Food Photography Tips – Episode II

Be careful with white balance
Different lights have different temperatures. Make sure your camera white balance is set properly (AUTO or whatever light you’re using). This is especially important if you’re shooting in JPEG mode.

Morning coffee from Senicphoto on Vimeo.

When shooting in low light conditions (limited natural light) the tripod is almost a must to have. If you have a remote shutter this can further ease your workflow.

Using flash or strobes
This is commonly used lighting method. When utilizing one light source the subject might appear too dark on its opposite side. In this case use either second source or light bouncers. To avoid hard shadows, it’s always a good idea to diffuse it with either greaseproof paper or purpose made diffuser. Don’t forget, hard shadows are the enemy of the food photographer.

Different angles
Try to shoot same subject from at least 2 or 3 different angles. This will give you an idea how subject can be presented to your audience. You can try at least two main angles … shoot on a level with the food and looking down on it. Later on in post processing, you can “spice things up” further by cropping and rotating the subject.

Use white plates
White plates are ideal for food photography. It will give you a nice transition but at the same time food will stand out as the main focus.

Steak from Senicphoto on Vimeo.

Remove unnecessary items
Fewer items you incorporate in a shot, easier will be to showcase your main subject … food. I always prefer simple compositions over overcrowded dining table. Try stirring viewers to focus on food.

Use fresh herbs to add a color and complexity
Food is not always super vibrant and contrasty. A splash color can really make an image come alive. This is the time I use fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, rosemary etc.

Make your food plate a main focal point. Crop it and rotate it as much as you want as long as 70% of image is actually reserved for food.


Food Styling for Food Photographers

As a food photographer, you can almost count on being in situation where you got to improvise, prepare and do things food stylists do. I got to say it can be quite tricky styling the food in front of the customer … not to mention time is going to be your biggest enemy.  I would highly recommend you get yourself familiar with some basic styling skills … it will be beneficial and helpful on the long run.  I’m not saying food photographers can outperform food styling professionals but sometimes knowing few tricks could save you a lot of time and money.

Use paper
Most of the food you will be photographing will be placed on a plate and believe it or not, only top portion of that will be the actual subject. Lining plates with parchment or baking paper helps to add a fulfillment effect.

Less is more
While it may seem “full to the top” plate is the best way to go, an overcrowded dish can look less appetizing than a small portion. This could be an ideal opportunity to showcase a beautiful dishware and appealing surrounding elements.

Let it look natural
Capturing that perfect look sometimes means getting a bit messy. Instead of having everything perfectly symmetrical and clean it really helps to add movement and life to your photographs. If your baked chicken is a bit burned and the dish is not looking brand new … let it be. Most of the time food photos will look much better when presented in their real light.

Basic tools

  • Q tips – ideal for cleaning rims and insides of plates/bowls
  • Small scissors
  • Set of basic plastic handled paint brushes (with wood handled brushes, the paint on the handles tends to chip off which can happen in your food)
  • Tweezers (for poking and pulling – think of them as skinnier fingers)
  • Clear oil like vegetable or canola for making food glisten
  • Small squeeze bottles for applying sauce or drizzles

Fake ice cubes

Fake ice cubes are highly demanded in photography and even in film production, because real ice melts quickly and is difficult to work with. Some production companies sell fake ice cubes but they are not cheap, often costing up to 30$ for a single cube. Fake ice is very handy to use and it doesn’t melt under the hot photography lights, so by using it you can really simplify your work.

Photographers utilize glycerin to decorate their food subject with beautiful details and to make these details more outstanding, prominent and natural. In general, glycerin is sprayed using small bottles and you can find all these at your local pharmacy store. I tend to use it for photographing fruits and drinks because glycerin is a great tool for achieving “droplets effect”.

Food photography Tips – Episode I

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.