Why Do People Photograph Their Food?

Have you ever been at a restaurant and noticed someone taking a photograph of their food? I have. In fact, having observed many instances of food photography I decided to discuss the topic with some friends and colleagues.

A great deal of work already exists on the complexity and underlying motivations of meals. In general the findings from studies on food and meal behavior have shown that, "although seemingly simple, [eating is] in fact very complex behavior in which many physiological and psychological factors interact."

So building on some of that existing research, here are a few fun theories about 'why people photograph their food.' If you have any additional ideas on the topic, I'd love to hear them.

Theory One: Social Ritual

Sharing and enjoying a meal is a part of social ritual.  Historically, meals have often been used as a medium for passing on important cultural and religious rituals.

Perhaps people photograph their food together as part of a new social sharing ritual?

Theory Two: Collaborative Process

Preparing and enjoying a meal is a part of collaborative process. The process of contributing to a meal can be an important part of bringing together nutrition and emotion.

Perhaps people photograph their food to feel like they have contributed to the process?

Theory Three: Personal Pleasure Arousal

Anticipating and enjoying a meal enhances personal pleasure. The process of delaying gratification has been shown to increase the enjoyment associated with consumption of pleasurable products or services.    

Perhaps people photograph their food as a form of pleasure arousal and gratification delay?

Theory Four:  Experience Objectification

Eating and enjoying a meal is an ephemeral experience. Although the memories and emotions associated with eating can last a lifetime, the food itself does not.

Perhaps people photograph their food in an attempt to make the meal experience last?


Anonymous said...

Interesting hypothesis, Nick.

After reading your article, I can’t help but thinking that this phenomenon involves a few other interesting dynamics.

1) the impact of cyber world has contributed to our change of behaviors. Imagine, without Facebook, Twitter or all these networking sites, will we still take pictures of our food and post them online? Personally, I can’t remember I did that before internet becomes popular.

2) the need and the process of transforming an actual eating experience into digital world. It seems that people tend to share less the ‘right-here-right-now moment’ with people sitting next to you (cos the person is probably too busy taking photo) but people on cyber network has the privilege to share this immediate moment. The need of sharing has expanded, not only to the close ones but even to the strangers who can assess your profile (e.g. Instagram)

3) the process of preserving a moment, a wonderful moment. I have never seen anyone taking a picture of their meal when they are not very presentable. Perhaps, ‘good food, good life’?

4) the process of completing a day-to-day task with a sense of enjoyment. Eating becomes less boring if we can just add in some technologies and decorate our food photos with enhanced or saturated colors or even a little comment. It’s fun.

From Sami

Nick Black said...

Thanks for the comments Sami. Some really good suggestions.

Combining together a few of these thoughts (your 1+2 my 1), here's another:

The digital participants in our life (facebook, twitter, instagram etc.) are as important as physical participants. The process of sharing with them, is an important social ritual.

The rituals that are of greatest importance to a society, are often built into the food sharing process (think prayers, holiday celebrations, birthdays etc).

Could it be that our digital life has become so important to our social well being, that a ritual for it (photograph the food) has been added to our eating process?

Anyway, hope you're well.

Becca said...

In my opinion, people taking pictures with their food because they want to share their creativity from the food they created. As they say "Picture captures a thousand words".

Nick Black said...

Hi Becca: Thanks for the thoughts. I agree with the idea of sharing creativity, or pride, when a person is photographing something they created themselves.

But what about when they photograph food in a restaurant? Is that also about sharing their creativity? Do they feel like they've 'created' part of that meal?


Anonymous said...

Actually just recently I photographed my latte, because the barista created a beautiful picture of wheat stem on top of it, and they always drew a picture on top of every latte. For me that was like a signature for the cafe, and creates interest, so when I posted it on Facebook people asked me where the place was and wether I liked it etc. For me that's more closely associated to tourism, where you find something new and exciting and you want to share it with your friends, just like people who take pictures in front of buildings, their products are just as distinguishable.

The latte was also associated with specific company and conversation so it had an endearing effect as well.

Nick Black said...

Thanks for reading and commenting Anon. I like your idea of 'food tourism,' and the pleasure associated with sharing something new.

Actually, makes me feel like a Latte :)

Angus Johnstone said...

If you notice, people only take photos of unique dining experiences, and more often than not, it's in a posh place which takes takes half of they daily paycheck for a meal. They just want compensation in a form of Instagram and Facebook likes or they may just be a professional food photographer.

Nick Black said...

Thanks for the comment Angus. I really like your idea that the social recognition is a form of 'emotional compensation' for the cost of the food.

Higher Education Photography said...

I really enjoyed your article. That is nice when you read something that is not only informative but entertaining. Outstanding.

Nick Black said...

Glad you enjoyed the post Higher Education Photography - thanks for leaving a comment.