Authenticity of Vision
By Scott Westgate, Creative Director
Good Taste exists in order to answer the question: “What should we eat tonight?”
To help the Lehigh Valley with this question, we need to be credible, reliable, and genuine across the board. We lend credibility indirectly through things like production quality, page layout design, font choices, color choices, writing style, subject matter, and our advertiser selection, but perhaps the most obvious and pronounced exhibition of qualitative credibility is through our photography – most often the focal point on any given page.
To be credible and trusted, one must be true to him- or herself. This is no different for any subject in front of a camera lens. With food, we must be true to the chef’s original intentions when creating the dish and be true to each ingredient involved. As a result, when Meris is on site, we do not unnaturally alter, modify, or enhance the appearance of the food. We may rarely suggest mild alterations to plating or reinvigorate a basil leaf with some water, but largely everything captured is as true to what it would look like if you were ordering the dish yourself. Any action we take is meant to enhance what is already there, and not to obscure, hide, or deceive. Everything is shot fresh. And most certainly everything photographed is completely edible (and delicious!).
One of my favorite quotes in the design world is: “Bad design is smoke, while good design is a mirror.” The same is true with our approach to food photography. The decisions we make behind the camera should only help provide clarity. In some ways, the photograph should be “more real” than being there. Cameras are able to capture details and use depth-of-field in a way that the human eye can struggle to achieve (though maybe that depends on your vision!).
Behind the camera, we aim to be as genuine and simple as possible in our approach. We regularly do retail product photography that involves half a dozen oversized lights, a seamless backdrop, and days of post-production work to perfectly capture and present each offering. Food is different. If there is a booth in the corner with some magical natural light coming through a nearby window, let’s shoot there! A drink might look better as it’s being mixed, a steak might look more appealing on the grill, and so on. Although our photography looks incredible, a little bit of imperfection goes a long way in lending authenticity. Maybe we choose not to clean up a drip of sauce on the plate, or perhaps there’s a bite taken out of that sandwich. This hyper-realistic approach leans into the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, which celebrates the beauty of imperfection.
We also aim to walk away with an authentic sense of the establishment itself, its ambiance and personality. If we were to photograph food at any table that happens to be available – or even less suitably, in a studio – the photography as a whole will convey a very narrow visual representation of the restaurant. After all, when you visit a restaurant, your eyes take in the wall décor, flooring, upholstery, ceilings, servers, textures, lights, etc. Consequently, “scouting” for locations is one of the first things we do upon arrival.
Tabletops are often not the most interesting surface of a restaurant, so for Meris nothing is off limits. We’ve photographed food on bar stools, floor tiles, balcony railings, firewood, outside ponds, gardens, tree stumps, kitchen surfaces, servers’ hands, and have even brought ceiling tiles down to utilize. The more of the restaurant we can capture as part of the food, the better. We’re not photographing McDonald’s where you can get the same hamburger in Bethlehem as you would in Tokyo. The food here is special to this area and special to the individual restaurant. And we focus on making it special to you.