Two different types of photography…

The preliminary purpose of all photography is to document and preserve reality. Any subsequent changes of a photograph will still be made to document and preserve an individual’s interpretation of reality, be it through its faults/strengths being criticised, fictionalised, or sensationalised – all commonly done through destructive editing. As photography was technologically developing in the early 19th century, the categorisation of photography (in relation to its subject) was yet to be created, and only did so through the ongoing popularization of the camera around the late 19th century; popularization derived from its continuing practicality. Since the commercial availability of hand-held cameras, I think all photography can be classified into four main categories: Art, Science, Commercial and Recreational (and of course, overlapping combinations of all four). A photograph itself cannot be accurately classified into one of these four categories, but the knowledge of its utilization can enable you to classify it. Among these categories are many sub-categories, in which a photograph is being taken for a specialized purpose within one of these given fields. I’m going to look into two sub-categories of photography and evaluate their technical conventions, common purposes, and general essence.

Firstly, I’ll be looking into Forensic photography; an art in which a photographer is to accurately capture a crime scene, which will then go on to be used as evidence in some kind of law case. Clarity is the most important characteristic of forensic photography. A clear reproduction of a crime scene is essential in reminding investigators of the crime scene, or informing members of the court who have never seen the actual crime scene of what happened. The most important factor in achieving this clarity is light. Light can reveal all kinds of particles and hairs that are inherently camouflaged into the floor. A common source of this lighting is a bright, hand-held spotlight; useful in that you can maneuver it around the chosen object. You may also need to solely show an object’s precise positioning (and not its texture). To do this you’d need to use a ring flash; a circular light that fits around a camera’s lens and as a result, shows no shadows.

In addition to lighting, camera positioning is also very important. To minimise the problem of parallax, you will need to take many images from multiple angles, establishing an object’s distance and general relationship with another object.  Another way to show an object’s scale is to place a ruler next to it (as shown below). Alot of the time you will also be required to capture the fine detail of an artifact (usually using some kind of macro-lens), like a bloody fingerprint or a spec of dust. Today, forensic photographers capture exclusively in digital colour (with the modification of black and white done later, if necessary). Colour may be an important aspect of the trace evidence; a trace of paint or dye on a piece of evidence may be crucial to linking the evidence with a crime or accident.

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Nowadays, if you want to go into this particular field of photography there are several there are courses and conferences available through associations such as the Evidence Photographers International Council (EPIC) and the International Association for Identification (IAI), as well as a number of colleges and universities worldwide. Some of these courses are now offered via the Internet, so anyone, anywhere may attend. If you want to use your skills in the field of law enforcement, one will need to check the hiring practices of the department where you want to live and see if you qualify. Most hiring processes will include a written exam, drug screen, medical exam, psychological exam, and background investigation. If hired—and before you will be allowed to specialize—you must start as an entry-level officer. This process can be a little bit tedious, especially for the younger generations who are typically opposed to this kind of system. If you do not wish to work for a law enforcement agency, there are forensic jobs outside of law enforcement that can be just as financially rewarding; individuals and attorneys involved in civil law and other legal cases still need forensic services, including such photographic documentation. There are also rare incidents in which people have worked their way into this field, without any degrees of such kind, but with pure innovation. Alphonse Bertillon revolutionised the field of forensic photography (along with the criminal identification system) with no educational qualifications. Obviously, this example only really applies to you if you have any particular ideas as to dramatically changing the current system of forensic photography. There is also a sub-breed of forensic and commercial photography, practiced and created by Arthur Fellig (or ‘Weegee’). Arthur Fellig took pictures of crime scenes not for the purposes of the law, but for artistic value. Sadly, I think this is less relevant now, as police investigators seem to be a lot stricter about crime scenes.

images-3 ii_c_306 Crime Scene of David "the Beetle" Beadle

Unfortunately, evidential forensic photographs are not permitted to be shown outside an investigation or law case, meaning there are few real examples to show, but I do have some non-evidential examples and others that are realistic equivalents of evidential cases that get the basic idea across. The non-evidential examples (those of ‘Weegee’) are quite similar to the street photography you’d see at that time – a lot of straight-flash lighting and consequential illumination.


On the other side of the scope is that of a still life, commercial strand of photography – food. Photographing food tends to be a strictly commercial practice, in which the goal is to make the food look as appealing as possible, stimulating the consumers hunger, and eventually leading them to buy the real food that the photograph is representing. You could be producing attractive photographs of food for use in advertisements, packaging, menus or cookbooks. You will also be part of a collaborative team, working alongside an art director, a food stylist, a prop stylist and all their assistants.

A majority of food photography is tightly framed to draw the focus onto the food. The camera is typically positioned at a tilt angle, low down by the plate, but aerial shots can work nicely with simple, symmetrical foods (like the cupcakes shown below). Lighting the food can be a big problem, especially with artificial lighting. Big studio lights can heat up quite quickly and will be placed closely to the food – this will thaw the shape of any food below room temperature such as ice cream, chocolate, sandwiches etc. In addition to this problem, you will also need to soften and disperse the light as much as possible with the use of soft-boxes and reflectors. This is why natural window lighting is preferred in this field, giving those soft shadows you’d otherwise have to get from a heap of heated equipment. Generally the best lighting is from the front side coming over the shoulder of the photographer, but most angles will work. Strobe lighting is one common alternative, but you tend to get a tacky, illuminated image; not ideal for representing food.

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A common trait when photographing food is to limit the depth of field with a wide aperture setting and focus near the front edge of the food; this accentuates the main piece of food, whilst softening other parts of the dish and the background. The background is another important ingredient when it comes to presenting the food. It will give the food a subtle amount of context, whether its a wooden table, a polka-dot plate or even a white background. A lot of food advertisement will use photo’s with simple, white backgrounds and white plates, attempting to make the food as clear/clean as possible. On the country, most cookery books will keep in a lot of the usual things you’d find in the context of a meal (condiment holders, cutlery, napkins etc). These elements are usually positioned to compliment rather than dominate the main subject – the food. You also get a lot of stylistic backgrounds and layouts, making use of colour and shape. Colours are usually very deliberately set as either contrasting or complimentary.

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You will also tend to find the food arranged stylistically, with contrasting shapes and space between pieces of food (image of the roast above). The stylist will prepare the food for look, not taste. This can involve using a half-coocked chicken (chicken looses its shape as it cooks), placing cotton under the food to give it body, or even using coloured, mashed potato in replacement of ice cream. Time is very important when shooting the food as you want to keep it in one primary state; the state in which it looks best. Heated food will need to be photographed whilst it’s still very hot and fresh from being cooked, as it looses its body and steam in the cool air.

There is also another subcategory of this profession, seemingly photographing food for artistic significance and not commercial reasons. These artistic representations tend to shift away from making the food as clean as possible and alternatively try to make it as gritty as possible. A good example of this is the photographs of Marcus Nilsson (shown below). His pictures are clearly not intended to advertise food, but to present some kind of faint story or in the case of the pig photograph, possibly some social commentary. He also blends props in with the foreground, unlike that of commercial food photography. This niche genre of artistic food photography seems to continually becoming more and more popular, as does any unconventional take on a genre in the modern age.

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The industry is saturated with food-products now, so there’s always room for more and more food photographers. Like most arts, a degree of any kind is not necessary for ’employment’. If you find the skills you will be required to learn really that complicated, you may wish to take some kind of degree or course in photography, but you can learn anything on the internet.  The main thing is to build a portfolio. With this portfolio you can either apply for jobs requiring such services, or advertise yourself as an independent service (through a website or something), and let the client find you. The latter option being more common in this day and age.


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