What is the difference between an Advertising  and an Editorial  Food Photographer?

Years ago, I fed-x’ed my portfolio off to the Art Buyer for Bon Apatite Magazine, just to see what would happen.  Who knows, maybe I could become famous or something… :o)  It didn’t take long for my package to return with a nice polite letter that said something to the effect of “This is really nice food photography, but it’s not the kind we use”.  Not the “kind”?  What the heck did that mean?  So I did a little studying of the magazine and after a little study, I could see what they meant.

I have to come clean here and admit that I’m an advertising food photographer at heart. That’s just my natural tendency. I like to light the food so that I can get the maximum texture and make the food as textural and appetizing as possible.   I  prefer to light the food and show as much detail as possible, and I’ve come to the conclusion that editorial food photographers have other preferences.  They are more concerned about the overall look of the photo, whereas I’m more concerned about the individual item of food in front of my camera.  To me, the environment of the photo is secondary and is there to support the food item.

With advertising food photography, the food is the most important thing in the shot, whereas in editorial food photography, the beauty of the entire shot is the most important thing.  And here are some of the reasons why I say that…

In editorial food photography, the food tends to take up less actual image real estate of the image.  The food is smaller in the frame in most editorial shots than they are in advertisements.  You will usually find more interesting backgrounds in editorial food photos than you will in advertisements.  Beautiful backgrounds tend to take the attention away from the food, and people selling food tend to frown on that a little… Beautiful / interesting backgrounds tend to make for more prettier pictures and are more entertaining to look at, which is what magazines and other users of editorial food photography are trying to do, entertain. Advertising is trying to sell that hunk of food, so it needs to jump off the plate.  You need to be able feel the texture and smell the food.  Okay, we don’t do smell, but I think you get the point…

So, in a nutshell, I believe that advertising food photographers are more interested in detail of the food and showing it off in it’s best possible light.  Editorial food photographers are more interested in making pretty pictures of food, where sometimes the food looks as though it is a prop in the photo instead of the reason for the photo.

Please don’t get me wrong… I do enjoy making  “just pretty pictures” and would love to shoot more editorial assignments.   I also think it’s easier for advertising food photographers to shoot editorial assignments than it is for editorial shooters to photograph food for advertising.  In my opinion, shooting advertising food photography is more difficult to do.  It requires skills that most magazine shooters just don’t have or even recognize.