Food photography is one of the more popular photography genres. The reason should be clear: Where else can you see food photographed in such a way to make your mouth water and have you eating with your eyes?
A lot of planning and strategy goes into that image of the hamburger that prompted you to take a detour to McDonald’s or Burger King to get your burger fix! Food photographers have to be some of the most detail-oriented and knowledgeable picture-takers in all of the industry today.
In this article, we take you behind the scenes to expose some of the tactics that these photographers use to make that snapshot of food look good enough to eat right off of the image. You’ll be surprised at what you find out!
It All Starts With Lighting
When you do food photography indoors, you have to get a special light for your shoots. No buts about it! For our purposes, a special light is simply an extremely bright, non-overhead light, something like the Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light. Only use a special light like this to shine on your food during your shoot, so turn off any other lights you have indoors.
photo by loudecibels
Another great accessory you should use is a reflector. Amazon has a nice reflector to help you get the most from your food photography. The purpose of reflectors is to bounce light back over your food. Oh, and be sure to turn off all the lights when you use reflectors, too.
Finally, when it comes to shooting techniques, you’ll want to rely heavily on side and backlighting, not to mention manual settings on your camera.
Then Turns to the Props
Yup, believe it or not, food photography’s a bit fake in the sense that props are shamelessly used to make food…look a lot better than it really is! Shocker, right? Well, that’s how the food industry has been doing it for a while, and consumers have never complained. In fact, if anything, the artificial aspect of props makes food more appetizing and desirable, so it’s no wonder the pros use them in their shoots!
Think of props as staging devices, as in homes and apartments that are staged with furniture that no one uses anymore, just to make the scene come alive.
Your props should be simple and minimalistic because you don’t want them stealing attention from your sumptuous food. When you use dishes, only use ones without any patterns (white plates, for instance), so the food jumps out more.
photo by The Little Squirrel
Here are excellent ideas for the best food-photography props:
- Smaller bowls and containers for condiments, toppings and ice cream
- Glass jars
- Bigger bowls and containers for soups and salads
- Small plates for appetizers
- Salad plates
- Various utensils such as appetizer spoons, measuring spoons and spatulas
- Tile, wood and marble surfaces and backgrounds
Highlights the Cooking Process
If there’s one thing that some food photographers forget to do entirely, it’s to snap the entire cooking process. They’ll simply focus on the final image or images of the cooked food or the meal already dished out and ready to eat…yet the magic of food photography occurs in all stages of the food-preparation process!
That’s why it’s a stellar tactic to shoot dozens of pictures of your food, so that you can get various before-and-after shots to show your audience how your food looked from beginning to final dish. It’s really no trouble at all to just snap away at different points in your cooking process.
photo by ChrisGampat
For example, you can take pictures when you’re just chopping the dish’s ingredients and even when the dish is simmering in a pot on the stove. This lets your audience also appreciate what it took to get to the final dish!
Uses Different, Interesting Angles
Shots of food look a lot better when you’re snapping away from different angles. Viewers really enjoy seeing the subject from various perspectives. You’d be surprised at just how many possibilities there are when it comes to shooting food from various angles.
Do you want to go for the direct look? Then how about just taking the food on head-on, so that it’s right in the center of the frame?
Feeling like looking down on your food? Well, just photograph it from above, which produces a contemporary appearance.
photo by Tom Noe
Do you want to make your dish look like it’s lost in space without any reference points like horizon lines and plates? Just put it onto a white, plexiglass surface with a small stand underneath it to create a shadow-less scene.
Here are further angle variations you can use when photographing food:
- Tilting away from the food
- Tilting toward the food
- Up close and personal
- Above the front of the food, with a tilt for perspective
- Respect for lines
- Gentle tilting
And Finally Ends With Some Oil
Something as simple and ubiquitous in the kitchen as oil can go a long way when photographing food. You see, oil makes food glisten, making it more appetizing and giving it the appearance of just having been freshly cooked. All this works toward making people’s mouths water as they glare at food images.
When you add some oil onto the food you’re shooting, it starts to glisten and look shinier. The great part about this is that you don’t even have to add a lot of oil; just a small amount will do. As a bonus, the light is going to reflect off of the shiny surface much better, adding to its delicious-looking quality.
photo by gfacegrace
Try adding oil especially on vegetables, which look great glistening on camera.
As you just read, food photography doesn’t have to be complicated. By following the above tips, anybody can be a reasonably excellent food photographer! By doing small things like using special light and adding some props and oil, you can really transform your food into something anyone will want to devour.
That’s what food photography’s purpose is all about: Making people eat with their eyes, after all. When you incorporate these tips into your photography, you can turn even unexciting food into tasty morsels folks will want to gobble down!
Bio: Marc is a copywriter and content marketer who covered photography. These days, he runs The Glorious Company, a content marketing agency.