“Go play with your food”– Said no mother ever. But guess what? This article is all about having fun with food through food photography.
Thanks to food-centric blogs and websites, food photography has become very popular. It is also a good and easy way to enter the micro stock market: high demand, no need to provide signed model and property release forms and you can do it in your home.
1. The Commercial Style
The first thing you could do is wink at the product photography and the advertising worlds. Creating an image to sell a product is challenging.
Nothing can remain unchecked. Lights, depth of field, colours, style, and mood, all must work together perfectly to make the product interesting, appealing and desirable.
Start easy at first.
You could try to create an image for your local candy and chocolate shop. It is a relatively easy subject, cheap to buy and satisfying to eat afterwards. And, if you get lucky, they may be interested in using your image.
An alternative would be using the food to advertise the machine that makes it. This is typically seen with coffeemakers.
Since many of these machines are quite slick, I went for a low key image, with moody light. And so I popped my brand new Nespresso machine on a reflective surface (I like Plexiglas).
Be aware that if you want to upload these kind of images to a micro stock agencies, all visible brands must be carefully removed.
You can cleverly hide them with a careful arrangement of the items in the scene. Or you can use Photoshop to get rid of them in post processing.
If you are not into micro stock market and advertising, you can still play with food and have fun.
This is a great way to boost your creativity, improve your lighting and composition technique, and learn new tricks. You’re also acquiring new editing skills by creating, for example, composite images.
2. Conceptual Food Photography
Conceptual photography is quite challenging, but this is what I like best. The challenge is to come up with a simple concept. And then craft an image to convey it in a photographically appealing and interesting way.
A simple, yet powerful, way to create a conceptual photograph with food is to adopt a minimalist style. This keeps the scene simple. And you should use single ingredients rather than elaborate dishes.
Look at your favourite food and drinks for ideas. I’m a coffeeholic so much of my food photography involves coffee.
Often, tea and coffee are seen the way black and white are – opposites. But to some coffee time is relax time. And while tea is considered more calming than coffee, it does contain a good amount of caffeine.
Coffee and tea can definitely coexist in photographic harmony. Yin and Yang is the perfect symbol to convey the concept.
3. Play With Food Characteristics
We all know some foods are associated with emotions or feelings. Coffee makes you nervous and sleepless, pepper makes you sneeze.
And red peppers are hot.
4. Food Acrobatics
Organising food in a gravity defying orientation is always a good way to capture the viewer’s attention.
Obviously this can be challenging. You’ll most likely need a frame or wiring support to keep the food in equilibrium. And then you’ll have to shoot the scene without food, but with same lighting setup.
That way, you can use the second image to remove the frame and supports from the final image.
If you go low or high key, make sure the background is pure black or pure white. This will make it easier to delete those supporting structures.
5. Make It Splash
Photograph splashes are a nice way to make your image more dynamics. To capture splashes, keep cleanup in mind first. Have a towel handy and mind your gear.
To ensure you freeze the splash, you have to use a fast shutter speed. Here it is easier to use a flash.
To capture the splash, put your camera in continuous shooting mode and start capturing image an instant before you drop the item that will create the splash (a sugar cube or the beverage itself) .
6. Make It Funny
Sometimes you can use props to get creative with food. Have a look around for weird, interesting or funny items when visiting kitchen stores and markets. I have quite a lot of fun photographing an Alessi Egg Cup.
A small piece of cauliflower stained with cinnamon powder makes a perfect brain for my prop.
Don’t be afraid to reinterpret images of other photographers. The photo below is quite a common concept.
To make it different I took a small chick toy my son has, and placed it way back and out of focus to give the idea of the chicken leaving its egg prison for good.
7. Make It Fresh
Think of alternative ways to prepare or consume food.
You should push yourself to think out of the box for this, to find a good, interesting idea.
I had a lime squeezer for cocktails which I never used, but it came in handy to tell the story of a different way to make a fresh cup of coffee using capsules.
If you don’t show the action, but the aftermath of the process, you have to pay attention to add details that will let the viewer understand your image, like the squeezer stained with coffee, the broken and slightly squashed capsules.
Since the process will be quite messy, I made sure the Plexiglas was dirty near the capsules.
You can use the same concept in multiple ways, so don’t stop right after the first setup.
8. Make It Different
You can take advantage of ideas you see in commercial campaigns. In 1986, when I was a child, there was a commercial about fruit juices on TV.
It had a small kid climbing a huge pear, and stab it with a straw to drink the fresh juice. Here is how I have reused the concept.
9. Make it Simple
Find a simple way to represent a dish. I am Italian and pasta is one of our best known foods.
This is how I represented it in the most simple and minimalistic way I could think of.
10. Slice It Up
A common creative image is food destructuration: for example the classic hamburger with all items separated.
For this kind of photography you also have to consider building some supports and find a clever way to remove them in editing.
Another common idea is to slice a fruit or vegetable and have it floating mid-air.
11. Pile It Up
Sweets can be piled up in many ways, some quite obvious, like this chocolate tower.
A less obvious pile is this one, where the colourful macarons rest on the coffee forming an arch.
Slabs of white chocolate with hazelnuts can be arranged in such a way that they resemble a white mountain.
I like to do that on reflective Plexiglas and in a low key style.
12. Sketch It Down
Use food to draw and write. Here I wrote the word TEA and sketched a cup of hot tea using tea leaves.
As with a lot of the pictures in this article, it’s important that your background is real white.
I had a sheet of transparent Plexiglas suspended with two chais. I arranged the food to create images, symbols and words on this sheet.
To ensure the background came out white, I lit the Plexiglas from below with a flash fitted with a small, foldable, Lastolite Ezybox softbox.
13. Colours In Motion
Coloured food is fun to work with. You can create colourful carousels, like the image below, using macarons or other colourful sweets.
Smarties are a must have if you want to try having fun with food. They are small and brightly coloured. You can arrange them in various shapes and forms or toss them around.
14. Rotten Beauty
This is quite a weird idea, but rotten food can be beautiful to photograph. This is due to its colours and texture, like the rotten and dried up orange in the images below.
Mold can also create interesting effects on vegetables.
15. Create the Atmosphere
Try to create an atmosphere to immerse your food in. You can think of the food’s origins or where it is usually consumed. A friend of mine is Finnish and she gifted me a bottle of liquor.
While not 100% correct, when I think Finnish, I think Vikings. s I borrowed her drinking horn, threw some smoke around using a tea boiler and lit the scene with a couple of flash to create a moody and mysterious atmosphere.
A happy accident improved the image dramatically: to light the bottle from behind and hide the flash, I turned my speed light upside down, but I forgot to remove the foot.
The result is that the shape of the flash foot cast a shadow on the background resembling a horned viking helmet. As if there were a Viking’s soul inside the bottle.
Bonus Tip: The Infinity Canvas
As you noticed, most of my images are low key or high key and are very minimal and simple. I don’t usually clutter the scene with many items.
I love this style, but it is also practical: you have less things to take care of, you can shoot anywhere you can place a couple of 50x50cm boards of white or black Plexiglas for the floor and background of the scene. These make it easy to remove structures used to support the food and gives you an infinite canvas to play with.
By saying infinity canvas, I mean that, if you can get your background and floor to be pure white or pure black, you can easily use the crop tool in Photoshop to enlarge the image and alter your original composition, as in the two example below.
Also, an infinity canvas will allow you to make room for some text, should you decide to sell or submit your images to a micro stock agency for advertising.
I hope this article will inspire you to be creative with food photography. All you need is some space, some food photography props, a couple of flashguns, some food and a crazy idea.