If you are a genuine foodie it would be a natural transgression to want to shoot images of the delicacies that you conjure and enjoy. Speaking from personal perspective, being someone who simply love Asian and middle-eastern cuisines, I do that all the time. I love to try my hand in the kitchen from time to time as well as save a few snapshots of the dishes that I am able to prepare. I am one of those Foodie-grammus individuals; we love snapping before lapping. If you are like me, these food photography tips are for you.
Proper food photography, the sort of you would expect to see published in magazines or in stock websites, however, is a slightly more challenging pursuit. It requires both an eye for detail, exceptional food styling traits and an understanding of how to transform light, in order to produce magical photos.
Food photography is essentially about capturing an image that we perceive as perfection in our mind and bring that on to a two dimensional platform. When we think of our favorite food we have this image of a perfect plate in our mind. Sometimes it is significantly different to what reality is. But that is what food photography is about. Sometimes you need to be able to capture an image in a way that is far from reality. It is the task of the food photographer to be able to capture that perfection.
One of the key food photography tips is that you need a lot of light. Some food do require a good amount of light so that you can create what is essentially a high key effect. Having said that, there are some photographers who prefer to shoot with a slightly contrasty effect. They opine that contrasty lighting, together with a black backdrop ensures that the colors and textures in the food pop.
Others believe with a slightly high-key effect, with little or no shadows you would be able to create an even better effect. I personally believe it depends on the food you are photographing and to some extent on your photography style.
Some food like ice-creams require a saturated look. Others like pizza, cookies and chocolate cakes can be worked with a slightly contrasty lighting result.
Let’s start with lighting as this is the most important of all food photography tips you need to pay attention to. How you light your food goes a long way in achieving that hero look. I know you must be thinking that the most obvious lighting would be the front lighting angle. Believe it or not it will not work half the time; probably more than half the time. One serious drawback of front lighting in food photography is that it can produce glaring highlights. Any sort of highlights can be distracting.
I love backlighting because it tend to accentuate those textures and colors that front lighting simply washes away. It also takes care of the highlight problem I mentioned in the above paragraph. Backlighting is placing your main light behind the subject.
For certain types of food I would compensate a strong backlight with a slight fill light from the front. That would bring up the deep shadows in some cases. In some cases I wouldn’t probably end up using a second / fill light. I would simply make do with a white card board. In a low key effect where I don’t want the light to spill out everywhere I would probably use a black card board.
Diffusers are very handy in some situations where I need to tone down the light and make it slightly softer. Softer light is extremely suitable I need a shadow less flattering result. Conversely, I may end up shooting with grid if I need to really focus the light.
Beginner photographers, don’t have the luxury of investing in expensive lighting gear. For them the best source of light is the natural light coming through a kitchen window. For these photographers the trick is in using that natural light to the best of their ability.
Start by placing the food on a kitchen table or counter top closest to the window. Pull the curtains / blinds away so that there is an abundant amount of light.
Presentation plays a big part in food photography. No wonder this is a specialized subject. Among all the food photography tips that you will learn this is what will make the maximum difference between your work and that of the work of an amateur. A lot of professional photographers employ the services of a food stylist. The reason is if they are planning to make a few bucks selling their work, they have to give themselves the maximum chance of being accepted by microstock websites or by corporate photo buyers. It is the job of the food stylist to take any dish and really make everything look like a plate that has been photographed at a world class restaurant.
If you try to do the food styling part yourself, like most photographers do, it could backfire unless you know what you are doing. A simple image of a steak for example could be a waste shot if you pour the sauce on the steak and therefore obscure the colors. It is important to know what the subject of the image is. Rather, which element is the hero of the shot? In this case it is the steak and not the sauce and pouring sauce over the steak obscures the most important element of the shot.
The same way if you put too much of green leaves and dressings over the food, therefore obscuring it, you take away the most important aspect of the image.
Presentation also denotes choosing the right colors to compliment your food. Both on and off the plate. If you want a high key shot you shouldn’t be using black plates, just as you wouldn’t be using backlighting. A food stylist would have all these sorted out for you, so that you can concentrate on making the exposures.
Camera angle does tend to have a big play in the final scheme of things. I have found that the slightly angled view, is the most cliched. It works certain times but is not always the best angle to make a solid picture. Additionally, it is not always necessary to bring the entire plate of food in to the frame. You could shoot only a ¾ of it and it would still look nice, provided you have the composition right.
The top angle is by far the most popular and the most appetizing. This is because you have a nice flat image with a large depth of field where all the elements on the plate are equally sharp. With an angled view you need to choose a sufficiently small aperture, and yet might need to use focus stacking to be able to get the entire plate to be sharp. With a top angle this can be avoided to a large extent.
Never put anything in front of the plate that is out of focus. if you are going to shoot with a large aperture and a slightly angled perspective. remove anything that may appear out of focus in the final image.
Depth of Field
Both shallow depth of field and vast depth of field will look nice. It depends on how you treat the food. I have found that when you are playing with ingredients, you could shoot with a slightly shallow depth of field. The technique, also known as selective focusing ensures that the final product is emphasized and the ingredients, though not the focus of the image, are also given some importance.
Having said that, for top angle images a small aperture and a big depth of field is usually the approach for certain types of food. This allows the photographer to collect a lot of light for that high key effect I mentioned before.
Remember to shoot tethered when you are shooting food. This is the right way to shoot because it allows you to review the images on your laptop almost instantaneously. You need to do that so that you know your images are perfectly sharp and or not front or back focusing. Always review your images in full size. You would be surprised how flaws can become glaringly obvious when you review your images in full size.
Tripod is Essential
You need a tripod. This is one of the fundamental food photography tips. Even the slightest bit of hand movement will ruin your images. For stock photography shots tripod is a must have. Pick one that has a boom arm and a base plate. The boom arm will allow you to set your camera directly over the plate. This is the ideal angle to shoot from for a majority of photographs.
Apart from a sturdy tripod, you also need a cable release. A cable release ensures that you can shoot without having to touch your camera when the image is made. Alternatively, you can shoot from your laptop while the camera is tethered. In any case I recommend not triggering the shutter release with your hand.
Any lens will do as long as you can get a close focusing distance. That means you can get up close and yet be able to focus. Most zoom lenses don’t allow you to do that. Certainly not telephoto or medium telephoto zooms. A number of wide angle lenses also allow you to get very close to your subject and yet be able to focus properly. Lenses such as the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5 – 5.6 IS STM or the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM are two examples. There are special macro lenses that allow you to get very close to your subject and yet focus perfectly. You can check out some of the macro photography tips that I shared previously.
This depends on your personal choice as well as the effect that you would like to achieve. I personally love the selective focusing technique as much as the ability to have a majority of the frame in focus. Thus I experiment with both. But I probably end up shooting more with a smaller aperture. My ISO is always at 100. Shutter speed depends on the aperture that I use. I would always expose to the right so that I can have as much detail in the shadows as possible as opposed to shooting about what the meter reading on the camera. Exposing to the right means slightly overexposing the shot. This ensures that when I post-process I don’t have to do extensive noise reduction which would otherwise crop into my photos when I drag the exposure slider.