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Why Is Food So Beautiful?

Donna Muccio
The Salty Donut's Maple + Bacon donut.

At around 10 a.m. on any weekend morning, a line will start to form outside the popular Wynwood pop-up donut shop the Salty Donut. The shop has gained momentum through social media photos of its eclectic donuts. The woman behind many of those photos is Donna Muccio, who also photographs for another Miami restaurant, DIRT.


I talked to her about professional food photography.



So you shoot a lot of food.

I do. Lots of different types of food and all of it's beautiful. And it's like an art to me.

Why is food so beautiful?

I think it truly is an art, the way that it's prepared and presented to the customer. I think that chefs really put their heart and soul into what they make. And many of them have been through the entire process for many years. So they are really thorough and intentional in what they're creating.

What's your strategy for taking a good food picture?

So my strategy is to incorporate little human elements, whether it be a cell phone or a pair of sunglasses on the table, that make it seem like a community event. That it's not just a product photograph of a plate of food, but that it's telling the story of who's going to be there gathering around the table to enjoy the food.

What's your ideal picture of food? What makes you think, "I want this in my stomach right now?"

I think the ideal picture is an above shot of a table filled with food. So you get lots of different plates and cuisines in the mix and it just shows the diversity of what could be on the table and the amount of people that are going to come around and eat it.

Considering a lot of your pictures go up on social media, what pictures, what kind of pictures do you think get the best response or the most response?

I think the best pictures are either; No. 1, macro images of food, very close up or you can really see the texture and the colors. And that's what makes it really tasty looking. I also think that food images where the background is white and it's just on a plain table and the focus is the food and not other distracting items.

Credit Donna Muccio
Some of the menu items from DIRT on Miami Beach.

Food pictures, the really appealing ones like that juicy burger from the commercials, a lot of it would be fake. It'd be dyed cheese product. It would not actually be food. How do you think food pictures have changed since then, from the big commercialized posters to now?

To answer that question, it deals with how photography has changed a lot in the last few years. Photography is transitioning more into looking more like film. So now even though we shoot digital, we edit to look like film and we use natural light for the most part. So the food doesn't have that digitalized look to it. We're using natural window light, so it feels more authentic.

And you think that's what people respond to nowadays?

I think so. It's been working so far. And it definitely works for me.

Especially since you photograph for restaurants that are vegan, organic, healthy; what do you think appeals to the people looking at your pictures  of those restaurants?

I think it's really powerful that through images and through good photography I can help stir on a movement of healthy eating and living. And I photograph this type of food in a way that shows this is just as delicious as a burger and fries from your local Arby's. The colors and all the different types of food and culturally the different types of cuisine that you can eat as a vegan or more health-minded person can be even more awesome to eat than the average American diet.

What makes a professional photograph of food different from any old Joe Schmo with a phone?

I think there's very little that can separate that today in our generation. A lot of the food photography I shoot for social media accounts is taken with my iPhone. It gives it that local, handmade quality to it that this is just a regular person enjoying a meal on a weekend. And it makes the experience of seeing this food photography on social media, on Instagram, a lot more relatable.


Credit @donnairene_ / Instagram
Donna Muccio in front of the Wynwood Walls

So you shoot mostly with a phone?

I shoot both. I shoot a series of images on my camera. But I also shoot images with my iPhone that will be mixed on a social media feed to give that contrasts.

You edit the ones on your iPhone as well?

Yes I do. I edit them to look like film,  just like I do my professional camera pictures.

Is there anything you think I didn't touch upon about what you do?

I think food photography is often looked down upon as a career that you go into just for the money or just to be a job. But I think that through me experimenting with it, I've learned so much about how creative you can truly be. And that it's about so much more than just food, but about the entire experience that food can create to connect people.