Monday, February 11, 2013

What's wrong with these pictures? A fresh look at food & wine photography

Please take a brief look at these six photographs and tell me what makes them surprisingly unusual?

1) from a Tagus Creek Video Clip presented by Charles Metcalfe






Got it? All of these are images that include both a recognisable plate of food and an identifiable bottle of wine. A year or so ago, I imagined that photographs like these would be commonplace, but as I began to look through food and drink magazines and a wide range of books in preparation of the McGuigan Recipe Collection, I discovered that they actually competed with hen's teeth in their rarity. Even The Great Wines Of Bordeaux With Recipes from the Top Chefs of the World, a book dedicated to pairing great dishes and wines only includes 14 such photographs out of the 88 in its pages. Italy, we are told, is a country where wine is almost always drunk with food; I've just leafed through the 98 pages of the 2012 Decanter Italian supplement and failed to find a single picture of a bottle and a plate. 








How Italian producers like to advertise their wines...


The November 15, 2012 Wine Spectator - the issue that happened to be closest to hand - runs to 154 pages; the nearest to food-and-wine photography is a shot of Napa Cabernet with bowls of cherries and mint. Stated simply, an apartheid principle applies: there are photographs of food (possibly including glasses of wine) and photographs of bottles, probably including glasses. You are far more likely to see a vine or barrel in a wine advertisement than any kind of food - which seems a little odd when you come to think of the way most of the advertisers say they'd like to see their wine consumed. (To be fair, producers in Latin countries do sometimes move away from the vineyard/cellar model - usually in the direction of depicting raven-haired beauties holding the bottle in ways that exploit its phallic quality.)


There are three reasons why there is so little food photography that includes bottles of wine. First, there's the obvious fact that photographers would rather the wine wasn't there. Bottles bring in a vertical element that makes it much harder to compose a pleasing image. Second, there's the other obvious - and not unrelated - fact that magazine picture editors and book designers have rarely asked anyone to take photographs like these. But third, and most significantly, there's no denying that wine producers and distributors have shied away from them too. And that - for me - is the strange part. Do we really believe that barrels and vines are really better at making people want to buy and drink a bottle of wine than a plate of appetising food? If not, maybe wine producers and regions could consider encouraging better food-and-wine photography - possibly by sponsoring a competition or two.

McGuigan Wines took a step in this direction by launching the John Torode-Neil McGuigan Recipe Collection (which - full disclosure - I helped to conceive and produce), an e-book that contains 150 (three sets of 50) food-and-wine pictures taken by Cath Lowe. The 50 combination of dish and wine any individual gets depends on their personal tastes... Please do take a look at it and let me know what you think.

58 comments:

  1. While I'm not at such a technically proficient level my humble little corner of the internet does in deed do and show food and wine together... but you are right, its something seldom seen. Odd seeing as people don't drink under a stainless steel tank or (unless lucky) in a vineyard.

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  2. Thanks Andrew, and I really like your blog! your blog

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  3. @AngelaLloyd1 posted
    Spot on @robertjoseph. But rarely do wine or food writers include food or wine rspctivly in articles; also apartheid.

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  4. as a professional food photographer I'd like to give my point of view: in editorial shots where the wine is not sold or has a prominent role, you keep the the bottle in the background where it can be shot out of focus, i.e.. you can't identify which wine it is. When I shoot commercial photos, one of the reasons we might avoid it is that you get bad reflections of the bottle when you shoot it daylight. And personally I like the vertical element of a bottle as it improves the composition

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    1. Interesting Ilva regarding your comment regarding the bottles helping the composition... Re the reflections, this is a problem for all glass, surely. And a good reason for shooting in a studio (which is where the McGuigan shots were taken), but food shots are often easiest in studios too.
      To me, the key is to have the bottle out of focus, but sufficiently dharop for the label to be recognisable.

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  5. Anonymous11:38 a.m.

    Would it not be because wine producers do not want to limit what their wines are associated with?

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    1. Could be... And I'm sure that might be true on occasion, but given the acknowledged failure of most wine advertising, there would be some logic to sponsoring food pages in a magazine...

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  6. If government spent its time legislating on compulsory food & wine photography, it would be so much more beneficial than any MUP claptrap. People would link drink to food and would likely drink less and better. Trade 20% up, drink 10% less and everyone's a winner. (And just like MUP, it will have little or no effect on the tiny minority of binge drinkers)

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    1. I love it Ewan, though the expression "in your dreams" does occur to me...

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  7. Food bloggers avoid wine - like the plague - mainly due to lack of knowledge; a shame really.

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    1. Likewise restaurant critics. Maybe if the wine people were more inclusive...

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  8. Lorenzo Biscontin @biscomarketing
    @robertjoseph wine communication is biased on wine lovers (producers among them). One of the reason for wine consumption decrease in Italy.

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    1. I agree 100% - and very true of Italy, Spain and France, I suspect

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  9. Shirley Kumar - on Facebook What about travel as well to get a feel for the area - ie creating the whole desire, food, wine and travel?

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  10. Eckhard Supp wrote on #winelover All I can say from my personal experience with wine/food lovers and professionals is: there seems to be little interest towards wine on behalf of many foodies but I know few wine lovers who are not interested in food.

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    1. Maybe it's up to the wine people to be more welcoming!

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  11. I am in the travel business and for me food and wine together are an intricate part of most memorable gastronomic experiences.My favourite dishes bring to mind favourite wines but photographing them is hard.I think wine producers have a tendency to be too egocentrical in terms of their "product" and don't think even slightly outside the box when it comes to pairing and marketing their product with food.

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    1. Thanks Patrick. My views precisely (as you can see from the post!)

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  12. Fabien Lainé wrote on Facebook The Wine Papers are in a way dead, the journalism and marketing and the content in Papers stay to much old school and the commercials also ! People want content and emotions ! On internet you will get the content after few minutes and spread faster, and you can upgrade the content when ever you want and directly communicate with people! Many people share their tastings when they go to restaurants, cooking home with the dish and a bottle a wine through Social Media ! And I guess they are in a way more interesting and more communicative than Papers ! After Also have to understand that Wine and Food Pairing is in a way personal based on feeling and emotions !

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    1. Fabien, I agree...except that good food-and-wine imagery is as rare online as in print...

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  13. Juan Carlos Rincón @rincondecata
    @robertjoseph Very interesting article. I published wine&food pictures sometimes but I have problems with the light. No matter I'll continue

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  14. Angela Lloyd @AngelaLloyd1
    @robertjoseph Just paged thru latest @Decanter. Yr proposition confirmed; all pics either of bottles (mainly) or food (1or2), none together!

    @robertjoseph Arcane language isn't restricted to wine people; foodies too can be preciously technical. Need more relaxd view wth wine&food.

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  15. Fabien Lainé via Facebook Some Instagram profiles are quite interesting about Food and Wine together ! But I agree so less about Wine and Food online also !

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    1. We need to encourage it. What you say about Instagram is interesting though

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  16. Stuart Finley via Facebook What about putting the wine maker in the advertising. Wherever it would be advantageous i.e. they are not scary! Bottle, favourite dish, them.

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    1. It works in Japan Stuart, and Zonin and Taittinger are both lucky in having photogenic younger family members. Otherwise, I'm not so certain. I'm focusing on the end use of the wine - how/when it gets to be drunk

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  17. Shirley Kumar via Facebook I agree with Robert, too much focus on the vineyard and not the end use, which is important and should be part of a package - ie the story of the vineyard - but people like info and pretty pictures that create a desire. if the winemaker is not photogenic or engaging then is that creating a desire?

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    1. Stuart Finley replied If they are not photogenic then I can but agree. What I am suggesting is all about connecting the winemaker to the consumer. The pictures should still be pretty!

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  18. At Majestic the focus of our latest Grape to Glass magazines has been food and wine orientated with lots of food and wine pics. Our most read blogs are mostly food and wine recipes too.

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    1. Interesting William - especially the part about the blogs.

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  19. Lynne Jarche Ford wrote on Facebook Lynne Jarche Ford We always ask customers what are you eating for supper/lunch etc before we recommend a wine and then take their taste (and budget)and previous wine experience into account. So yes, I would agree this is definitely the way to go.

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  20. Hi Robert, you observed it very well, and this is something we see also in many paper magazines in the NL. I don't know about other countries but what I see in the NL is that many food pictures are made in studio or in situ by photographers and food stylists. Even at Michelin stars restaurants the presentation is revisited by the photographer and/or food stylist to match with the magazine style... They seem to be more interested in artistic values than in wine matching. A wine bottle and a glass are just like unnecessary ballast for them. They photograph and arrange food, not wine. This is what I felt, and I do find it strange as well.

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    1. I think it has to be driven by the people who are going to benefit: the wine producers/distributors rather than wait for it to be done for them...

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  21. How strange! I would also have thought that pictures of wine and food would be really common. All I can say is that 'it's not my fault' :)
    Because I often post pics on the fly, of the wine and food I'm having to Twitter or FB, and occasionally to my blog.

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    1. Thanks Fabio - and keep up the good work!

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  22. In Italy food and wine are common together. Food magazines often propose a wine matching for their recipes, despite rarely portraying the glass in their pictures. Wine magazines are starting to take food pairings into consideration and to propose itineraries, although they are sometimes little more than lists of wineries where you can do tastings.

    Territory, its history, its food and its wine cannot be separated: doing so means missing large part of the pleasure in the wine experience.

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  23. Ana Sofia de Oliveira via facebook The real problem I think is more on the trade side. I mean there's almost no wine and food professionals, but mire 2 separated worlds looking each other smiling and being afraid of doing things together to get the most out of events and promotion for eg.!

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    1. I think its endemic. Wine people at every level (trade + enthusiasts) often make ordinary consumers and quite sophisticated food lovers feel frightened and inadequate (There's lots of evidence for this).

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  24. Mark Norman wrote on Facebook Could it be Robert, that the ordinary (mass produced) wines that are commonly available make "very" ordinary pairing suggestions but when a publication starts to suggest better (hand crafted) wines these are not so readily found in typical wine shops the readers want to seek them out??? Could they have learned that providing that like of shot induces a deluge of inquires about where to get "that" wine (in a particular photograph) and I imagine that is the last thing a publication wants to handle. Certainly online use of imagery (coupled with the right links) might do the trick.

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    1. Maybe... But I think you may be looking at it too deeply. Most people are no more looking for "perfect" pairings of food & wine than of shirt & tie. They just want something that "works" for them and their friends and won't make them look stupid/unsophisticated. Good Muscadet + oysters can be wonderful, but most French drinkers traditionally swigged pretty ordinary Gros Plant with their crustaceans..

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  25. Rıfat Diker posted on Facebook
    All above comment are as valuable as the crown jewels ( I might have exagerated but only to make the point) are. Good food and good wine are like good ideas. If taken moderately to appreciate and digest. So are good ideas for the brain to digest. I am stiil digesting very valuable comments on history telling for the wine of Mark Norman and then equally valuable remarks of Robert Joseph. It's like attending a class in the Ivy league. Hold on gentlemen I'm not that bright. Let me catch up and digest.

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    1. Thanks Rifat for your kind words.

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  26. Interesting article which prompted a very healthy debate over dinner and a glass of wine. This is definitely an innovative step for wine marketing.

    I believe the wine industry could learn a great deal from the beer & spirits world, where the marketing effort is on brands and not products. Brand marketing moves away from the product and focusses on associating with consumer lifestyle & values, creating consumer relationships with the brand, and more recently by being perceived as 'cool' by producing the best content online which may not even feature the product.

    As an example, here's a link to the latest Guinness advert: note there's not a bottle, glass, pub, set of mates hanging out, anything related to stout or beer in the ad itself.
    http://www.brandrepublic.com/news/1167444/guinness-launches-55m-made-more-campaign-helpful-town-clock/

    The wine industry stands alone in the drinks sector in marketing its product as a product. Pictures of wine bottles, wine cellars, even producers holding a bottle, the message is very much "here's our wine". The closest thing in the wine industry is Champagne's success at becoming synonymous with celebration.

    I suppose if one applies the spirit industry's brand marketing approach to wine, the wine bottle and even the glass of wine wouldn't be in the imagery. That's probably a radical step for the industry at the moment.

    We must finally all get together for that dinner - if only to explore the future of wine marketing!

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    1. I LOVE the Guinness ad (like most other Guinness ads) and look forward to meeting you over that dinner. Only challenge will be to find some subjects to argue over. (I agree 100% about selling lifestyle rather than vineyards and barrels, and am already talking to clients about doing just that with a couple of big brands).

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    2. That is the thing - this marketing works well if there is a big budget and the brand is big... Eg Guiness, Baileys, Stella Artois, Smirnov, Grey Goose etc I don't know of may craft beer or artisan spirit makers who can afford to use this tactic... In the wine industry there are a lot of small guys - what are they supposed to do besides just give up and sell grapes to the big guys?

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    3. The joy of social media is precisely that it allows little guys to compete with big ones - especially now that ads like the Guinness one are becoming an endangered species in the face of government legislation. The clever small guys will learn lessons from the bigger ones - we are working on tiny-budget versions of the McGuigan effort. As I keep saying here and elsewhere, winemaking is no different to lacemaking, shipbuilding and tavernkeeping : not a god-given right. If smaller winemakers, like Briish pub landlords want to give up, so be it. We'll lose some good ones, undoubtedly, but that's evolution,and I suspect we'll lose a lot more dross. I hear very few laments for the 10k Bordeaux chateaux we've "lost" over the last decade.

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  27. M Luisa B Correa posted on Facebook Totally agree with your Point of view. Pairing advice in Brasil always ends up in "strange" stuff like oysters, foie gras, rabbit or some other dish that potential consumers just don't it. So they rule out wine. Our proposal is to bring wine c.oser to consumer through food: burger, pizza, bolognese pasta, steak pairing. I believe this is the only way to grow our market.

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    1. Luisa, if you read the comments by Olivier Legrand, (referenced here and in his interview in the next Mewininger's Wine Business International, you'll see that totally agrees with you, running tastings of Rhone wines with Pizza in New York, for example.

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  28. I have looked around and indeed very few pictures are of food & wine (where the bottle and label are legible). I am guilty as charged of this too - even though food and wine are so intrinsically linked in my mind, I find it hard to show everything in one picture. I do take the plate and the glass sometimes but very rarely food, glass and bottle. Maybe more people feel this way? Most foodies I know love wine, and most wine people love food - though there are of course exceptions. For me a good pairing is the cherry on top of the cake, it makes the meal an extra special experience - even if it is just me and the dog having dinner at home.

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    1. It'a a challenge, I agree, but one I think the wine world should acknowledge and embrace. If we want to put across the notion of food and wine - and of it being worth not just ANY wine, then it's up to those of us who know a bit about wine and who rely on it for our income to make the effort...

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  29. Anonymous1:10 p.m.

    Food and Wine is a regional experience.That is, each region has its wine and typical dishes that go back decades , centuries. It's when you visit that region that you really sum the two. It's where you encounter the balance and harmony of the two. It's where you enjoy their pleasure and company. It's what you want to hold on your palate forever. And when your back to your daily grind...those encounters are your food and wine for thought.

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    1. I like your philosophy, and as someone who has been lucky enough to have traveled pretty widely, I personally share it. Unfortunately, however, that kind of travel isnot available to most people. Tens (hundreds?) of millions of diners will, for example, tuck into a plate of pasta tonight without any experience of Italy - and no likelihood of ever gaining that experience. And the same is just as true of the masses outside the US who enjoy a burger or a brownie...

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    2. Anonymous3:04 p.m.

      Robrt the challenge is exactly that - reaching the masses. Your topic is a springboard to rattle the heads of those who could - should - bring this about. There is nothing more stimulating than being told what would go well with the wine you may be about to purchase.Above all form the people who produce it.

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    3. I agree - especially if they've taken an interest in the kind of event and your tastes...

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  30. Found it a good illustration of product fixation trap. Showing barrels, vineyards, tanks, instead of occasions to consume, food matching (with good brand exposure), histories of people behind the product, etc.

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