Everyone seems to be a food photographer these days. But what makes a food photo look like something you want to dive in to? What makes a photo so tempting you start salivating the moment you see it? Well, of course the food has something to do with it, but there are a few other tricks food photographers like to use.
Follow along to find out 5 tips for capturing fantastic food photography.
In this article we’ll talk about the very basics of how to photograph food. I’ll give you my techniques for taking photos that make the food the star and the viewer hungry. Just remember that with any art form you should feel free to break the rules. Use these tips as a starting point then find your visual voice.
1. Find the light
Turn those lights off!
This is by far the most important aspect of photography. For food, I find that natural light is the best. Avoid using any sort of flash — on the camera or off. This is best done by turning off the lights in your house and shooting by a window.
Different types of light give off different color tones so if you are shooting using some natural light and some artificial light, you are bound to end up with some funky colors in your photos and getting accurate color is very important in food photography. No one likes orange food that isn’t naturally orange.
Just remember this: When it comes to light quality over quantity, sometimes less light is actually better. It’s the quality of the light that is crucial.
Reconsider the location
So look around where you are shooting. Perhaps you’ve been taking pictures of your food in the kitchen or dining room because that makes sense. If the light in another room is the best, then that’s where you need to shoot. Finding the right lighting really is key.
2. Style it as you would eat it
For a long time I found it hard to teach styling in our food photography workshops because I didn’t think I really styled the food for the sake of the photo. With a love of food and eating and a background in working in commercial kitchens the focus for me was always on just making the food look delicious. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about how it would look on camera. But it turns out that making food look good enough to eat makes for delicious looking photos.
Start in the store
Just like with cooking, the finished product is only as good as how it starts. In other words, start with pretty food. Buy fresh-looking produce that is in season, looks crisp and has bright colors. The styling really starts at the grocery store.
I eat the food I shoot so I don’t style it too much or add in synthetic ingredients to make it look edible.
Make the food pop
I typically shoot on white plates because white really makes the food pop. I don’t crowd the plate and I often add height so the plate doesn’t look so flat. Fresh herbs always adds a nice pop of color.
Appreciate the steps
Don’t forget to shoot the process and the ingredients too. Take time to see the beauty of the ingredients you are using and the process you are creating. Shooting food has forced me to slow down and truly appreciate each part of the cooking process. Coming from restaurant kitchens where speed is everything, it is so nice to be thinking about the beauty in cooking and not just in the final dish.
3. A little mess goes a long way
Don’t worry about making the food perfect. So often my favorite photos of food come from the ones I take while we are in the process of eating. I’ll take some photos, give the family the OK to start eating and then suddenly see the beauty in how we’ve each organized our plates and the frilly salad leaves that have fallen out of the bowl. There is a story in the mess and without a story the images feel lifeless and flat. My desire is for the viewer to feel as if they can slide right up to my table and start eating. I don’t want them to feel as if the food looks too precious to eat.
But don’t get carried away. Too much mess can detract from the food. Just observe how you those around you eat naturally and try to capture that.
4. Keep it simple
This is purely a matter of style. I tend to shoot with very few distractions. Maybe there’s a fork or spoon in the image and perhaps a cup is off in the corner to show a bit of activity at the table. But, for the most part, I really want the food to shine. I tend to shoot tight as I want the viewer to see the texture and to focus on the food rather than the table decor.
Plates as palettes
As I mentioned earlier I typically shoot on white or many variations of white. I like plates that have a little character to them to add interest. Perhaps a hand thrown ceramic plate with a little wiggle to the edge or an antique platter with a faint crack. They all give the viewer more to look at and leave them with questions which adds interest.
The food stays in the center of the plate and doesn’t overcrowd the plate. If the plate of food looks too perfect, I’ll sit down and act as if I were going to eat it so how I cut the food and lay the fork and napkin looks very approachable and natural.
5. Know your camera
We haven’t even touched on aperture, ISO, and shutter speed that all factor into your photographs. I teach photography as I teach baking — get to know your ingredients so you control them, they don’t control you. Know your camera. With digital photography it’s so easy to understand how adjusting the aperture affects the depth of field and how changing the shutter speed affects light and movement. Play around. The goal is to get to the point where you are shooting on the manual setting so that you are in complete control.
The most important thing is to keep shooting and each time you grab your camera, push yourself to try something new. Stretch yourself and you will grow.