Last week I grilled up a tri tip steak intending to do a write-up on this cut. I tried photographing the process as I went through it, and as I did so I was amused at the difference between my photography and professional food photography.
The difference in the quality of the equipment is of course a factor. But there’s also the setting. I’m prepping the meal in a kitchen with late 1960s or early 70s orange Formica countertops and hacked up plastic cutting boards. I’m grilling on a well-worn, trash-picked barbecue grill. No complaints about any of the above; they work, they’re paid for, and they’ve proven their durability over decades. But so much of food photography is aspirational, so the scene is more important than the food itself. The steak must be presented on polished granite and gleaming stainless or else on artistically chipped ceramic plates with a distressed wood backdrop.
We can’t go the granite and stainless route, but we do have plenty of distressed surfaces around here and the kids have been making pottery plates and bowls, so we could make a good rustic presentation. My problem is that I can’t muster the focus to cook something well and also to arrange it well. I’d have to trim the meat on the old cutting board, then to transfer it to an oiled rustic board for a picture. Then cook it on the grubby grill and place it onto a quirky old plate on a checkered gingham tablecloth for another picture. That’s the sort of routine that flusters me and causes me to skip a step or to burn the meal while preparing the next photo. I have accepted that most of my photography will not be aspirational, it will just be the best shot I can get, no matter if the Formica is showing.
We are trying to update the pictures on our online store, but it is slow going. And it will never look as good as professionally photographed food. But we are grateful for all our customers who have ordered from us for years, despite our pictures of wrapped, frozen meat. We appreciate that you have more glamorous options available, but you continue to buy from us.
I think this gets at the core of our connection with our committed customers. They select us over Whole Foods, Amazon, US Wellness Meats, or whatever box delivery service is trending, because they feel a connection to what we are doing and they accept that something done by a family is going to look and feel different than something presented by a marketing department at an investor-funded company. That recognition adds a lot of forgiveness to the relationship. We don’t intend to abuse that, but it is reassuring to know that our customers are willing to give us a break if the lighting isn’t right, if the photographs are blurry, or if we’re out of beef liver again (yeah, I know…).