A Flavorful Guide to Food Photography

It is a common fact that we eat with our eyes as well as our mouth. Food, just like the air we breathe, is essential to our survival. What better way to enjoy life than by relishing the sight of food first and foremost, followed by the taste. This brings us to conclude that food establishments and food companies greatly demand food photographs that can cause the viewer’s mouth to water and the stomach to rumble in anticipation of some gustatory delights. This makes it a lucrative profession and a fulfilling hobby, literally and figuratively speaking.

For professional photographers, food photography is a section of still life photography for commercial use. Its main purpose is to generate eye-catching pictures of food to be used in menus, advertisements, cookbooks, or product packaging. There are usually many people involved in taking professional food shots; from an art director, to a photographer, to a food and prop stylist.

The predominant trend in commercial food photography is to capture the essence of food at its simplest and most natural state with the use of minimal props. This would require one to be creative such as using selective focusing, close-up shots and the use of perspective.  These techniques would coincide with the growing demand in professional cooking by making the food more visually enticing. 

Purchase the food and ingredients if you are preparing it yourself.  If not, make sure that the already cooked food still looks fresh and appetizing.  Only the most visually flawless food creations are acceptable.  Make sure that you have plenty of it for back-up in case your subject wilts, such as vegetables.  All these have to be looked into meticulously, and when it comes to buying the ingredients, you have to choose the freshest looking food items.

To achieve the best results, the shoot should be in a studio where you can control the lighting conditions.  The setup should be painstakingly prepared to show off the food in the most striking way without any unnecessary objects distracting the viewer. The texture, lighting and color of the background should be chosen to effectively showcase your subject and to add to its full visual impact. So much so that by just looking at the end result will cause your mouth to water.

7 tips on how to photograph food:

1.      Use adequate light – Just like any still life subject, food must be well lit to get the desired effect. No matter how well the chef cooked the food, or how artistically prepared it looks, it will look drab and uninteresting without adequate lighting.  Natural indirect light is a great source of light when it comes to photographing food. It evenly lights up the subject in a very attractive way. The best place to capture this is by positioning your subject by a window where there is an abundance source of natural light.  Studio lighting, on the other hand, offers you complete control over how the food will be illuminated.

2.      Enhance it – To keep the look of freshly cooked food, such as a glistening effect, always have vegetable oil ready.  Just brush it over the food to keep it looking succulent even if it has been lying there for hours. Spray misty water on fruit and vegetables to create condensation. The shinier they are, the fresher they seem and the more attractive they become.

3.      Use props – How your food is prepared on a plate is just as important as how you capture it in a photograph. Everything involved in the process of getting the perfect shot includes the choice on how the food is arranged on the plate or bowl, as well as how the table is set.  These are all secondary to the food itself but they still play a vital part in enhancing the total visual impact.  Avoid clutter at all cost since showing many things can be distracting.  You can add one or two components such as a glass, a spoon, a flower or a table napkin.  These can be placed in secondary positions in the frame. The attention of the viewer should first be drawn to the subject and not the extra elements that are included in the setup.

4.      Shoot fast – Unlike other inanimate objects, food will not retain its freshness or allure for long. Time is of the essence when capturing the most tantalizing shot. You have to be able to take pictures quickly after it has been cooked and before it wilts, changes color, melts or collapses. This would require tedious preparations and advanced knowledge in what your final outcome should be before you place your food under the bright light. A common approach to effectively maximize the freshness of food is to have everything ready by using similar props to get the lighting and exposure right.  When everything is in order, all you need to do is to swap the props with real food and you can start shooting immediately with the proper settings.

5.      Get down low – A common oversight among many who attempt to take good photographs of food is taking shots that look down on a plate from directly up above. This can work in some instances but most of the time you can capture a better shot by changing your camera viewpoint and angle. By going down close to plate level or slightly above it, the food appears closer and more enticing to the viewer, who might be feel the urge to reach out and grab a bite.

6.      Use macro – another method to effectively highlight the different elements of the dish is to focus on just one part of it. By going very close to the food, your camera can show all the details of the delicious ingredients that can be overlooked in a shot taken farther back. Shooting macro will present textures that can add dimension to the image, such as the golden stickiness of honey or the crystalline formations of sugar.

7.      Use steam – Steam rising off your food always indicates it has just been cooked. Hot food is always an attraction when stimulating one’s appetite. Therefore, it is always a desired effect in almost every food image.  This can be the most difficult to achieve naturally because steam only lasts a few seconds before dissipating. One way to capture it is to create artificial steam. This can be done by microwaving cotton balls soaked in water and placing them behind your subject. Others are inventive and use cigarette smoke but the smell can be unpleasant. Use a dark background along with backlighting to make steam more visible. Lastly, steam can be added in post-processing with photo editing software.

This entry was posted on Saturday, December 18th, 2010 at 10:00 am and is filed under Articles, Photography Basics, Photography Techniques. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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