Many assume that the first rule of food photography is to find the perfect lighting. You couldn’t be more wrong. The most important rule is to do the photoshoot after you have eaten. That’s right, approach food photography when you’re not hungry. As you’ve guessed, some tend to jump at the opportunity and devour their meals before they even had their chance to shine on the screen of your DSLR.
Get your primary instinct out of the way and we can move onto other tips that are going to significantly improve your food photography. Look around your kitchen. There’s an abundance of materials, photo shoot locations and props. The kitchen, in a sense, is like the perfect studio environment and playing ground for photographers.
1. Hope for (but don’t expect) good natural light
You will find that nothing works better that natural lighting when it comes to food photography. The day you choose to do some food photography should ideally be a sunny day. Nature is unexpecting. You might be stuck with crappy conditions but you have to learn to work with what you have.
You can create believable daylight in a studio environment. All you need is some diffusion material or a softbox to give you a nice variation of light. Your setup can be quite basic to start with. When the focus of your photograph is food items and dishes, you only need one decent light source because less is really more here. It’s important to take a few test shots to see how your lighting conditions translate on camera.
2. Trick to perfect your lighting
Lighting is everything with food photography. The only thing that doesn’t work to your advantage with natural light is that it might be too harsh for lighter objects. You can eliminate this problem by placing a diffuser between your set and the window. Working with direct sunlight is no easy task but a diffuser will significantly improve your quality of light.
This trick softens dark shadows and gets rid of bright highlights which usually happens when direct sunlight hits lighter areas.
3. Use your kitchen as a playing ground
Aside from lighting, the next most important thing is how you present your food. There are so many textures, colors and props in the kitchen. You can play with your compositions for hours on end. Use this opportunity to get a little creative.
You can use kitchen appliances to add levels to your compositions, towels and other fabrics for background texture, spices for an artsy mess, fresh vegetables for visual interest, tableware for decor and much more. Explore and play around with items in your kitchen.
4. Clear the clutter before you start
We know how it goes – you’re excited, you’re ready to start cooking, ingredients are flying left and right, dishes pile up and before you know it you’re standing in front of a great mess. You can’t photograph under these conditions.
Remember to keep it simple. This also means keeping it clean. Before you get to cooking, attempt to declutter your kitchen. Make sure everything you need is within reach. It’s also important that you stage your area before you cook. This is where you’ll be shooting so it needs to be the perfect set up.
5. Always, always use a tripod
You want to use a tripod whenever possible. In fact, set your camera up while you’re doing the set up. Bring your tripod and position it right where you want it. When shooting in low light conditions, you’ll likely have very blurry photographs.
If you don’t have a tripod, you’ll need to use something stable to give you more leverage. You’ll avoid a lot of unfortunate shots if you consider all these fine details.
6. Consider all the possible angles
When shooting meals and ingredients, there are only so many angles you can take. That being said, you need to choose one and make it a conscious, justified decision. Your camera angle will affect the story that you’re communicating.
The trick to choosing the right camera angle lies in your subject. You have to really observe your food to figure out what is unique about it and where you’d like to place emphasis in your shot. Place your camera where you can highlight the best qualities of your dish or ingredients.
For instance, if you’re photographing a burger, you’d probably want to shoot it at eye level so you can see all the layers. If you’re photographing soup, you’d want to shoot directly from above.
7. Props help tell a story
What you choose to include in your shot aside from your main dish in focus is really important. Props can help tell a story about how the meal was prepared, where it comes from and the origins.
You can use empty space to add to the story you’re telling. Add ingredients and props around your food which can help tell how the food was made. This includes things like fabrics, herbs, glasses, dishes, and jars. Place a few things in the foreground or background to help give your images more depth and visual interest.
8. Make your colors pop
A common mistake with food photography is using overpowering props. It’s easy to get excited about buying new props to add to your images and make them stand out but don’t forget that the food should be the focal point of your shots.
When photographing food, select neutral tones for props to really make your food stand out. Black, grey, white and shades of brown work well depending on the color of your subject. If you’re photographing dessert with colorful berries, use a white background. Be smart about your use of supporting props.
9. Cooking is a process, so document it
To really make the most of your photoshoots, take photographs of your food being prepared. You can start with photographing raw ingredients and all the later stages of the preparation process. Show your food being cooked, placed and served.
This works especially well for things like soup which is quite a process to make and the end result is a little bland. Soup might not be that exciting but so much goes into the preparation that it would be a big misstep to not document the process.
10. Use humans for scale
In some food photographs, it’s hard to tell how large or small the space and ingredients are. This is where you can use human hands to add a delicate touch to your shots. This can be subtle and kind of nice because it includes a human element.
You can add a stirring hand or show hands chopping ingredients. This shows scale and add that extra touch to give a better idea of the scale of things. It could also make your shots more appealing.
One of our contributors, Natalia Lisovskaya has perfected the art and has lots to share about the art of food photography. Her portfolio is stunning and gives a good idea of how to shoot food photography.
That’s about all of the tricks of the trade. If you have other tips on food photography that you’d like to share, leave them in the comments section below and we’ll gladly include them.