Food photography tips

Food and photography

There is nothing that can compare to a delicious meal to make us feel good.  We cannot live without food, it is a big business.  From cook's and chefs, to magazines and recipe books, along the line someone will need a photographer to take photographs of food.  There are many opportunities for food photography; magazines, cook books, blogs, restaurants, the list is endless.  Just like any industry, its competitive.  The ability to reproduce striking, original images of recipes is crucial to your success as a food photographer.  This article is going to look at basic ideas and tips to further, not only food photography, but your photography skills in general.

food photography

The great thing about food photography is that the food doesn't talk back and you can manipulate the frame to your (or the food stylist's) liking.  Food stylists and photographers work closely together to a brief.  Do your homework and know more or less what you will be photographing prior to the shoot.  The more pre-production you do, the less time you will waste on shoot day.  Time is of the essence so food photographers will at times need to be quick witted and shoot fast.  When you are dealing with fresh food that has just been made, you need to shoot quickly.  Foods that have been in the oven (especially pastries, pies and deserts) tend to cave in as they cool down.  Same goes for foods such as ice-cream, they can melt quickly, so you better be ready to capture that hero image!


Composition. You will work with the stylist for composition.  The stylist would normally have a selection of props and would decide which props would suit the recipe (and the brief) best.  They would have an idea of how they would want the dish presented, then it is up to you to frame the subject.  This is when you come forth with any suggestions with regards to composition.  Stay away from clutter in your image.  Choose a "hero" in your frame, the subject that will be in focus, then arrange the other not so important props around your "hero".  Dont be afraid to play around with your composition, and don't forget the rule of thirds for composition.  Remember its the food that is important, so you want to really show how tasty and delicious the dish is.  This means getting in as close as possible, so don't worry if you crop a bit into a dish, sometimes this is very effective.  Sometimes an image doesn't look very flattering when it is placed right in the centre of the frame. Take a note at the image below; notice how it uses the rule of thirds and slightly crops out the dish on the right of the frame.

food photography rule of thirds and cropping

Focus.  Your food images should be nothing less than pin sharp.  If you are not shooting tethered (linked up to a computer) be sure to get a few "safety" shots.  The last thing you want is to get home after a full day of shooting, only to realize that some of your images are out of focus!  To get the sharpest image, it is highly recommended to always carry a sturdy tripod with you.  This reduces the risk of camera shake and blurred images.  To further reduce the risk of any kind of camera movement, you may want to use a remote shutter release cable.

food photography setup

Lighting. This is such an important part, you could have the world's most delicious dish staring you in the face, but if it is not lit nicely, you are left with an image that doesn't do justice for the food.  What do we want out of the lighting?  Each photographer is different, some swear by flash lighting as you have a lot of control, but like me, there is just something about natural light that is pleasing to my eye.  If you decide on using natural light, you will need a decent source.  The best is to find a nice big window that allows in quite a bit of light.  Sometimes just sticking a dish by a window and snapping a frame isn't good enough.  Sometimes the quality of light may be a little harsh and you will need to decrease the intensity without making the entire image too dark.  To do this one can use a skrim, if you don't have access to a skrim, a thin white cloth between the light source and your subject will do just fine.  Play with the direction of light.  You can have side-lighting, back-lighting and front-lighting.  I find that when I shoot with front lighting, it sometimes tends to take away all shadows, leaving you with a bland, flat image.  Shadows are not always a bad.  This can lend interest to the image giving it shape.  Best way to achieve more contrast is to use black cardboard.  By placing black card next to your frame, it will cast a darker shadow on your image, making the darks darker.  You can do the same with white cardboard, the result being a lighter image as the white reflects light onto your subject.

Sometimes you want more light on the food, especially in very dark areas.  I've found using white cardboard or small little mirrors help tremendously.  With little mirrors you can angle them to catch light in the places you want, without affecting the entire frame.  In other words, you can really sculpt and manipulate the light in your frame using white or black cardboard to either lighten or darken areas of your frame.  It takes practice, but the results can differ quite a bit!

I found over-exposing an image slightly gives the dishes a sheen and vibrance.  Something to check out and play with, but remember, if you are shooting in RAW a lot of the settings can be changed without the loss of quality.  Good shooting!