While you might photograph people day to day, we all like to show off our plates now and then. Food photography is a genre all on its own and has its own rules, like any other genre, meaning it could take even a professional photographer a while to get to grips with it. Even if you are only shooting with a smartphone, you can create images which look mouth-wateringly good, so long as you know what you are doing. If you don’t, however, you could make even haute cuisine look poorly presented and unappetizing!
Here are some tips that will help you improve rapidly – perfect for bloggers, or those looking to go into food photography as a career.
Lighting is one of the most important factors, and your food needs to have great lighting to make it work. Natural light always looks best because you are dealing with a natural material – while harsh lighting and experimental effects might look great in portraits, food always looks yummiest when shot in a natural and clear way. Even lighting is also preferred to take away shadows where possible and illuminate all sides of the dish.
Make sure that you set up a great background without confusing or distracting elements. A plain wooden surface, a tablecloth, or a white board can make a backdrop that adds to the photograph rather than taking away from the food. If you struggle to find a good space, try to make your own backdrop by covering a piece of cardboard in patterned paper or cloth. Try to make sure that the whole frame is filled by this backdrop to prevent it from getting too cluttered.
Again, don’t clutter the frame too much, but consider a few props. What could you use? A knife or spoon, a place setting, or a few loose ingredients are a good choice. You can also scatter crumbs around for a just-put-together look that feels more authentic. Dress the frame to look real, but take out distracting elements. Just as Coco Chanel suggested that you should take off one accessory before going out to make an outfit work, you should probably take away one thing before you shoot your frame, too.
You have to be quick when photographing food, so have everything set up beforehand. Make sure that you can get everything done before it starts to look less appetising. Within a matter of minutes, fresh herbs and greens can wilt, and sauces can grow a skin or spill over. Cold foods melt, and hot foods stop steaming – and can even change colour as they cool. The number one rule is be quick! If you are eating the food afterwards, you also don’t want it to go cold before you get a chance!
If you are taking professional photos with no intention of eating the food, you can manhandle it and style it as much as you like. Get it arranged just so and pay particular attention to how it looks from the angle you are shooting, rearranging elements for the best appearance. If you want food that glistens, brush it with vegetable oil! For hot food, it’s actually often better if you don’t cook it fully – so long as you can’t tell from the outside that it isn’t fully done, you can get more time to shoot before it spoils or changes appearance. Try to balance the plate according to photographic rules such as the rule of thirds for a better shot.
Get down a little lower than you normally would for a better shot. If you are at plate level, or just above it, you can get a much more appealing angle which really makes the food come to life in the frame. You can sometimes shoot from above for a great effect, but it really takes a striking visual piece of food to make this work. Looking at the plate from a side-on angle is better for the viewer.
Give some space
While you might not be able to move out much due to your carefully composed but small background, there are lots of benefits to taking a step back if you can. Giving your plate a bit of space in which to breathe has a really compelling effect, with negative space also being very useful for layouts and website images. This also puts more emphasis on the shape and colours of the food, which is visually appealing in an artistic way.
It’s a great idea to edit your food photos carefully after you take them. You can make the food look all the more delicious with the right changes. Sharpening them up a little can really bring out the little details in the food, and you can use colour correction to bring out the natural colours in the image. A little saturation can really help, and so long as you don’t take it too far, will make the food more attractive. The more vibrant the shots are, the more real and mouth-watering the food will become. Try adding in a little contrast to give the image a more dramatic feel, without compromising the balance of the colours.
For a shot that sells the food, you will want a wide depth of field that shows everything. But for a shot that sells the lifestyle, or has a more artistic feel, try a shallow depth of field. Pick out the details of the food with an angled shot that brings part of it into sharp focus, and allows the rest to blur out slightly. Don’t take it too far – you still want the viewer to be able to identify that they are looking at food. For a series of images, it’s probably best to include at least one shot where everything is visible and in focus.
Do you have any favourite tips for food photography? We’d love to hear how you got your best shots below!