer? certainly not
Dripping sauces, glistening glazes, swirls of cream and sizzling smoke. When you rush into your favorite restaurant with a rumble in your stomach, you don’t even think about what brought you here in the first place. Your unconscious mind tricks you when you devour your food. It’s the pictures on your phones, billboards and posters that have activated your salivary glands. The real crooks behind it all are those with the cameras, capturing the ever-changing nature of food as they play with lights and shadows in the age of social media.
With a vibrant food scene, the UAE is home to a growing number of food photographers bringing out the culinary essence of the region. We spoke to three of these food photographers who talk about their ways of bringing food to life and how social media has yet to kill timeless art.
A passionate photographer since her formative years, Mandy got her first film camera at the age of 10. She flipped through magazines and stared at the photos, as she gazed at them in awe, hoping to capture the same one day. Originally from Singapore, Mandy arrived in Dubai in 2010 and began to venture into professional food photography.
Along with her basic gear, like artificial strobe lights and her Canon R5, Mandy always recommends hiring a stylist, especially on larger projects. She’s still that person you’ll find with a few accessories and tools like sponges and spray bottles wherever she goes, as she fashions her own food on smaller projects. “Sometimes customers don’t want that dirty, raw look of food and want a really well-orchestrated look. This is where a stylist comes in handy,” says Mandy.
The evolution of food photography has changed over time, with design and styles taking on different forms. “Five or six years ago there was a very organic, rustic look that people were going for. Now it has changed to more modern pop art and vibrant colors.
What makes the United Arab Emirates a good destination for food photography? “Too many restaurants!” Mandy said. With a wide variety of restaurants and foods, the need for a food photographer continues to grow and has its own niche in the market outside of food bloggers and social media influencers.
From not being allowed to step into the kitchen as a young girl, to becoming an avid food blogger and photographer, Teena found her passion for photography and food side by side. Originally from India, a software engineer by profession, Teena started blogging about her own recipes and branched out into food photography when she moved to the United States. Seeing the wide variety of restaurants in the UAE, she decided to get into it professionally once she moved to Dubai.
As social media takes up every inch of our lives, the food industry has also seen a major shift, with amateur photographers and bloggers on the front lines. But are professional food photographers the most affected by this change?
“If you’re looking for more social media type content, then this form of content creation works. But most of our clients want high quality images taken with professional techniques and lighting, and for that someone with experience is essential,” says Teena.
Intricate details such as lighting, placement, props, and styling have an immense impact on how food is pulled. According to Teena, having a stylist on the job is a must because it makes a huge difference when it comes to food presentation. On small projects, she did the styling herself while photographing the food. “What comes out of the kitchen by the chef and then onto the camera lens must be two different things,” says Teena.
It’s not just the lighting or the technical aspects that matter to Teena, but also the tiny things like stopping a burger from falling, making sure an ice cream is gracefully scooped up, and the little details that end up becoming a big part. of the purchase.
Over time, food has also evolved, making food photography a rapidly evolving art. The competition has gotten tougher, says Teena, with less experienced photographers coming in and offering less price for more images. “What customers don’t realize is that they will get very similar shots in all of these images. I think it happened because of the easy access to photography with a phone. It has its pros and cons,” she adds.
The UAE is becoming a hub for foodies and photographers. With different nationalities, cuisines and an endless number of restaurants opening up, Teena thinks there may never be enough photographers in the area as the number of restaurants soars. Despite the competition, she says there will always be a place for experienced photographers.
Passionate about gastronomy who loves to cook and feast with his family and friends, Orkun Orcan is a food photographer originally from Turkey. He has been practicing photography since 2001. He moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2008, where he started doing professional photography full time. . As part of his family business, he also does interior, architectural and jewelry photography.
Orkun doesn’t exactly see social media competing with his field because he thinks it’s on different levels, and clients who want professional photography will always go for someone who has experience and uses equipment and technical professionals, rather than using telephones. .
When Covid hit, unemployment rates soared, which for this industry meant that many people who used to take up photography as a hobby were now working full-time jobs in the field. According to Orkun, they have become a brand in their own right, offering much lower prices to customers. “The prices they give are ridiculous. I don’t know how they survive,” says Orkun.
Teamwork comes first for Orkun, who believes that having a good team of designers and stylists makes the dream work. Ultimately, it is the client’s requirements that he strives to meet, and it is by working with everyone’s input that he is complete. “It’s not just the camera that does the magic, but also everything that happens behind the scenes,” says Orkun.
With new restaurants, dishes and presentation styles, food photography is changing rapidly, according to Orkun, who believes competition is increasing, but it also gives them room to improve and experiment with new things.
After the recession of 2008, when Orkun came to the UAE, many people opened restaurants and invested in the F&B sector, which led to an increased demand for food photographers. With the booming scene in the UAE, Orkun has seen a massive change since the start of this food revolution. “It keeps growing,” he says.