They say kids make difficult photo subjects but shooting food is a close second. True, food doesn’t talk back at you but you might find that keeping it still is just as much as a challenge as asking kids “not to move”. What makes food photography so challenging is the fact that food is exposed to two menacing factors: air and moisture. These can make ice cream melt, sandwiches fall apart, soufflés collapse and reputations wrecked. How do you avoid all this? Simple! Start with these great food photography tips, learn the basics and slowly take it from there.
Basic Guidelines for the Kitchen Photographer:
Adjust Lighting To Food Texture
Creamy sauce? Grainy Couscous? It may sound like a joke, but you really need to think about the texture of the food when you choose the right lighting for it. Fresh leaves, for instance, look better with a little translucency. A tomato really should shine, but meat, on the other hand, may look too dry when shiny. These are things you must take into account when you set the lighting.
It is generally recommended to use a smaller light source for food photography than you normally would. Of course, there are always exceptions, but you will know when is the right time to make one if you study the texture well.
Colors need to appear extremely alive. Since in real life the color of food actually does tell us something about the quality of it, your pics should accentuate the colors. Use the right equipment for colorful shots and fear not using a color wheel.
Color groups have their own culinary connotations. Green indicates freshness while brown appears more wholesome. The colors of the dish tell its story and your job is to highlight it. When contemplating the color structure you need first to look into the micro level and think about every visible ingredient separably. Then take time to consider the macro level and how all colors and ingredients harmonize with each other. This applies also to the colors of the dish, the table cloth and all other props.
Preparing The Set
If you don’t have a food stylist around (yes, such a profession does exist), you will need to do the styling on your own. First think about the background for the shot. Popular sceneries are a set table or the kitchen itself. Since food photography is always an extremely close-up kind of photography, the background may sometimes be less relevant.
Next are the props. This can mean anything from the plate through the napkin to a non-food related prop that you think is appropriate (‘Hello Kitty’ dolls for cupcakes, for instance). You may want to consider using raw ingredients as props, like garlic and tomatos for a pasta photo shoot. No matter how much you zoom in, there will always be a prop in the shot, since food doesn’t just lie there in the air. Remember – the props are always just a minor aspect of the shot, whose sole purpose is to make the dish look yummier.
It is also essential to prepare the food itself for the shot. Mixed, sliced, randomly assorted or carefully laid – make sure you know what is best for your dish. The plate looks different when there’s a star shaped steak on it (god help us), than when overflowing with with antipasti. Plan it carefully! For a touch of sheen, sometimes it works well to sprinkle a little bit of olive oil or corn syrup on the food just before you shoot (even on sweet food. You’re there to shoot it, not to eat it).
Cheats And Hacks
- When shooting cooked vegetables, don’t use fully cooked ones but only mildly cooked ones to make them look fresher.
- Mix drinks with a little water to add some nice transparency.
- Bring tweezers to the set to make sure you get every leaf and noodle in the right place.
- Want some steam coming out of the food? Soak cotton balls in water, microwave them and hide them in the plate.
- Shooting ice cream is tricky because it melts fast, but mashed potatoes don’t! For chocolate ice cream you can mix the potatoes with cocoa powder.