Serious Eats: Talk

A question on food photography…why out-of-focus?

A portion of my career consisted of taking and publishing photographs. Unless you really wanted to highlight a portion of a photo, such as one person in a crowd, your complete subject matter was in focus. Now, I see a plate of spaghetti photographed with maybe the middle strand on the plate in focus, and everything in front or behind, fuzzy. You would have been laughed out of the club had you tried to submit something like that for publication just a few years ago.

An out-of-focus photo means that the image depth of field was inadequate for the depth of the subject. This depth, in “close-up work,” is controlled by how small your lens is stopped (closed) down, and the amount of light you bring to bear on the subject. So, with film, quality of equipment, including the light source, was a big consideration if you wanted a complete plate of food in focus when taken at maybe a 45 degree angle.

So, is the out-of-focus in today’s food photography the result of “coolness,” something restrictive in digital equipment, or just an example of a cheap system used in film photography? Thanks.

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