Tip #1 – Pick your shooting angle
Before you start photographing food, don’t forget you must prepare and plan your shooting session. You need to decide how your food should look like, what your audience will experience. Think about surroundings and the way you will incorporate it into your shot. The next step is choosing the right camera angle. Generally, you can pick any viewpoint but majority of food photos you’ll see out there are taken from 35° to 60° angles. In my opinion this isn’t too existing. In early days (50’s and 60’s), food photographers tend to shoot food exclusively from right above. The food was presented exactly in the way we see it on a dining table.
A lot of things changed since then. For the past 2 decades, food is photographed from low angles, emphasizing height and depth. This approach is still predominant and most photographers today shoot like that. Just recently, the “old way” where camera is placed right above the subject, is coming back to life … a lot of editorial work today is created with this technique.
The truth is, you can photograph food from any angle but if you just starting I would recommend going first with low angles and then try exploring all “other options”. You might find that 45° angle is the best approach and nothing is wrong with that. Make yourself comfortable first and then move into something different (high angles or right above the subject).
Tip #2 – The depth of field
Go for shallow unless you’re asked otherwise. When you photograph food, the rule of thumb calls for a shallow depth of field. Those blurred-out background photos look pretty fresh and appetizing. DoF is dictated by shooting distance and lens. For example, if you’re using macro lens and most of them are quite fast (maximum aperture f/2.8) you will be able to get pretty close to your subject. Now, if you set the aperture at f/2.8, you’ll realize the depth of field is way too shallow. Just a small portion of your food will be in focus and most likely it won’t do any justice to entire composition. On the flip side, the farther you get from the subject, more shallow you will be able shoot. Again, this is pretty subjective … everyone has their own preference therefore DoF will vary from picture to picture.
For packaging and advertising clients, you’ll be asked to produce images where pretty much everything needs be in focus. When I was working on a project for the local Toronto food producer (packaging), 90% of shots were taken with apertures from f/10 to f/22.
Tip #3 – Crop and rotate
When comes to photographing food, image cropping and rotating is something you need to get used to it. If you choose to crop your image pretty tight, you’ll worry less about props and surroundings. Tight crop is something I would recommend but not all the time. It really depends how close you got to a subject and of course what you want to reveal. Close-ups tend to divulge the true nature of food and draw attention to main focal point. On the other hand, you don’t want to carry too far with cropping. Removing absolutely everything around that juicy beef steak isn’t a great idea either. You need to find some middle ground.
Rotating your image is another trick you should consider. Often, straight-up shot are pretty boring and quite expectable. When the bottom portion of your food plate becomes parallel to the bottom of your picture, things can get fairly tedious. Try to rotate your image in either direction … trust me, you’ll be surprised how much better that photo will look. It’s almost inevitable when you spin you also need to crop your image. Don’t worry, there are plenty of samples on the Internet how to do this and there is no better way to learn this than practice.