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I love photography…it’s a bit of a hobby of mine truth be told.
Remember the last time you looked at the photograph of a delectable dish and just wanted to grab it?
Well, it wasn’t the dish alone that probably appealed to your taste buds. The way the photographer had captured the colorful and exciting micro details of the food also had a lot to do with it.
You can perhaps still recall, with pleasurable anticipation, the awesome colors packed into the exotic salad or the cute shapes of your favorite cookies. Or maybe the stimulating appearance of a particular dish takes you down memory lane and you want to recreate that experience.
All these images leave you wondering if there’s something unique that food photographers do to get you in that agreeable state of mind. Are they just exceptionally skilled?
Or have they spent loads of money on professional training?
Well, technical skills are of course important, but those alone don’t make for excellent food photography. In fact, with just a little basic technical knowledge, you can become a great food photographer too. Love for food and a sense of aesthetics, backed by knowledge of some important tips and tricks, can help you get it right the first time and every time.
So what are you waiting for?
Just follow these simple steps to churn out some excellent food photographs.
Though true for all types of photography, the setting really makes a huge difference to the quality of food photography. You need a setting that doesn’t distract from the food; rather it should enhance the appeal of the dish you’re photographing.
Keep the background simple and plain. Nothing in the setting should be overwhelming. Harmony is what you should strive for, whether in the color scheme or the presentation style.
This leads me nicely onto:
Brightly colored food would look good on a white plate, or maybe a dish in a single color chosen from among the food colors. The tablecloth should also harmonize with the overall scheme.
Unnecessary stuff lying about or people moving around in the backdrop are simply not acceptable. If you can’t get rid of them, try blurring them out of the shot by using a wider aperture.
Use a clean plate
As mentioned earlier, while photographing food, remember that the focus should be on food and food alone.
While the background is important, no extraneous and dirty details should be allowed to get into the frame. A dirty plate or dish, for instance, is the last thing the viewer would like to look at while seeing some luscious food.
A clean white plate is ideal for a food photograph. After all, you can’t photoshop all the dirt and grime away, so it’s best to begin with a clean plate.
A gentle reminder here – while a white plate is ideal, do look at the color of the food before deciding on the plate color, as discussed earlier.
Choose the food carefully
Getting down to the main subject of your shoot, namely food, you need to make a studied choice of the food you want to capture in your camera lens.
choosing the food doesn’t mean that you can only shoot certain kinds of foods and not others. It simply means that you need to be sure the food in front of the camera looks as hot or cold as it should be, and the plate isn’t too full.
Remember: Hot dishes will look good only as long as they’re hot and fresh. Let the viewer see the steam coming out of the dish when he looks at the photograph.
Temperature & Layout
You should ensure that your hot dish is not going cold while you set your camera and get the lighting and angle right. In fact, some experts suggest using food that’s not cooked all the way through.
Full cooking is said to take away from the natural look of the food. Also, be careful not to use a full plate or dish. Any dish is the sum total of the individual items that go into making it, hence the importance of catching each of those little items in the camera lens.
While taking the actual shot, zoom in so that the food literally fills the photo frame. It’s not important for the viewers just to look at the food; they should be able to virtually taste it by looking at the photograph.
Really…in fact I would go so far as to say it is critical to a successful shoot.
Yes, we all know how important it is to have proper lighting for a good shoot. Now, unlike most other kinds of photography, food photography doesn’t require too much of light. In fact, a single source of light, and a diffused one at that, will do the job in most cases.
Natural light is probably the best source of lighting for a food shoot, and it’s also all about how and where you place the food relative to the lighting source.
Diffusing the light from the back or the side will give you just the right balance of light and shadows.
Soft is what you need to look out for when searching for the perfect light for your food photography. Make sure the light doesn’t distract from the main subject – in this case the food. You can use direct sunlight too, if you remember to soften the shadows and the brightness by using a diffuser.
Whatever you do, don’t use a flash even if the natural light is not strong enough. Flash photography can ruin the best of food shots as it can make the food look absolutely dull.
Check the Angle
The camera angle can make all the difference to the quality of a shoot.
That’s as true for food photography as for any other kind of photography. Visualizing an angle may not necessarily translate into getting the best shot. So to be on the safe side, shoot the food from various angles. Whatever the camera angle, it should capture scale and depth in the final product to be termed as a good food photograph.
This will vary from shoot to shoot depending on the food variety. Some foods deliver great photographs when shot close-up, while other food shoots work well from a wide angle.
Then there are the background elements to consider.
You could try out a variety of backgrounds to give yourself, and your client, a wide choice.
A vital aspect of getting the camera angle right is the size and quality of the tripod used. Of course, some photographers prefer keeping their camera in their hands because they get a sense of better control that way. But for those who like using the tripod, don’t go for the cheap variety, which will probably unbalance itself, and the entire shoot, in the middle of the photography session.
Catch the Texture
Micro details, as we know by now, are as important to a photo shoot as the macro picture. Look for those small elements that make up the food you’re out shooting.
At least some of your shots should have the micro details filling up the frame.
Food shots are actually all about food texture and getting that right. This comes from capturing the ingredients and finding the focal point of all the layers of the dish. If the food is lacking in texture, you’d do well not to shoot it at all. After all, it’s better not to shoot than to shoot something badly.
From a technical point, texture and color are best shot with a shallow field depth. This implies a 2.8 aperture with the shutter speed adjusted accordingly. With a strong interplay of light and shadows to back it up, you’re unlikely to go wrong with the texture.
Creativity is the key
While all these techniques are essential for good food photography, it’s important also to unleash your creative instincts while engaging in such a shoot. Give the shoot your special personal touch by playing around with the background, the food arrangement, the angle, etc.
Keeping the target audience in mind would ensure that you deliver the best possible food photographs.
While composing the shots, keep in mind where the photograph is likely to be published:
- Is it a print or online publication?
- Is it the cover or an inside page?
A layered food composition generally always yields excellent results. You could also experiment with props in the background or foreground, but be careful about going overboard with them. You wouldn’t want the props to overshadow the food, would you?
A good photographer, however, knows how to spice up the food to deliver the best results. Perhaps a dash of lemon juice or a bit of oil will do the trick. It’s not how the food looks to the naked eye but how it looks through the camera that’s important. So follow your camera lens and feel free to dress up the food a little if that’ll enhance its picturesque appeal.
Don’t ignore food preparation
Just as a chef knows the importance of preparation time in food, so should a food photographer. Apart from the final dish or meal, take pictures of the preparation too.
Sometimes, preparation photographs give a better feel of the food than the actual dish. The principle is related to minimalism in food photography.
It’s possible that decorating the dish and spicing it up may actually take away from its natural glory and flavor. That’s when the preparation photographs will help.
Figure out the right editing techniques
A food photographer’s job doesn’t end with the shoot. Editing the photographs is as vital a part of the whole process as the actual shoot. Remember, editing is not about chopping. It’s about adding value to the photographs.
The final product should be better finished than the raw one, for which you need to go beyond a few Photoshop techniques:
- Does the image need to be lightened or darkened?
- To what extent?
- Do the contrast and brightness need to be worked on?
Go ahead if you feel they do, but be careful that you don’t transform something natural into a completely artificial thing.
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, the most interesting thing about food photography is that it can be challenging and exciting at the same time. Food lends itself to aesthetics and variety as few other things can. So experimenting with shots, angles and compositions can be a game-changing experience for any food photographer.
How you balance your innovative streak with the natural essence of food will eventually determine the quality of your food photographs.
You can’t possibly use the same techniques for shooting a cake as for a mutton chop, just to take an extreme example. The point is that every dish has a distinctive taste, flavor and look, and hence requires a unique approach (you may call it the angle) to capturing it in your camera.
Food is one subject where less is always better when it comes to photography. Go for a minimalistic background and lighting, along with a simplistic approach. By simplistic, we mean keep the paraphernalia simple. Don’t overdo anything, whether it’s the setting or the lighting.
Speed is of great essence in food photography. Move fast to grab the best and freshest look of the food you’re trying to capture. Don’t go easy on the shots; take as many as possible – you never know which one might click the best. Start from the very beginning – show the ingredients, and shoot away till the food is on the table, all set to be eaten.
Finally, if things aren’t looking good, just don’t shoot! There’s always another time, another day.
Remember, practice will make you perfect, so keep trying and you’ll get there for sure.
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