Whether it is a sugary birthday cake, a sizzling steak or a holiday feast, pictures of food are something that sparks the interest of many people. Just look at any bookstore display of women’s magazines!
They are full of delicious looking foods pictured on the covers and throughout the pages. But how do the photographers get those pictures to look so real that you could almost eat the photo itself?
We are going to show you all those tricks and tips when we get into this week’s lesson on food photography techniques.
First Steps: Composing Your Perfect Shot
When you first consider taking that photo of a plate of food or that delicious looking piece of apple pie and ice cream, you probably first thought that it must be pretty simple. Just set yourself up a few feet away, center the shot in the middle of the frame and click away.
Isn’t that the way food looks to us when we sit down to eat it? Maybe so, but it isn’t the angle that best shows the food to prospective diners in photos! Instead, you have to find the angle and distance that sets up your delicious concoctions of culinary delight to its best advantage.
Here are some ideas for setting up that perfect food shot:
Experiment with different angles, distances
Find the location from which to take your shot that puts the food in its best view. That could mean a mix of using your natural zoom (your feet) and your lenses. Experiment with getting in close to show some specific detail of the food like a piece of apple dripping with juices, or step back a bit and include the whole piece of pie in your frame.
Be sure to try the shot at different levels. It might look its best from above or maybe the side of the plate. Try tilting your camera at different angles to add some interest to your shot.
Try getting overhead as sometimes this can make for a dramatic image. You can do this by carefully standing up on a chair and looking down at the foods. Or if you have the right kind of tripod you can set it up over the food and point it downwards. This requires a special ball head on your tripod, which you can get at any photography or camera store.
If you are trying to shoot a full table of multiple dishes like a scene for a holiday meal, try taking your photos at a level just a little higher than normal eye level. This captures the whole table full of food while keeping your wasted space to a minimum.
You could also try shooting as deep as possible when doing an overhead angle so you can get the whole table of food into focus. Just be sure to take several shots to see which way it works best and shows off your subject matter to the best advantage.
Be sure also to use all the available space in your camera framed shot and choose some dish on the table as your focus shot for best results. For example, in most Thanksgiving meal table shots, your focus is probably going to be the turkey.
Another thing that is an advantage when shooting foods is that it isn’t going to get up and walk away. You can take your time getting all the shots you want, so don’t feel like you have to rush.
Be Sure You Have Good Lighting
Just like any other object you have every taken a picture of, you need the right kind and amount of lighting when it comes to photographing foods. Natural light is best when you can get it and one idea is to take your shot with the food near a window.
If you can combine the natural light from outside the window with flash support as needed to balance out the shadows, then the finished product is going to look at lot more natural and real.
A single light source is always the best way to go about lighting up your food shot in most cases. It will produce the most natural shadows that can help to highlight your product. It’s simple, but it can produce some dramatic results if it is used correctly.
Set Up, Props Are Vital in Food Photography
When it comes to photographing the food, you have to also consider thing like the plate or bowl the food is placed onto, or the silverware. You don’t want the color of your plate or tablecloth to clash with your foods and make them look unappetizing. Match these things to the occasion as well, for example, try red, white and blue decorations if you are taking pictures of 4th of July fare or use spring pastels if you are doing photos of Easter meals.
You also don’t want too much in the photo. For example, if your plan is to show off Grandma’s special apple pie, then you don’t need a full place setting in the shot. Just have a wedge of pie on a solid colored plate with one bite taken out of it next to a half full cold glass of milk with a few droplets of condensation to show the coldness.
MMMMM, you can almost taste the pie and the accompanying swallow of cool milk. That’s how to get the attention of your viewers! Show it in action. The way the food is set up is vital to getting that attention and if you do it like this example, it shows that the pie is delicious and that we couldn’t wait to eat it.
Pay Attention to Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines
Just like in any other kind of photography, the way you set up the food is also vital. You still have to follow things like the rule of thirds and use leading lines to guide your viewer’s to view it the way you intend. For example, you can use the fork to lead them to the bite of pie.
You should also use a tripod whenever possible so you won’t get shaky or blurry looking photos. There are specialized tripods that can be set up right on the table at very low angles of only a few inches off the table if that is what you need.
Food Photography Tricks
Another thing that you can do to give those food shots some extra pizzazz is to use the tricks of the experts. For example, one way to make your foods stand out is to take some vegetable oil and drizzle it over it.
This makes the food glisten and show up better in some cases. You can also use a mister to add some condensation drops to foods. These little tricks of the trade can really add some sparkle to your finished shots.
Another trick is to make the dishes look fuller and plumper by piling up your food in a dish overtop of a smaller dish if you don’t have enough food to fill up a big dish. It gives the illusion of plenty and in food photography you want people to feel as if there is lots of that deliciousness to go around.
A professional trick that is a bit hard to achieve, but rather interesting is the addition of steam to your food photography shots. The experts produce steam in their pictures by heating up cotton balls soaked in water in the microwave and putting them behind the foods so the steam drifts up around the area and looks like it is coming from the meal.
Learn to Use Common Objects, Colors to Your Advantage
You can also experiment with using different place settings, such as using candles to set the mood for a formal dinner shot or using themed napkins and paper plates for a birthday cake shot. These things can often be bought at dollar stores, so it really isn’t going to add that much to your photography budget.
Experiment with different colors too so you can see which ones harmonize best with the foods you are taking a picture of. You want the finished product to look good enough to eat right off the page, not dreary or spoiled looking. Learn to use complementary colors.
For example, you can tone down the color orange by using blue in the shot. If you perhaps had a bowl full of oranges, you could place them inside a blue bowl for a pleasant and harmonizing shot.
Show off your foods in different stages of preparation
If you are trying to show someone how to make a particular dish, then of course you also have to show off your product in different stages of preparation. You can do this by lining up the ingredients and arranging them in a pleasant fashion.
Then, you find the best angles, lighting and other factors to take the best pictures of your stages from mixing up the food ingredients to putting it onto the stove or into the oven, taking it out and placing it onto the table and finally serving and even eating your finished products.
From start to finish, you project a feeling of completion and give the illusion of action. You want your photos to make your audience hungry and be anxious to follow the process along to the finished and delicious looking outcomes.
Be sure to pick good subject material
It may sound like common sense, but when doing food photography you also should choose the best products, i.e. apples without bruises, cakes that aren’t lopsided, and pies without burned crusts. No one wants to look at photos of ruined foods or foods that don’t look right.
That won’t inspire your audience to want to eat them at all! Bottom line? Only take photos of foods that are cooked to perfection or find a way to hide the problem areas so they don’t show in your pictures.
Food photography can be an interesting and fun line of work that could net you some extra cash if you are able to sell your photos to the various food magazines or cookbooks. So, if you are interested in trying it out, be sure to use some of the techniques and methods in this article. Happy Shooting!