Friday, June 3, 2011

0 Food Photography and Styling, and All That Jazz

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I have a confession to make: I'll admit that I've done a complete 180 with regard to my philosophy on food styling and photography. Those of you who've been following this blog for a while now might recall the following post, "Stepping Into the Ring, Round 1: Substance vs. Food Fashion" ;)

As you can see from the aforementioned article, back then, I was more into cooking and eating than I was into staging and photography. When I first began blogging back in mid-2007, I'll admit that I wasn't all that serious about these subject matters. This was mostly because I felt that I was just a gal with a blog, who was casually writing about food and putting together recipes from the top of my head. Even though I knew that my recipe blog was clearly a public entity, it began as most blogs do: It was small and unnoticed. ;) The anecdotes and recipes I shared there were originally intended only for the eyes of friends and family, and a small group of blogger pals. (And yes, back then, when it came to opining, I really let 'er rip. Hahaha.) Of course, the blogging community was also a lot smaller back then, and my blog was also far less visible. Back then, blogs felt like little nooks and crannies where a handful of bloggers congregated and connected with one another.

Now, it seems everyone is doing it, and the competition for "air time" in the blogosphere -- and really, the ever-expanding social media world at large -- can be intense. (Of course, if you are a truly passionate blogger who loves writing about your topics, that sort of stuff shouldn't really be your primary motivation or main focus anyhow. If that's the real reason you got into blogging in the first place, then you might want to check your ego at the door and then seek professional counseling. Haha.) Anyhow, my larger point is that there are now so many freaking blogs out there that sometimes it's hard to be heard above the din. And personally speaking, I'd rather not shout. ;) So word to the wise: It's honestly a better idea to write about what you know and own your niche, versus trying to be popular or be everything to everybody.

At any rate, the irony is that now that blogs have made it into the mainstream, the advent of other popular social media microblogging services like Twitter and Facebook have completely changed the way that people engage with (and yes, pay attention to!) blogs. Microblogging has pulled a lot of the focus away from traditional blogs, and the social media crowd's attention span has also changed as well. ;)

Sometimes I wonder if blogging is still relevant anymore, especially now that the mainstream has embraced it. Please understand that I'm not saying that to be snotty, but rather, it seems that sometimes certain forms of media stop being relevant as soon as they become popular, because the "cutting-edge kids" have already usually moved onto something else (i.e., "the next big thing") by then. As a person who spent 15+ years in the IT field, I think I have a pretty good handle on that topic. ;) IT's all about what's next. You can never stand still, or you'll dematerialize into a pile of dust. ;) If you're staying static and not continually improving your technical knowledge and skills, it's only a matter of time before you're history. ;) You've got to be into paying attention to "the next big thing," many times even before it even becomes "the next big thing." :) Expanding the metaphor beyond the world of technology for moment, regardless, the mind wasn't meant to be fossilized like a dinosaur. Here's a newsflash to those crotchety people whose minds are more like an iron cage than a steel trap: We have now moved beyond the Paleolithic era. ;) So, get with the program!

Whoops, I seem to have gotten away from my original topic. So let's get back to that, shall we?! What was the topic again? Ah yes, food photography and my initially nonplussed attitude towards it. :)

Not to knock the field of food photography itself, which I have the utmost respect for, but back then, I just couldn't be bothered with it for the longest while. To be blunt, I was just too damn busy and other priorities in my IRL life were constantly calling and pulling me away with their tenacious tentacles. They still are, of course, but I've more recently rearranged my priorities a bit, so I can get the cookbook done a bit faster. :)

There was also another reason why I so stubbornly resisted becoming more involved with food photography: In truth, I was also a bit annoyed by how much emphasis some bloggers were putting on their recipe photos versus their recipes. I kept thinking, "Wait a minute! Isn't the whole point of a recipe blog to create and share quality, thoroughly-tested recipes?! After all, who cares if the pictures are beautiful if the recipes stink!" Hahaha. Clearly, this is actually a two-way street, and there's another side to this equation, as I now realize with a much more subtle understanding than before. Just think of the converse of that statement: Who's going to care about the recipes if the pictures aren't appealing? ;) Try to shrug that off if you want, but it's clear to me now that people can ignore that little gem of wisdom at their own peril. ;)

I think the larger issue is that initially, there was some part of me that just balked at the whole idea of "image over substance," whether that was on a blog or elsewhere. Frankly, the notion just bugged the hell out of me. With respect to recipe blog photography, I now realize that there's quite a bit more to it than that, but at the time, I just couldn't get over that stumbling block. I rejected what I perceived to be a merely superficial focus, and just scoffed at the audacity of the whole thing. My stance has always been "substance comes first, then we can figure out the other stuff." ;) I've been pretty staunch about that most of my life. As young girls, my sister and I were raised to improve our minds and the health and fitness of our bodies, and not spend the majority of our time looking in the mirror. ;) Sure, it's important to look presentable, (and, as much as we might not like to admit it sometimes, first impressions do matter in various arenas of life). And yes, OK, it's fun to be fashionable, and in certain arenas of business, it unquestionably helps to look like you belong to the 21st century. ;) However, as a general way of life, it was drilled into our skulls that substance is really what moves you forward in your life and keeps you grounded. So, in keeping with this philosophy, I initially rebelled and resisted the notion of placing any import whatsoever on the process of taking decent recipe photos for the blog. After all, I wasn't in the big leagues of food blogging anyhow. What did it matter?!

Then I started to write my cookbook. ;) Suddenly, I began to realize that I was going to have to step up my food photography skills by several notches and put in the time and effort to at least try to make my recipe photos look at least somewhat professional. If not for the blog, then for the sake of the cookbook. Otherwise, I'd have to remake a whole lot of my already-posted recipes just for the photographs. ;) Plus, since I wasn't about to hire a team of food stylists and food photographers, gosh freaking darn it, I was going to have to learn this stuff myself. Yeah, I was pretty curmudgeonly about it at first. Begrudging would perhaps be a better word to describe it. ;)

And, well, OK, these highly professional looking blogs also freaked me out a bit, because it put a lot of pressure on me to "care" about layout and photos, when really, I'd much rather have be in the kitchen cooking and writing recipes. Hmmm, let's see. Which would I rather do? Cook and bake and create new recipes or worry about lighting and web scripts?! ;) Tough choice. NOT. Hahaha.

[As you can probably tell, I'm very passionate and opinionated when it comes to the topic of food. The other stuff I do here (minor coding here and there, etc.) is just stuff I do out of necessity to maintain and optimize the blog.]

With their large number of beautiful, flawless photographs, an even more staggering, rapid-fire posting frequency, and a seemingly endless and all-absorbing focus and dedication to their blogs, these seemingly perfectionistic behaviors/tendencies often made me wonder if some of these bloggers still had a life. ;) Regardless, I know that some of them do hire web designers and photographers. Yeah, they seem to take this blogging thing pretty seriously. ;)

Personally, I'd rather do all of that stuff myself, versus farm out all of those jobs. You learn more skills that way. (Plus, you probably save an arm and a leg too. ;) ) Yeah, if you're starting from scratch, that way is surely harder and longer, and there are definitely no short cuts. However, even if it takes a while to amass all of the skills in your "tool kit," you also reap all of the rewards for putting in the time and effort. Plus, all of those skills you've just learned (and later, hopefully mastered!) will come in handy in other facets of your life as well. For example, these types of abilities are useful if you decide to start your own small business or volunteer your skills for a charity organization.

The one good thing about these highly professional looking blogs is that, even though I was a bit reluctant to admit it at first, they spurred me on to become a better photographer. Sure, I might've been annoyed and ticked off at first by their seemingly effortless images of perfection, but I think it was probably because I secretly wanted to be just like them. ;) Maybe, back then, it was something like, "Yeah, I hate you all for your magically diffused lighting, evenly spaced hors d'œuvres, perfectly round chocolate cakes, and eerily symmetrical helpings of spaghetti, but wait, how did you get these photos to turn out so well?!" Hahaha.

[I'm not generally envious of others as a rule, but dagnabbit (!), food blog photography envy is probably one of my greatest weaknesses. ;) LOL.]

Of course, these people infuriated me -- OK, not literally; I'm being tongue and cheek about it ;) -- because I knew they were doing it better, and for Pete's sake, I was going to find out how they did it. Just ask my friends and family: I can be determined like that. ;) So, I kept working on my blog. Trying new ideas and changing things around. Redoing my blog's banner a few more times. Touching up my layout and tightening up some of the web code on the site. Reading online resources. Playing with my camera, and yes, finally reading the manual that came with it. ;) It's still not 100% where I want it to be, but I'm not sure that it ever will, since I'm never completely satisfied with its appearance; I'm perpetually trying to improve it. ;)

And of course, these irritatingly infallible bloggers keep upping the ante. Do they ever rest or take a time-out?! Their photos look fantastic, (and furthermore, seem to get better with every post!), and back then, when I first began this blog, mine did not. You only have to scroll back to 2007 for confirmation of that assessment. ;) Frankly, looking back at those old cringe-worthy photos makes me want to shriek in horror (Haha!), although on the plus side, it does actually feel pretty darned good knowing that there's been an improvement arc in that area. ;) [On that note, I've been seriously considering retaking several of those older photos, since many of them are frankly past the point of post-production. They can't just simply be doctored in Photoshop after the fact. Believe me, I've tried. ;) The primary motivation for retaking the photos is, of course, the upcoming cookbook.]

As they say, failure is an opportunity for improvement. And seeing other bloggers' gorgeous photos that were clearly leagues above my own made me determined to do something about that. After all, I didn't want my blog to look "amateur," and that got me going like nothing else. Those exceptionally talented bloggers kept raising the bar, and I was determined to meet them there, or at the very least give it my best shot.

So thank you, impossibly perfect blogs and bloggers, for making me want to step up my game, and learn a thing or two about food styling and photography. :) And yes, I'm still determined to "beat" -- er, I mean, keep up with -- you. ;) You've also made me improve my coding skills, so thank you for that as well. ;)

And even though I have made progress over the years, I still feel like I'm not quite there yet and have much yet to learn. I am but a young Padawan still craving and seeking knowledge, and hoping to learn the secrets of the Force from the pantheon of wise and zen-like Jedi masters. :) I guess I feel that way in general about so many different areas of knowledge. And, if I'm lucky, this feeling will last a lifetime. :-D Really, a continual ambition to learn and grow is very much like watering your plants. Too little and your life will "dry out," too much and you'll "drown" yourself in it, but just enough (in a steady fashion) will make you bloom. :-D

Like life, a blog is necessarily going to be imperfect, because we, as human beings, are imperfect. So, while I might sometimes secretly coo over those magazine-ready blogs, there's also still a small part of me that wants to keep this blog real and down-to-earth, and yes, maybe even more than a little imperfect. ;) Even if my photos have finally started to look better (Haha!), don't worry, I'm not about to let it go to my head. ;) I will still be blogging here with my own "special brand" of irreverent humor, no matter what, and am glad to know that there are people in the world who actually get me and what I'm trying to do here. So thank you. I'm honored to have you along for the ride. :)

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