If the digital age has taught us one thing, it might well be that photographing food is best left to the experts. Much has been made about bad amateur food photography; the viral Instagram account Cooking for Bae and the popular Tumblr account Someone Ate This are both possible because mobile phones have given the masses the means to share their terrible food pictures with the world.
But what about the flip side? If the worst photographer can make good food look bad, can the best photographer make weird food look appetizing? We asked some of our favorite Shutterstock food photographers to dig deep into their portfolios and remember the strangest foods they’ve ever been asked to photograph. As it turns out, even something initially unappealing can become attractive when seen through the right lens. If a food can’t be mouth-watering, that certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be aesthetically intriguing.
Capturing the beauty of chicken feet
“I shot Field Peas to Foie Gras, a cookbook for Jennifer Booker, who is a Southern and French Chef in the Atlanta area. The chef loved to munch on chicken feet! Personally, I didn’t go there. I just thought going in very close would be the best way to “see” the feet and the texture. I made it a little personal. Sometimes shooting “food porn” solves some of your “ugly food” problems. The claw nails needed to be clipped because that apparently makes the foot easier to eat.”
Making the most of frozen anchovies
I was in Vietnam in an island where they make fish sauce, which is made from fish and salt. My client asked that I only do one thing: take a shot of the fresh anchovies.
When I got there, they were a frozen, solid fish brick. It was somewhat helpful that was about 90 degrees with 90% humidity. I covered them and went to search for a flat rock that I had seen to shoot them on. I got a bottle of water—they needed to be wet.
There is one shot of the frozen ones all smoothed together. I had to pry a few off the ball of fish very, very gently. They were super fragile and not easy to work with, but the results came out great with and without salt. I like the shine that the water created, and I also shot them in the shade with no direct light.
Finding elegance in raw squid
I prefer simple subjects, especially things from my garden, such as seasonal fruit and vegetables. Usually for my shoots, I choose something that inspires me, something worth investigating aesthetically. I probably found squid a little bit weird.
It doesn’t matter what I have in front of my camera; light can make the weirdest thing beautiful. With the squid, I just waited for the perfect natural light, and I found the simplest solution: a dark backdrop and a rusty, pretty surface to give it the “vintage look” that I like so much.
Respecting the weird in sprouted beans
These are sprouted beans. A (very talented) food stylist I was working with, Michelle Gatton, brought them to a test shoot for fun. I think the idea was not to fight with the weirdness of the item. We definitely weren’t trying to make them pretty, so the graphic lighting and composition worked for it. Also, I got really close up to see all the strange details.
Discovering the glamour in poutine
I don’t know if this is particularly strange food or not. Poutine is french fries, covered with cheese curd and gravy (sometimes meat as well). It’s not overly common in the United States but very common in Montreal. I am kind of a healthy person, so sometimes when presented with food that I am not interested in eating, it becomes a little more difficult to find it appetizing to shoot. Poutine makes for a pretty brown image regardless.
I try to incorporate food into an environment which also gives information to describe the place where the food may be. Montreal has an old world feel, and the use of the old stone wall tells a little of this story. I still don’t find it overly appetizing, but it to me was a true representation of the location and the dish.
Preserving the artistry of octopus
I would have to say that octopus, whether sun-drying on a line somewhere in the Greek Islands or braising in a big copper pot in Galicia, is the strangest food I’ve photographed. Perhaps octopus is most photogenic in its whole and raw state, fanned out so you can see all of its tentacles and rows of suckers.