I won’t try to claim that all of my food photography is top-notch, but I’ve collected a few ideas from different articles and experiences that I wanted to share. (The photo above is from the Lagoon Grill in Hawaii)
Basic tips for food photography
Make it look delicious!
Sometimes this will mean ‘staging’ the food. Picking out that brightly-coloured orange slice from the bottom of the salad and putting it on top of the spinach beside the strawberry. Drizzling the dressing on top instead of tossing the salad with the dressing. Maybe it just means turning the plate so that you can see the pickle peeking out from behind your sandwich or adding an extra dollop of whipped cream right before you take the shot of your hot cocoa.
If you’re shooting food that you’re cooking, use the best, freshest, least blemished and most symmetrical-looking raw ingredients for your ‘setting up’ shots. You might use 10 apples in your recipe, but audition each to see which one will make that great “apple” shot.
Pay attention to your lighting
I always seem to pull out my camera when out for dinner, only to realize I’ve sat in the wrong place, and the natural light I want for the shot isn’t available. Think about natural light and available lighting wherever you are. If you can adjust the lighting – go for it! If you’re shooting with a real camera (instead of a camera-phone) adjust your white balance as needed.
Of course, sometimes lighting just isn’t on your side… like at an exceptionally dark restaurant like UBU Lounge.
Unfortunately for this shot, I had to use flash – the room was just so dark! However, if the lounge hadn’t been pretty quiet it would have been disruptive to other patrons to have our flashes go off, and the shot is pretty mediocre – harsh shadows, bad colour saturation, and I’m not able to get up close to the food (because that would cause worse shadows from the flash). Compare that shot with the one below. The one above is from a great restaurant, while the one below is take-out fast-food sushi from Co-op. But, with natural light and the chance to get in close, I think the fast-food sushi looks way more appetizing!
Make a purposeful choice about how you line up the subject in your viewfinder or on your screen. Do you want symmetry? Do you want the background in focus or not? Do you want a pop of colour beside the plate, or will it be distracting? When in doubt, remember the ‘rule of thirds’, and ask yourself what the subject of the photo is.
On a similar note, consider how close you’re shooting. Close-up shots can look great to show off detail, but they can also give the wrong impression about what the food really looks like. For example, in the photo to the left, this looks like a really nice roll from Shikiji, until you look at the scale compared to the grain of rice! This is one tiny roll!
If you’re shooting food you’re cooking or preparing yourself, remember to keep it simple. Plate your dish on plain dish wear to put the focus on the food, and if you want additional texture or background, consider using the raw ingredients from your dish – just make sure not to include things in the shot that aren’t in the dish – I know I hate seeing a shot of a cherry pie, with a pile of bright lemons behind them… sure it’s great colour, but there aren’t any lemons in that dish!
Get some perspective
Aligned with composition, try different angles when shooting food to give the best impression (consider your purpose below).
In the two shots above, which one do you think is more successful? Which one makes you want to try some of the food? Which one tells you how much food was on the plate? (Both shots are from a breakfast buffet in Turku, Finland.)
Consider your purpose
When you’re taking your photo, consider the purpose of the photo – do you want to simply share your experience (positives and negatives) or are you trying to ‘sell’ the food (and thus want to cast it in the best possible light)? This might help you make other choices too.
Compare the photo at the top of this post with this shot:
Which burger would you rather try? Which one do you think tastes better? Which one do you think costs more?
Professional food photography intended to sell the food or experience (for instance in advertisements, editorial stories in magazines or newspapers, example photos in cookbooks or on cooking websites, in menus, or on the website of your favorite restaurant) is very different from food blogging. Professionals have studio lighting, food stylists, and when they’re done with the food, you probably wouldn’t want to eat it… They need shots that will work online (at a low resolution and with small dimensions) and shots that will work for print – maybe even in a large format. Bloggers, well, we often get a shot right before we dig in, are working with existing lighting (and likely don’t even have an off-camera flash to pull out) and only need our shots for the blog and maybe our Facebook page. While professionals want you to spend money on the food (or class, or cookbook) they’re photographing, (otherwise they wouldn’t be hired, right!?) bloggers often approach the food we shoot with a different bias. Of course, for the purpose of this post, I’m really biased… I’m a blogger – not a professional food photographer!
If you’re shooting food you are cooking or preparing yourself, consider capturing a ‘before and after’ shot. I don’t mean the raw steak before you cook it, but how about the dough before it rises or the spinach before you blanche it?
Camera-phone food photography tips
A while back I wrote an article (Food Photography) that talked about more and more bloggers and food-diary writers sticking with their camera phones for their photos. They’re fast, easy, I always have mine in my purse when I go out to eat, and uploading is super-easy too.
Easy on the filters…
I love all of the filters on my camera-phone, but don’t keep pressing ‘contrast’ over and over to make a mediocre photo look better. Ask yourself if you’d really want to eat food from 1972 before using a vintage filter. One or two shots can be fun, but when you pay more attention to the filter than the food… it’s time to put down the camera and pick up your fork!
(The filter-heavy photo to the left is from Sushi & Co – read more about them by clicking the link.)
Pay attention to your food – and your dinner companions
How frustrating is it to sit across a table from someone who’s more interested in texting someone who isn’t there, than taking to you? When the food arrives say something like “oh, this looks so good, I’m going to take a picture” then take the picture, put your phone back in your pocket, and put your attention back on enjoying your food -and your company!
Serious Eats has some tips for photographers, with the majority of information being most useable for those of you who want to bring your DSLR or compact camera with you out to eat.
The professional photographer on the A Thought for Food blog writes about how freeing it can be to shoot food with a smart phone instead of a DSLR camera once in a while, with some tips that translate from one tool to the other.
Topher Kelly has some smart phone apps for food photography on the SLR Lounge.
Professional photographer Anne Fishbein has a few tips for food photographers, and even was teaching classes back in October in LA.
Darlene Hildebrandt is a professional photographer with some tips especially for those of you looking to photograph your own creations on the Digital Photography School.
… what are your tips? Let us know in the comments below, or come join us on Happy Sushi Belly on Facebook!