Trends in modern food photography

In recent years, the documentary approach of the early days of food photography has given way to a variety of trends and styles, all now with equal status. In addition to the mainly documentary style, new trends and techniques have emerged. These became known as ‘Gorgeous grey’, ‘Perfectly imperfect’, ‘Mystic light’, ‘Granny chic’ and ‘Back to country’. These trends have emerged from English-speaking and Scandinavian regions where many of the top food photographers originate. StockFood, the leading food image agency, has brought together the work of more than 1,000 international food photographers under one roof.

Until about 30 years ago, food photography tended to be largely repetitive documentary. The main style of recipe photography was a clear picture of the dish, intended as a ‘cooking guide’. The only design element was the arrangement of the ingredients around the dish.

The Perfectly Imperfect photography style, which has its origins in the food blogger scene and social media

New trends began to develop at the beginning of the ‘90s when, starting in Australia and Britain, food photography was reinvented. A more graphic style developed and pictures became crafted and composed. Interest shifted towards styling, decoration, atmosphere and colour combinations. Props became important design elements, adding weight to the statement made by the dishes illustrated. For a long time, food shots without stylish tableware, designer cutlery and glasses were almost unthinkable. The downside of such a strong emphasis on styling was that attention was diverted away from the actual recipe or dish.

Alongside the development of this graphic style, photography was also moving towards a vibrant, bright, light-flooded style, in strong contrast to the earlier, rather dark, sharp, documentary style. Blur became an important design element: a restricted area of the image is in focus, while the fore- and/or background are blurred. It took a few years for this trend to become established and to be requested on a broad front, but today this bright, unfocused, highly-styled type of photography is considered modern and very much in demand worldwide by a range of customers.

Recently, in parallel with the trend for light, styled, blurred food photography, a counter-trend has begun to emerge – trendsetting photographers are increasingly adopting purist styles of image design, props being used with more restraint and the focus returning to the aesthetics of the dish being photographed.

Example of the Granny Chic style

The latest trends to emerge, as shown by three of the favourite new themes seen in leading magazines, are ‘Granny chic’, ‘Back to country’, ‘Mystic light’, ‘Perfectly imperfect’ and ‘Gorgeous grey’.  ‘Granny chic’ denotes traditional cooking from all countries worldwide, best presented using old props that remind us of our grandmothers – enamel pans, earthenware plates, everyday cutlery, lace doilies and old silver plates. Backgrounds are kept natural or earth-coloured or contain the palette of berry colours made popular in the ‘80s: a dark suffusion of purple, violet, fuchsia, mauve or burgundy.

Rediscovered enthusiasm for life in the country lies behind the idea of ‘Back to country’ – growing your own in a garden, on a window sill or a balcony. This new style of coverage depicts people gardening, creating flowerbeds and harvesting heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables. Strong natural colours, pure daylight
and lots of atmosphere foster a desire for healthy eating. Rustic props made of wood, iron, enamel and tin are often used, as are tools and Wellingtons.

The ‘Mystic light’ style has its origin in the north of Europe where it was influenced by the unusual light conditions there. Scandinavian photographers were the first to avail themselves of northern light to create this style, which relies on dark velvety colours, graphic structures and the special light that lends the compositions their magical, mystical look. The impression created by these images is mystical and mysterious. It is a style reminiscent of the legendary midsummer nights and the magic of which they remind us.

Example of the Mystic Light style

One style trend that has become evident in the past three years is ‘Perfectly imperfect’, which has its origins in the food blogger scene and on social media. Typical are images that at first glance appear to be spontaneous and not staged. They create the ideal contrast to the perfect, highly styled world of professional food photography. They stand for love of experimentation, for individualism and love of life.

The newest trend in food photography is ‘Gorgeous grey’, which has enriched the image scene since 2015. At the centre of these cool pictorial compositions is the colour grey in all its shades and variations. To achieve the effect, photographers work with raw natural surfaces like slate, stone and wood that are especially effective in bringing these colours to their optimal expression. Rough, bold surfaces enhance the appearance of food and make it appear delicate and graceful. ‘Gorgeous grey’ is the perfectly staged, exciting pictorial language.

The latest trends first made their mark in leading specialty food publications. These magazines are scrutinised in minute detail and read around the globe. It is a matter of great prestige for the leading food photographers to be published in them. Examples of these magazines include:

  • England: FOUR, Jamie Magazine, Olive, Delicious
  • Australia: Donna Hay, Delicious, Food & Travel
  • US: Martha Stewart Living, Sweet Paul, Real Simple, Saveur

The big publishing houses in these countries can afford to experiment with food photo galleries from food photographers. New trends also stem from leading design schools, such as the Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design (UK) and the Parsons School of Design, New York.

The best and most striking food blogs have also entered the print world. There are unusual food magazines that show an eclectic mix of styles ranging from perfectly styled food to street food in Africa and even subjects like food and art:

  • England – Special Request, Swallow Magazine, Cereal
  • US: Edible Brooklyn, Put a Egg on It, Lucky Peach, Gather Journal, Garden & Gun
  • France: Fricote
  • Sweden: Fool
  • Germany: Beef!, Foodboom

Photographers from English speaking and Scandinavian countries are the leaders in developing new trends. For a long time, New York was the foremost design trend maker, but has since been replaced by Australia, England, Italy and Scandinavia. For several years now, New York has been catching up again in the field of food photography and, alongside Australia, England and Scandinavia, is introducing a new vanguard of innovative food photographers. An extremely creative branch of the ‘food’ image sector has established itself in Brooklyn where new magazines and unusual restaurants have been popping up and many young and innovative food photographers are settling.

Back to country

More than 1,000 photographers, including around 80% of the top food photographers worldwide, are represented by StockFood. Added to these are the many innovative food bloggers, who are constantly developing new trends in food photography and creating successful new cook books and magazines.

By maintaining close personal contact with these photographers, StockFood is always among the first to know about new trends: when, where and why they are appearing, and who’s responsible.

StockFood began to practice trend spotting in its own photographers department in the mid-90s. The company has placed increasing importance on studying the design scene in trendsetting countries. One of the key tasks of the photographers department is to continually evaluate the latest trends worldwide, picking up on new trends as they emerge, contacting the photographers, and if they are not already with StockFood, bringing them onboard.

Through its own trend scouts, StockFood has been able to expand its competence as the world’s leading food image agency, demonstrating its expertise through the latest and most modern image material. With more than 500,000 food pictures, videos and features, along with reports, StockFood has a comprehensive collection of first-class material by the stars of the profession and by Brazilian and Indian food photographers who specialise in their regions.

Gorgeous Grey

About StockFood

StockFood is the world’s leading food specialist among photo agencies. At creative professionals from media, marketing and advertising can find the largest collection of images, videos and features by more than 1,000 renowned, prize-winning professional photographers and video producers. Recipes, produced by our internal recipe editors, are available for photos and videos. The StockFood family also includes agencies that specialise in living and interiors (, beauty photography (, gardens (, and with its focus on the fields of medicine and science.

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