Starting to enjoy these weekend blogs. Today's topic is food photography, it seems to be getting bigger and bigger so I thought that I would give you some helpful tips to raise your game. There are so many reasons to be taking food photos, whether you are a greasy spoon running a Facebook page or a culinary wizard who wants to make their blog pop, you need great food photography. The best thing is, anyone who is in need of food photography already has all they need in their kitchen, well all but your camera/phone (assuming you aren’t using your phone as a tiny chopping board).
1. Use Natural Light.
Okay, this is pretty much the best way to really pump up your game. Your food is organic, it’s natural, the use of natural light helps to emphasise that. Your eye can tell whether food is shot under the ugly artificial lights in your home and it makes the food look artificial as a result.
There are two key ways to use natural light; one is to simply go outside, pop your food down and shoot it there (I hope this isn’t your attitude). For certain images, you may want that hard light the sun provides with deep, dark shadows. An alternative, and my usual preference, is to prop up near a window. This way the light becomes a directional light source shaped by the frame of the window giving you more control. Try moving closer to and away from the window watching as the shadows grow and contract in length.
2. Diffuse your light.
Are you seeing nasty shadows on your food? Does your puff pastry look angry when it should be soft and sweet? That is probably because you have what we call hard light. Where the light comes in very prominently from one source, this causes shadows to be greatly exaggerated leaving you with lots of contrast.
The remedy for this is to scatter that light. Imagine looking at a bare lamp, it is overly bright and sharp on your eyes so we put a lampshade on it to diffuse the light making it much softer. This in mind, go to your light source, I am using the window, and let’s put our very own lampshade over it. Obviously don’t try and cram a lampshade on your window, try using a translucent cloth such as a bedsheet, tea towel or you can even pick up a cheap diffuser on Amazon. This will then scatter the light making it much softer and drastically improving your image.
3. Think about your viewing angle.
This may be easy to overlook, pardon the pun, the temptation is to shoot everything from where you stand. For me I am looking at the plate of food on the work surface, I can pull my camera out and shoot down at it from a 45-degree angle. Trouble is, that does nothing interesting for the food.
Imagine you have a pizza, everything is essentially laying flat down on the dough so it’s all about finding an angle that best demonstrates this. Shooting from directly above will give you a nice symmetrical image of the pizza exemplifying all the details and the pattern of the toppings which makes for a much more interesting photo. But now for a burger. Using the same angle we are just looking at the top of the bun, who cares for that? From this angle, you’ll have people wondering “What even is that?”. All the interest here is in the layers of the burger, so let’s drop down to 180° to showcase that juicy burger patty and all the toppings, something you just can’t see from a birds-eye view.
Pro tip: instead of 180°, how about trying a few extra degrees below. Looking slightly up at this angle you will see how that adds a certain sense of drama to the image, the burger almost looks powerful.
4. Fake it.
Okay I know I started this with a piffy speech about how your food is organic so you should use natural light blah, blah, blah. Well. Ice melts. Syrup gets absorbed. Condensation falls and leaves you with an undesirable drip down the side of your otherwise great looking milkshake glass. Sometimes it is so much easier to fake the effect you want.
I used to do a lot of cocktail photography and one thing that I learned very quickly is that ice cubes hate to be photographed. Good news, you can buy fake ice cubes that actually look better and also gives you so much more time to compose your image without worrying about your subject turning into a watery mess.
You can use engine oil instead of syrup on pancakes. You can buy a special spray to create water drops that harden to replace condensation. Heck, I have even put glue in a bowl of cereal instead of milk.
Yes, if you are having an issue with food being food, fake it till you make it. There are a million articles online about how the pro’s use non-food products to help alleviate the stress of working with actual food so I won’t list them all here, just know that faking it for a photo doesn’t mean a loss of integrity, it just means that you can more easily convey how great your food is without having to battle with melting, absorption, running etc
5. Photo backgrounds.
This one is so important. You don’t realise but so much of your images real estate is actually the background so there really is no hiding it. Unnoticed as it may seem to go, it is so much of the overall image, meaning it is huge when informing the sub-conscious mind. The background is the space that your eyes are left to play in, it is the vacuum that allows the viewer to fluidly move around the image between your photographic elements.
So how do we integrate and use the background to our advantage? Well, the first thing that we need to remember is that we should flow through the background, so nothing that will draw the eye away from the main subject, a clean, continuous surface will do the trick. This doesn’t mean plain white, however. You want textures you will find in the kitchen, marble looks classic and clean, wood for a more rustic look. You can actually purchase these online, https://clubbackdrops.com/.
Next, we want our viewer to be drawn to the subject. Let’s use contrast. Ever seen yellow text on a white page, it doesn’t read well, does it? That is because the two have little contrast, yellow is such a bright colour against an equally bright white background. Put yellow on black, now that pops. Same here, light subjects pop off a dark background; drop a white New York Cheesecake on a black granite countertop? Firstly you would end up with a lot of mess, but the contrast between the light and dark direct the eye to your subject brilliantly.
Every art form has a core objective, it is all a mode of storytelling. Think of the subject of your image as the main character, I am imagining the pizza from before. Props are how we help to tell the reader more about our character, we use them to give context. Let’s bring in things that can help tell us a little more about that pizza. So, mine was freshly made, it was kneaded and stretched atop the work surface in a bed of flour. In order to convey this through the image, try dusting the scene with the flour, it subtlety eludes to that fact. Turns out I am using this image for a valentine’s food blog, hmm, maybe a couple of wine glasses in there. You see how adding new elements to the image helps to tell our story.
When I said that you have everything you need in the kitchen, this is exactly what I was referring to. You probably already have it all out if you have just finished up what you are working on. All the props to help tell the story of the making of the product are there waiting; make use of that knocked over a bag of sugar or that tea towel that’s just lying around.
We must not lose focus here however, all these new elements are there to compliment our subject, the pizza in this instance, they must not detract or distract. Also, they need to form a nice composition. Follow the rule of odds here, three is more pleasing to the eye than two, always try to use odd quantities in your photographs, they are more visually appealing.
Composition is a very complex beast, one I will dedicate a whole blog post to in the near future, so keep an eye out for that. Why not subscribe to get notified so you never miss a post!
I hope you have found all of these little tips greatly useful, implementing just a few of these will push your photography that bit closer to a professional standard. If you are looking to really achieve top commercial food photography, then get in touch with blank canvas ink.