Good cooking is much easier to master than good food photography. In the world of professional photography it is one of the most difficult subjects to shoot. Professional photographers have a common saying: If you can excel at food photography you can shoot anything. True, many expert food shooters rely on some repulsive trickeries from food stylists: Crisco and food coloring disguised as ice cream. Motor oil for fudge sauce, anyone? Try blowing cigarette smoke through a straw the next time you want to create the illusion of piping hot steam rising from your coq au vin.
So, maybe you’re not a professional photographer yet you photograph everything you eat. Not to be daunted, but certain rules still apply. With a little creativity and planning your point and shoot efforts can win you an audience.Think back to the latest good food photographs you’ve seen. Did the food appeal to you? Did you feel anything rise within you when you looked at the photo? Did it inspire you to cook? Eat? Did it create a visual fantasy about the person eating the food? Did it make you want to jump on the first flight to Spain to discover your favorite among the 32 different types of paella in search of gastronomical titillation? If you answered yes to any of these then ask yourself, why? What was it about the photograph that disrupted your mindless rote of internet surfing to transcend you with a smirk and and a sigh through curious possibilities about eating, or more exciting yet, traveling to eat? Shooting attention-grabbing food photos is accomplished through a few key ground rules. But what makes for the most interesting photos in all genres is storytelling. And food can most definitely tell a story through pictures.
Everyone, it seems, is snapping photos of food these days thanks in part to convenient Iphones and Powershots. This has changed the game…. a little. No disrespect for the pristine, heavily edited food photos of certain culinary magazines whose job is to sell issues, but what we see more of these days is real food being photographed by foodies (for foodies) quick to share their fervency for the perfect high-rise bread recipe to their cosmic response when tasting tortillas served with ground grasshoppers and a side of salt, washed down with tejate at Lacasa Abuela in Oaxaca, Mexico. Whether you’re a food blogger or just a foodie compelled to post photos of your happiness on a plate, try these suggestions for getting noticeable photographs that just may coerce the viewer to bookmark your post and give-a-go at spending hours in the kitchen with your Aunt Thelma’s family recipe. Now that’s a photo story worth telling.
Camera: Any camera will do. Even the IPhone. Check out this fun food photo app for IPhone
Lighting: Available light is the simplest. Use a white poster board to bounce light onto your food. If using a pop up flash, stand back 4-5 ft and zoom in so as not to blast your subject with harsh flash effects. Work lights from the hardware store, the kind with clamps outfitted with a daylight balanced bulb work good. (Set your camera to daylight under the menu settings.) Also, white chinese lanterns create a softbox effect when placed overhead. A common trick among filmmakers.
Tripod: If using available light it is best to yield to a tripod. This is because the shutter speed is slower with available light. The slower the shutter speed the more sensitive the camera to movement. Worse case scenario– holding your breath sometimes works if you don’t own a tripod.
Angle: Shoot from many different angles, and shoot a lot. Zoom in close to blur the background. If using a semi-pro camera try a wide angle lens at close range to the subject to create interesting perspectives. Avoid monotonous angles to your posts as this bores the viewer. If your last post was an overhead shot make your next post is a profile shot. Sometimes all that’s needed is some creative cropping to create variety.
Environment: Don’t shoot on cluttered countertops, dirty stoves, or harsh reflective surfaces. Do utilize relevant elements in your photo that match your dish such as artisanal platters, rustic cutting boards, vintage tablecloths. Second hand stores are the place to find these gems. Also, borrowing props from friends and family is a great idea. Think of accent foods to place alongside your dish. Making lemon chicken? Slice a lemon in half and place beside your dish for color. Or how about pasta with pesto sauce? Fill a small attractive vase with fresh basil and place in the background. The possibilities are endless. Don’t have an interesting place to shoot? Use colored poster board for a backdrop.
Diptychs Triptychs and Collages: These are one of the most artful ways to tell a visual story. A diptych is two photographs placed side by side as if you’re looking at an open book, or, less commonly seen, two photos, one placed on top of the other. A triptych is a series of three images related to each other by subject matter. This is often used for panoramic effects. Collages are multiple images merged together in columns. This is especially useful for travel photos. Sometimes the outside of the restaurant is just as interesting as the food inside and so collaging the photos together creates a dramatic feel for place. Tip* When merging photos together examine the color, tone, and placement of style and lines, common themes, and repeating shapes to balance the form for a cohesive story.
Build an Internal Visual Library: Study the photographs you love. Pull out photos in magazines and tape on a ‘visual wall’. Shoot without looking through the lens. Create a folder on your computer of your favorite food photos and return to them often for inspiration. Study artful photography, not just food photography. Sometimes creative inspiration can come from a simple moody shot of a desolate landscape.