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the importance of intentional meals

After getting a reader question about food photography, I was going to write a long post about how to photograph food to make it look totally amazing. But as I wrote it, I realized that not only has this topic been covered on many many blogs before, it also isn't really necessary. Food photography is already pretty amazing, even among those who aren't "experts" at it. Even more than that, beautiful photos shouldn't be the goal.

If you're really curious, here are my tips, which are easy to implement and don't deserve a whole post:

  1. Don't make the food look like it could be any kind of bodily fluid.
  2. Hold your phone so that it doesn't shake, and tap your screen where your subject is to focus on it.
  3. Use natural light, and if it isn't available, don't photograph it.
  4. Use design principles & elements and art principles & elements if you want to make it look really beautiful.

There are much more important things to consider than Instagramming your food. I find a lot of joy and satisfaction when I do it, but it isn't necessarily for likes or comments. It's the fact that I'm setting aside time to appreciate every aspect of my meal. When you photograph your food, it's not just the photo that makes you feel good - it's taking a moment out of your day to think about the food you're consuming and becoming conscious of it in a way you normally wouldn't. Thoughtful preparation leads to better-constructed photographs.

You don't even necessarily have to photograph a meal to do this. Just the act of selecting a beautiful dish, adding in complementary condiments and a drink, and arranging your food in a thoughtful way can totally change your view on eating.

I used to think, and still sometimes think, of food and cooking to be a huge draining chore. On especially busy days, I don't even want to think about food - I just want to go as fast as possible to reach my other goals. But setting aside a little time, even as little as five or ten minutes, to appreciate the food that's sustaining me changes my day for the better. Getting away from work and focusing solely on myself clears my head and playing with plating brings me a lot of joy.

And it's the simplest foods that are the most fun to play with. Think about avocado toast, or smoothies, or fresh fruit on cereal or oatmeal...or pasta with roasted vegetables and salt and pepper. These can be arranged in a myriad of compositions, come together in a snap, and are easy to appreciate on a busy schedule. 

What are you thinking as you set your table or Instagram your lunch? Both celebrate food, and make you slow down to really acknowledge what you're putting in your mouth. Beautiful photographs come naturally from that kind of process of eating.

Even if you don't want to photograph your food, or find that you're not taking food photographs up to your own standards, it's ultimately not about the photography. Set up a beautiful, simple place setting (even on a coffee table) and if you'd like, photograph it. Even if you don't, you're already making a positive impact on your mood for the rest of the day by being intentional with your eating habits.  

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