Getting Started in Food Photography
One of the most common requests we get is for advice on how to take good photographs of food. Taking good photos of food is not as easy as it looks - lighting, composition, angles etc are all potential problem areas. This tutorial is a starting point for budding food photographers.
Taking photos of food is one of the most difficult skills a photographer can master. To learn how to take photos of food, photographers must acquire knowledge of light, camera angles and the nature of the food being photographed.
Texture and Color
For texture to come through, food photos usually need to be taken at close range. When trying to capture a food’s texture, look at the food you’re photographing for its most dominant texture. If you were photographing grapes, for instance, you would want to focus on their smooth, silky texture.
Alternatively, you’ll want to emphasize the bumpy curds if you’re using cottage cheese as your subject. Food photos that can capture texture are invariably better than those that don’t.
Preparation for Photographing Food
Preparation is essential when photographing food. For the best results, you’ll want to shoot the food a few minutes after it’s been prepared.
Food quickly loses its luster and photogenic appeal. Crisp greens wilt, desserts melt, sauces congeal. Because of this, you should be completely prepared to shoot before you bring the food to the set.
Take the time to prepare your shot. Use an empty plate to set up your shot considering all the steps laid out here. Once everything is to your satisfaction, and the food is ready, replace the empty plate with your plate of food and begin shooting.
Before you start shooting, make sure there isn’t any distracting clutter in the background of the shot (stray people, silverware, whatever).
2. Arrangement & Styling
Pay attention to the balance of the food in your shot (color, shapes, etc) and use leading lines and the rule of thirds to help guide your viewer’s eye into the dish. One of the best ways to learn is to get some cookbooks to see how the pros do it.
Hint: Get the details right. Try to cut foods in somewhat geometric shapes for a more professional presentation. Arrange items on plate in a manner that showcases the strengths of a dish and its high-value ingredients. Use sauces and garnishes to add color to drab shots (i.e. Adding chopped parsley gives spaghetti green specks that bring out the red color of the sauce; adding a lemon wedge to iced tea gives a touch of color to a glass of brown liquid). Check the edges of your plates and glasses for stray food, and wipe away any smudges.
Garnishes and accessories can transform average pictures of food into art. They can add interest to food photos and even tell a story.
A mistake that many beginner food photographers make is taking shots that look down on a plate from directly above. While this can work in some circumstances – in most cases you’ll get a better shot by shooting down close to plate level (or slightly above it).
If shooting from above, aim for an angle between 10 and 45 degrees above the table. Angles from above work best when photographing large spreads of foods, such as holiday dinner layouts.
Hint: Take lots of pictures. Move around the food and see what angle looks best.
Shoot in natural light whenever you can. The ideal set-up is a next to a large window, with a white curtain to diffuse the light. Flash photography is possible but not preferable and takes some gear and experience to execute well. Flash photography is too harsh for food’s delicate sensibilities. It flattens everything out and makes for unappealing shiny spots. When shooting in low light, move the food to the brightest part of the room. Turn up your lamps and other light sources.
Hint: Use a white card or foam board to bounce light onto your subject. This can be used to illuminate the darker areas of your scene. Most art supply stores have a range of white card, or foam boards available.
Hint: Take a shot with a white balance setting that matches the light source (or auto white balance) and then take a second shot with your camera on the cloudy setting. You’ll often find that the cloudy white balance setting will add a bit of color saturation, making for a richer, tastier-looking image.
Aperture and Focus
Hint: If you’re new to food photography, set your camera to the Macro setting, or Portrait setting. This is a quick way to get started in food photography.
Use a tripod or stabilizer.
Know what not to shoot
These suggestions should help you on your way to getting good food photographs. Food photography is a way many amateurs break into professional photography. Good luck!
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