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January 09, 2009
Food Photo Mapping

Take a look at the photo on the left. Does it get you salivating?  Does it make you want to run down to the restaurant that made it and order a plate full?

Probably not, but it is a popular dish.  It's the black spaghetti as created by Mario Batali for his Babbo restaurant in New York, and he sells a lot of it. Although he wouldn't if it were up to this picture to carry the dish from kitchen to cash register.

Which points out the biggest potential flaw in a new form of internet marketing that has been fully conceptualized over at EatBite.com -- the fact that although pictures of its food are used to flag a restaurant and attract customers to it, the restaurant does not control the photos selected, the customers do.  Which is another reason to give waiters the willies when they see  blogger types pulling out their little digi-pix with the tinny flash metre and angling over the breakfast special.

From long experience as a food stylist (where we've worked hours in a studio just to make a dish look edible, let alone alluring) we can assure you that food needs a lot of help to sell itself by its two-dimensional looks alone. Things like smell, atmosphere, temperature and food texture are not on the team, and a poor quality photo taken with flash or bad lighting can make a chef's masterpiece look like so much dog business. (If you get what we mean.)

Otherwise, the premise of the idea is quite smart.  Restaurants are data banked and connected to an online map system by photographs of their food (as uploaded to the website by the public.) So, say you are walking down Main street and you get a sudden craving for Berkshire pork.  You can pull out your iPhone, or computer if you have it with you, search by location and food item, and presto, a number of photos will pop up which best connect to those particular parameters.  This allows you to flick through the photos, choose the one that looks the most appealing, and use the geo-locater to lead you to the restaurant.

Talk about pulling them in off the streets.  And this is all good news for professional photographers.  If this idea catches on, the smart restaurants will be "making friends" with at least one mobile and digital savvy photographer before you can say "flash in the pan with a decent bounce light reflector". 
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