10 Easy Food Photography Tips | Work Wednesday

by Melissa on February 23, 2011

Food photography is a tricky thing. In the photography industry it is said that “if you can shoot food, you can shoot anything.” The reason for this is simply that many times, you have very little time to get that perfect shot before the food turns into something not picture-worthy: ice cream will melt, hot food will stop steaming, cream will melt and run…

Of course, for the large corporations, this is where a food stylist comes in handy. However, since you’re not a big business (I’m not either), you need to be clever and use some easy food photography tricks to make your dishes pop on your website, blog or print materials.

1.Use Natural Lighting
Natural lighting is always the best to shoot food with. The goal is to get soft light to fall on your subject, so be sure that no direct sunlight is falling on your food, causing harsh shadows.

If you’re shooting in the evening you can use strobes to imitate natural light, but that gets more complicated. Also, you should avoid using the flash on your camera when photographing food because the light from the flash can bring out unwanted textures in the food and make it look unappetizing.

2. Food Styling
Be careful and detailed with your presentation. Don’t just plop your food on a plate and hope for the best.

Check out the below photo that I posted back in March 2010. As I need to note I did not style the plate, nor did I take the photo. I was in a rush to head out to a meeting that I had my husband do both (sorry hun!). I will give him credit though, he did wipe the edges of the plate before photographing. However, you can see that the plate looks empty because half of it is. To make this photo better, we could’ve added some white rice to the plate, stacked the food to give more depth, or placed the green onions so that they didn’t clump up together in one place.

But the real lesson here is: If the food isn’t pretty, there’s nothing the photographer can do with the camera and during post editing to make the food look good.

3. Showcase the Food
Between the food, the background and your accessories there are always a lot of parts that go into a single food photograph. When you’re blogging a recipe, you want to make sure that the food stands out more than the plate that it’s on and the background that is behind it.

A good idea is to use contrasting colors. For example, the red and golden colors in the food below pop when placed on a blue place mat and neutral colored napkin.

4. Choose props wisely
Select your props to match the food that you are showcasing. For example if you’re photographing an Asian noodle recipe, it may be neat to place the food in a bowl and accent the photo with some chopsticks. Alternatively, if you’re photographing crème brûlée, you may want to accessorize with items that are classically French. However, if you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend a lot of money all at once on dishware, it’s a good idea to start out with a few white standards: white plates, bowls, etc.

Another easy way to add props to your food photo: think about what you would eat or drink with the main dish that you’re photographing. If cookies are the subject, add a glass of milk to the background. If you’re cooking up a batch of chili, how about adding some cornbread.

5. Take photos from all angles
Don’t just take the picture from the angle that the food is eaten from. Sometimes the most interesting angle is from directly above, or close up. Just keep in mind where the most interesting textures are.

6. Document the process
The reason for this is two-fold: Sometimes the process of making the food is more interesting that the final product itself. And for some dishes, written instructions are not enough to describe what the steps involved. Great example here with a stuffed french toast.

7. What Your Camera Sees
When you look through your camera lens, make sure that the food looks good through your camera, not from your point of view. This is an easy one to forget and overlook especially if the angle that you have chosen to photograph from is not the normal point of view (ie. from the top, directly from the side, up close and personal)

8. Use a tripod
When possible, use a tripod. Heck, use a tripod all the time if you’re photographing from your home kitchen or studio. In low light situations, the tripod will allow you to shoot with a slower shutter speed yet keep the end photograph crisp and clear, avoiding camera shake. Another great reason to use a tripod is that once you find a camera angle that you like, you can make sure that you keep that constant angle even if you have to tweak the food in between shots.

9. Check your photos before you eat the subject!
My favorite part of food photography (for blogging) is getting to eat the food after the photos have been taken. However, do make sure that you got the shot that you want before you eat the food. I can’t tell you how many times at the beginning of my blogging that I went ahead and chowed down before looking at the photos on my computer and realizing that the picture is out of focus, something strange was in the background, or something else was wrong with the photo. Just be safe and check.

10. Practice makes perfect
I know you don’t want to hear this, but becoming a great food photographer takes time and practice. It’s not going to happen overnight. You need time to practice using light, figuring out what angles will make the food look the most appetizing, finding your tone as a photographer… here are two photos from my experience, one was taken when I first started photographing food, the second was taken recently. See the difference? Now, go practice!

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