Capturing mouth-watering food photos is a hard-earned skill. After all, that’s why some people are lucky enough to get paid for it. Whether you’re a seasoned photographer (pun intended) or a budding newcomer trying to expand your photography website’s horizons, there are quite a few skills that are unique to food photography that one should master.
So what separates magazine-worthy photos from their less impressive counterparts? If you’ve asked yourself this same question, here are some food photography tips and techniques to help you find out.
If we take a look back at earlier food photography days, we see that in the ‘60s these kinds of photos were shot in a similar manner to portraits, usually being laid out and shot from above. In advertising, food was usually presented as part of a larger composition such as multiple dishes on a large table or held by the classic housewife character.
Another more surprising fact is that many brands would actually replace natural ingredients with artificial substitutes to get a rich, appetizing look and compensate for the film’s lack of vibrant coloring at the time. So if you’ve ever seen a photo of a decadent bowl of ice cream sundae, you might be horrified to hear that the ice cream was actually mashed potatoes, the whipped cream was shaving cream and well, the syrup? You guessed it, car grease. Doesn’t sound so appetizing anymore, right?
Thankfully, food photography has evolved tremendously over the last decades and although the trend to use artificial ingredients is no longer as popular, there are still many tricks of the trade which are used to capture stunning food photos:
A food stylist is the person responsible for the composition of the photograph, as well as styling your dish to perfection. This person also has a deep understanding for aesthetics and knows how to incorporate different props, create a mood, choose a color palette and even evoke a certain emotion. Don’t worry: if you don’t have the option to work with a professional food stylist, there are still a number of tips to capture outstanding food photography that you can perform on your own – and that you’ll discover in the rest of this article.
Try not to buy your ingredients too far in advance. The shelf life of most produce is around 2-4 days so the longer you wait, the more noticeable it will be. Do some research to find out the best way to store the food to get an appetizing result.
Remember what your grandma used to tell you? Well, now playing with food is not only authorized – it’s also highly recommended. Dedicate the day before shooting to experiences. Experiment with your ingredients to see how they react with one another to avoid mistakes which might cost you time and money. For example, if you’re photographing a bowl of cereal, try replacing milk for yogurt, which has a thicker consistency that will help keep your oats afloat. Certain foods change color, expand or enlarge when in contact with heat or cold so always try to squeeze in a test shoot the day before.
If you want to add a personal touch to your photograph, try integrating props or accessories into your photo. Different props transcend different energies so try using dried herbs, baskets, a cutting board, interesting fabric to evoke different emotions. Whatever you choose, make sure it does not take the spotlight away from the actual dish.
Food tends to photograph well with soft, natural lighting rather than medium or hard lighting. If you can use natural lighting by a large window, even better. If your lighting is too hard, try to defuse harsh shadows with a bed sheet or tracing paper. In a studio, invest in a good softbox or umbrellas to achieve a warm, tender feeling.
There are three angles which are commonly used in food photography:
You’ll notice that it’s very common to photograph food in a studio atmosphere, normally using dishes on a flat surface. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and photograph food in unique compositions. Many photographers enjoy taking photos of chefs working in a busy kitchen to capture the atmosphere and energy of the place. Others like photographing people and their relationship with food, like a child holding an ice cream cone. Combining these two methods can result in a complementing composition which tells a story about the food you are shooting.
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