Five tips for stunning food photography
We've all been in a situation where we take a snap of our delicious-looking breakfast, wonderfully served cappuccino or exquisitely detailed desert only to find the photo looks lackluster at best and downright disgusting at worst. How do you take good photos of food without dedicating your whole life to it?
As with anything else, there are certain things you can do to quickly improve the quality of these photos, though practice is still king (along with a little bit of targeted education) if you want to be a master of food photography.
Let's go through the basics though. How can you make your food look as delicious on a screen as it looks in real life?
1. Get close to your food
If you show an image of a plate of food lost on a table with dozens of other items on it, then most likely your food will not look all that appetizing since it will easily be lost and have its importance stripped away from it by all the other elements competing for attention. This is especially important with small servings which are often served on large plates.
So don't be afraid to get right in that risotto's face (assuming it has a face, which it probably won't).
The closer you will be to your food, the more details you will be able to show and the less distracting your background will become - first, because you will show less of it, second because as you get closer to your point of focus, let's say your Tiramisù in this case, the shallower your depth of field will become and the blurrier the background.
2. Choose your light accordingly
It might be your first instinct to just point your camera or phone at your plate and shoot, however, unlike say wild animals, there's a good chance your food will stay put for a little while allowing you to think before you merrily snap away.
It is, therefore, a great idea to do that - stop for a moment, consider how your food looks in the current light, then try and spin it around in a couple of different directions to see how light hitting it from one side, or the other, or even from behind will make it look. Different foods, because of their different colors, textures and how high or low they sit on a plate, what color the plate is and how deep it is, will look better or worse in all these different lighting situations.
There isn't a magic formula here, however, side or backlighting normally bring out more texture and larger sources of light - think "large windows without direct sunlight coming in" - are preferred in most situations.
Sometimes, extra light can be added with something as advanced as a strobe unit, or something as simple as opening a curtain or using a reflector to throw some light back on your food - which can be a dedicated silver or white reflector, a white towel or even another plate.
Again, and this will become a little bit of a mantra, practice is king.
3. Add some context
Don't be afraid to scatter some of the ingredients, either raw or cooked, whole or cut into pieces, all or some of them, around your dish to add some context. This might not be feasible when you're just having breakfast in a restaurant since telling your waiter to give you a couple of extra eggs and some bacon to throw around on the table cloth might come off as rude. In any other scenario, like if you were to do this at home, or the owner of the restaurant was your friend, or even, dare I say it, you were shooting for a paid gig, you should feel free to go crazy.
This helps tell the story of what goes into making that dish, preparing it, how it tastes, how it feels. You could just as well use utensils to cut or serve the food, take slices or pieces out of it to convey how irresistibly delicious it is or any number of other little details.
4. Do something out of the ordinary
While taking photos of food just staying there, looking pretty, is all nice and dandy, sometimes a little bit of movement will add some much-needed flavor to your photos - pun intended.
Try capturing some of the ingredients as they bounce on the table, try arranging things in unlikely, unwieldy structures, try smearing the tabletop with some of the messier ingredients or even having them explode around your main subject.
This is a little trickier than some of my other pieces of advice and also one of the most rewarding.
Bear in mind that "trial and error" is part of the process and "failure" might actually result in some amazing images. Just be prepared to clean up after the photo-shoot and wear clothes you don't mind getting covered in ketchup.
In the photo above we took some photos of the pizza surrounded by all the yummy ingredients, then decided to putt a bit of flour on the table and drop the pizza from a great hight on top of it so that there was an explosion of flour coming from bellow the pizza. We did this a few times and the area where we were shooting, as well as our clothes, ended up covered in flour.
5. Make it about the process
It is easy to focus intently on just the food sometimes, however, showing how the food is prepared, how the ingredients are collected, washed and boiled, how the finishing touches are put on a particular dish or dessert can be just as, if not more compelling.
Find those little details that make the dish special, maybe a certain peculiarity in the way it is cooked, maybe there is a very specific dish that is employed during the process, maybe the chef uses some quirky technique during preparation. Find something that stands out, even before the dish is ready to be served.
While all of these pieces of advice will certainly not apply to all your photos of food, some will, some can be combined, some can be enhanced and many more can be added.
If you have any ideas or suggestions, leave a comment below :-)