My husband likes to joke with our friends that life with me means waiting to start eating until I get the chance to take some photos. While this isn't always true, I would say I take my camera out about 75% of the time when food is involved. It seems odd to some people, but I have been doing this for so long that it's innate at this point.
The other day I was thinking, food photography is a fun hobby but it has also taught me a lot of cooking and I can hands-down say I'm more skilled because of it. Who would ever think that this would be the case! Here are five ways food photography has made me a better cook.
1. Presentation is your first win.
The most obvious is that my plating and presentation awareness has dramatically improved and in my opinion, solid presentation is your first win as a home cook. It's the first thing you (or your guests) notice when you put the plate down. It can make someone say "wow" before even taking a bite. And honestly, even if the actual flavor isn't what you were hoping for, most people will think it tastes better than they would if the plate looked blah. When taking photos, I am always looking for ways to make meals more interesting so over the years I have learned to use garnishes, citrus wedges, an artfully placed spoonful of yogurt or (leading us into our next topic) a smear of sauce.
2. Adding a sauce or glaze is magic.
Sauce is one technique that the beginner home cook probably neglects to use unless following a recipe. It seems like an extra unnecessary step if your food is seasoned well, but trust me when I say sauce is key for elevating the meal to restaurant quality. Once your pantry is stocked with all of the essentials (which I'll be covering in my 21-Day Cooking Challenge!), whipping up a sauce is as easy as combining a couple of staple ingredients in less than two minutes. Not only does this take the flavor up a notch and keep moisture locked in, it often adds that pop of color that's a win for your eyes and the photo too.
3. A balanced meal is a pretty meal (most of the time).
Almost all of the time, a balanced meal means a variety of colors of textures which also means it's pleasing to the palate and photographs well. Some exceptions include lentils (why), root vegetables, grains and soups. Because of this, I'll often add extra greens for a pop of color, add berries to oatmeal or choose tri-color carrots over the traditional for more variety. This ends up being a win for both visual appeal and nutritional variety.
4. Utilize different plates, bowls and silverware for the best result.
The way you serve a meal can have an impact on the experience. Think about family style versus a meticulously arranged plate, versus a build-your-own bowl situation (not to mention what type of bowl). It's fun to mix things up and get creative with this and recently I started searching for new bowls/serving dishes that I can use to make the food pop a little bit more. I found this one and I really like it because it has shallow sides and photographs better than a deep bowl where your food tends to get lost in a shadow. I also experiment with smaller plates and even stemless wine glasses for serving something like dessert or a yogurt parfait.
5. Thinking through the steps logically means I can improvise later.
I am confident in my recipe development skills because when you are photographing everything, writing down each technique, and then re-visiting all of it later (again and again), it means you are hyper-focused on every point of the process. Basically, you are thinking like someone who has never made the dish before. In addition, I think I better understand the "why" behind various cooking techniques which allows me to improvise too. I know what will happen if I skip X, or add Y. I can predict how a dish will turn out if I put it in the oven uncovered versus covered. And perhaps most importantly, I can usually figure out a way to salvage a dish that's going south quickly. Most of the time.