Many consider food photography to be cliché. However, that has failed to diminish our love of capturing our food and posting the snaps at any opportunity.
Food is a strong element of one’s cultural identity and it will continue to gather interest.
Make your food stand out from the crowd by following these simple tips.
1. Get it While it’s Hot
Be prepared. Capturing hot food has a time limit. Adjust your camera settings and ensure that your props or surrounding elements are set up.
Imagine you are going to be photographing a bowl of hot soup. Consider your set up and how best to incorporate the rising steam and the feeling of comfort that accompanies this.
A white background or bright window may cause the steam to blend in. If a dark background is unavailable, use an additional light source or reflector to illuminate the steam.
2. Know when to get in Close
Visualising perspective can be one of the more challenging aspects of photography. Luckily, digital photography allows us to snap away with little consequence.
In certain situations, the food itself may be the only compelling thing in sight. An unsightly tablecloth, scratched silverware and conflicting colours risk ruining your photograph. This is your chance to get in close and avoid including superfluous components.
This is also a great way to make the food the real subject of the image as well as an opportunity to capture the delicate textures.
3. Set the Vibe
Your audience won’t be able to taste the food or experience the ambience that surrounds it. To compensate for this, you need to capture elements in the photo that set the scene and express a feeling.
Set the tone with the use of a dark and romantic background or foreground. Alternatively, choose a scene that is light and airy. Use your surroundings to tie the photo together with the help of art, creative lighting and interesting furniture.
4. Keep it Colourful
Wild colours can make for a striking photograph. However, this does not mean that there isn’t a place for a black and white shot. Ensure that you consider your composition and lighting to make up for any missing elements that may normally carry the image.
Colour combinations are able to enhance your shot. Consider the contrast between the different components in the dish, accompanying garnishes or even serving dishes and silverware.
Utilise coloured lighting and artwork to add a splash of colour. I would recommend using a shallow depth of field to leave them out of focus.
5. Work the Angles
Many food photos are taken from the same “diner’s view”. Sometimes this angle can work, but creative perspectives are almost always more attractive and memorable.
A classic angle is the bird’s-eye-view, looking straight down from above. Though appealing, try not to use this as a default view. This angle compresses the scene into two dimensions and you might miss out on highlighting notable elements of the dish.
Getting down low at plate level is kind of the opposite of the bird’s-eye view – let’s call it fork view. Fork view is good for highlighting the dimensional aspects of the dish. This angle usually works best if you are able to get the lens close up to the food or if the background isn’t too busy.
6. Be Creative
Food photography often affords you the luxury of time. Compared to some other genres of photography, food isn’t running by, nor needs to be coerced into making pleasing expressions.
Whittle flowers out of a carrot, put that ahi tuna in to a martini glass and arrange the food into a spiral or geometric pattern.
Shooting a delicious salad? Capture it in the garden or somewhere outside with some foliage.
Photographing a seafood dish? Shoot it in front of a fish tank, or, better yet, float it on top!
7. Stay Simple
While being creative can step your food photos up a notch, going overboard can have the opposite effect.
In many genres of photography, images with simple compositions and delineated elements stand out. Too many components can distract from the main subject and confuse the viewer.
Allow these tips to enhance your photograph, rather than over-complicate it. Simplicity means that your image is focused on the subject and lends to a feeling of elegance and organisation.
Sometimes what makes or breaks a photo is not what you include in the frame, but what you leave out.
8. Use Props
If used tastefully, including props in food images can work wonders. They add a backstory, show evidence of what the dish began as, or explain the ethnicity or region of the food.
Raw ingredients are always a favourite and good option. Also consider elements that help tell the story – pots, pans, knives and other items used to prepare the food.
Props don’t have to be front and centre. Hot coals left in the barbecue? Position them out of focus and glowing in the background.
Shooting sushi? Consider finding a compelling arrangement of chop sticks, soy sauce and wasabi. Maybe sneak a sake carafe or glass in there too!
9. Hold Steady
It’s fairly common to find yourself shooting food photos in dimly lit areas, so you need to do your best to steady your camera while shooting at the lowest ISO possible.
Needless to say, the first and best plan of attack is to use a tripod. Not only does a tripod allow you to get the sharpest shots, but it helps dial in your composition and allows you to arrange elements in your scene without having to recompose the shot.
If you are without a tripod, stabilise the camera by setting it on a firm surface and use the self-timer. Alternatively, hold it firmly against a wall.
Avoid using the camera’s built-in flash if possible. It yields unflattering, flat lighting. Instead, use a remote speedlight off-camera (behind and to the side of your subject is best) or an existing light source.
If your only option is on-camera flash, a little trick to diffuse it is with a cocktail napkin. If the lighting is still bright and harsh, keep folding the napkin, making it thicker to block out more light. This can make a bigger difference than you might think.
I hate to break it to you but time slips by rather quickly when you get into the photographic zone. During this time, your hot food is going to cool off, the ice in the drinks is going to melt, condensation is going to form on the glass and your crisp greens are going to wilt.
If capturing the steam coming off that soup is critical, be prepared to reheat it several times.
If you are shooting a salad or have greens as complementary colour garnish, have a bowl of ice water ready to dip them in. This will reverse wilting, crisp them back up and make the colours more vibrant.
If shooting meat or fish, after just a few minutes it will start to dry out and the glistening juices turn into a dull glaze which becomes apparent in photos. Use a thin cooking oil in a spray bottle to glisten everything back up.
Shooting food is an exercise in edible still life. Luckily, we eat several times a day and if you are dedicated, you have lots of opportunity to practice.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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