Eat First. Shoot Later.


Help fight obesity in America by putting down that camera, please!

When the three scientists largely responsible for inventing digital photography and fiber optic transmission received the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics, they might have considered the mess they’ve created on photo-sharing sites and in recipients' email boxes. I speak of the scourge of food photos. It seems like every other photo I’m emailed are close-ups of what people consumed during their vacations.

A couple I know just back from a cruise sent me pictures of pancakes, cheeseburgers, onion rings, noodles, and anything fried that could fit on a stick. The one picture the couple sent of themselves had them partially concealed behind a giant gooey sundae.

With distractions like these, how do you expect people like me to stick to our diets? Facebook can be your worst enemy. The gluttony of food photos being posted on photo-sharing sites and making their way into “wish you were here” emails is out of control. Recently, a friend who visited Turkey uploaded dozens of snapshots from the breakfast buffet in her hotel. I’ve never seen so many bowls of sodium-saturated olives in my life.

Not long ago as I walked past one of Manhattan’s “famous” delicatessens (also known as a tourist trap), I spied a couple by the window using a phone-camera to take pictures of their just-arrived sandwiches. Their mundane repast would likely be available for viewing by relatives back home before the coffee cooled.

Charles K. Kao, the physicist who figured out how to get light to travel long distances through glass strands, may disagree, but I believe that corn-beef-on-rye doesn’t deserve to travel at the speed of light.

As for the two researchers at Bell Labs sharing the other half of the physics prize – Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, who invented the charge-coupled device used in millions of digital cameras – all I can say is that you changed humans’ relationship with what they eat. It used to be that a meal had the shelf life of … the meal! Diners savored the experience and except perhaps for a doggie bag, all that lingered was the memory. Now, dishes are preserved for eternity and available for the world to admire. It all seems unnatural, a violation of the food’s expiration date.

With digital memory cheap and plentiful, nothing in the camera ever seems to get deleted anymore. The ***** buttons on many cameras have atrophied for lack of use. That may explain why every out-of-focus soufflé and over-exposed quiche stays put. High-caloric, high-resolution food images of dubious distinction fill up vacationers’ cameras. Memory cards pile up. Image files get copied to their computers, and the megabytes clutter up hard drives.

Guilty, too, are the camera makers. Point `n shoots often contain a food mode for capturing vittles up close and flash-free. It’s hard to miss. On the menu of some Nikon Coolpix models is a knife and fork icon. Don’t be surprised if expanded menus one day include an icon of plastic utensils for shooting a picnic, a spork for a photogenic soup and salad, a swizzle stick for cocktail portraits, and a clogged artery for framing the perfect drippy corn dog.

Instead, why can’t someone invent a camera that refuses to record food images, especially desserts with gobs of whipped cream? You’ve heard of cameras that won’t take the picture until the subject’s face smiles? How about a model with pie recognition? The camera would identify wedge-shaped objects suffused in white goo and simply lock the shutter.

With everyone and their mama packing a digital camera, pundits might dub these times the Golden Age of Food Photography. To them I say, enough already!

Now that digital photography and fiber optic transmission have made it possible for millions of amateur food portraitists to spread their wings, I don’t expect people to go back to the parsimony of film and the deferred gratification of snail mail. All I ask from you foodie photographers run amuck is a little self-restraint. I’m trying to lose a little weight here, people! Is it really appropriate to flaunt your gluttony to anyone with an Internet connection?

Treating food as fodder for thoughtless photography must stop. At least until there’s universal health care.

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you sound hungry.

 i cannot believe someone took the time to write this.
you are has nothing to do with pictures of food.
if all you did was look at wouldn't be fat.

If it were that simple. It’s not pictures of food that are making folks fat. It’s what’s in the food that is killing people. The American food system is designed for one thing: MAKE MONEY! To maximize profits that they have thrown nutrition out the window and focused on making junk that looks and tastes good but has little nutritional value compared to what would have been in a similar dish 50 years ago. Watch the movies King Corn, Food Inc and a host of others. Read the NYT article “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” and you will see it’s not pictures that are making us fat, it’s ourselves with corporate America cheering us on.

The challenge to photographers should be to expose the cooperate food machine for what it is and for us for not being more selective in what we eat. Support your local farmers, purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, read the content labels, practice portion control. Make smart choices and take pictures of fresh food and the folks that produce it.

Great tongue-in-cheek article, pun intended.  During the FILM days, my Dad took photos, all in chrome, of some of his and my Mom's meals in Italy and on a cruise.  I kept thinking "you are a thin guy, not into food, why photos of food?"  Finally I asked and he explained that he would probably not have these meals again and that the presentation had an artistic component.  Looking at the photos again, he was right, there was artistry and he would probably not have these dishes again.  Years later, looking at these photos again, there was not just composition in the presentation of the food, Dad composed some pretty good photos. 

what does this have to do with photography with food? who cares if people like taking pictures of their food. you may want to eat first, shoot later but i rather shoot the food and make it look great and have people say "That looks delicious. I love to eat that"