Visit any bookstore and check out the cookbook section and you’ll be overwhelmed by the array of books filled with delectable recipes that are accompanied by wonderful photography of the meals that you can prepare.
Colorful stacks of vegetables drizzled with rich sauces on a clean white plate with glistening table settings – you know the shots I'm talking about. Sometimes the photography is almost the true focus of the book, while the recipes take a back seat. But how do someone take photos of food and get such great results? Here's some of the things our team looks at when preparing for any food shoot:
We treat the food we're photographing as we would any other still life subject and ensure that it is well lit. Many of the poor examples of food photography that I’ve come across over the years could have been drastically improved with adequate lighting. One place to photograph food is by a window where there is plenty of natural light – perhaps supported with flash bounced off a ceiling or wall to give more balanced lighting that cuts out the shadows. This daylight helps to keep the food looking much more natural.
Pay attention not only to the arrangement of the food itself but to the context that you put it in including the plate or bowl and any table settings around it. Don’t clutter the photo with a full table setting but consider one or two extra elements such as a glass, fork, flower or napkin. These elements can often be placed in secondary positions in the foreground or background of your shot to add just the right amount of flair.
You Must Be Quick
Food doesn’t keep it’s appetizing looks for long so as a photographer we need to be well prepared and able to shoot quickly after it’s been cooked before it melts, collapses, wilts and/or changes color. This means being prepared and knowing what we want to achieve before the food arrives. One strategy that we use is to have the shot completely set up with props before the food is ready and then substitute a stand-in plate to get your exposure right. Then when the food is ready you just switch the stand-in plate with the real thing and you’re ready to start shooting.
The way food is set out on the plate is as important as the way we photograph it. We pay attention to the balance of food in a shot (color, shapes etc) and leave a way into the shot (using leading lines and the rule of thirds to help guide our viewer’s eye into the dish).
One tip that we use is to have some vegetable oil on hand and we brush it over food to make it glisten in our shots.
Get Down Low
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, such as recipe videos or sheets – in most cases you’ll get a more better shot by shooting from down close to plate level, or slightly above it.
Really focusing in upon just one part of the dish can be an effective way of highlighting the different elements of it.
Make it Steam
Having steam rising off your food can give it a ‘just cooked’ feel which some food photographers like. Of course this can be difficult to achieve naturally. I spoke with one food stylist a few years back who told me that they added steam with a number of artificial strategies including microwaving water soaked cotton balls and placing them behind food. This is probably a little advance for most of us – however it was an interesting trick so I thought I’d include it.