Simple Tips to Improve Your Food Photography
Photographing food so that it looks good and is in the correct light and capturing the essence of the dish, while showing some relevant background may be tricky at times and some food will just never look right. Dishes with contrast such as stews and ragouts are particularly difficult to show in an appetizing way. By taking the following tips and hints into consideration you might be able to avoid some common mistakes and the final product of the photograph will hopefully improve to the level where you are confident to share your food pictures freely with friends and fellow food enthusiasts.
The right background can bring so much to a picture.
This is perhaps the most important factor when shooting still life pictures such as food shots. Choose a well lit place, perhaps by a window, with indirect light. You might want to diffuse the light coming from a certain direction with white curtains or window blinds. Professional photographers are able to create “daylight” with their lighting equipment. If your camera is equipped with a flash that can be swiveled then bouncing additional light from the ceiling or off a wall helps keep shadows in check. Attempting to photograph a dish with the flash directly pointed onto the subject usually results in creating shadows and the food itself tends to flatten. Wet or shiny spots on the food can reflect and will give “sparkling” spots which are undesirable.
Choose a suitable angle for your photograph
Shooting a dish directly from the top usually does not do the dish justice. Choose a lower, flatter angle. Move around and make a few test shots to check for shadows, the background setting and unwanted gaps or bare spots in the picture. If your camera has a macro function, it is nice to just focus on the main object of the dish and let the rest “blur” into the background.
Background and props
Generally there should not too much background in the pictures but a good contrast or complementing back ground always helps in getting more out of the dish. Cluttering the picture with too much background will take away focus from the main object. Relevant herbs and spices or even serving or kitchen utensils can be placed out of focus in the background as to show a hint of it, but clearly having the main object in focus is imperative.
Consider also the plates and or serving dish the food is to be presented on. Mirrors and glass, while great serving tools, in general do not uplift the food on a picture. Colored plates and platters are great if they contrast well with the food. Natural color tones usually work very well.
The right background can bring so much to a picture. Not only can it set the dish apart and lift the whole picture, but it will also set the mood, the theme and the general appeal of the picture. Items with natural coarseness, rough fibers or contours in particular, can bring a different feel to the photograph. Fabrics with intricate prints need to be chosen carefully as not to take away the focus from the item being photographed.
It is in general a wise idea to get the setting for the food shot done ahead of the cooking process and make a few test shots, just to see how the lighting, background, props and your camera angle will work out. Once the food is placed on the dish, there is usually no time to collect additional props or change the underlying table cloth, as the sauce might dry out and the food in general will deteriorate fast.
Other items on stand by for last minute adjustments are:
• Vegetable oil and fine brush – this is needed to shine or add gloss to some of the food that might look dull or to brush up on dried particles of the food.
• Herbs and small vegetables – at times when checking the picture it just helps to have something handy that can create a contrast, cover-up a bare spot or add volume to a particular part of the plate.
Taking the picture
If you are happy with your settings and feel you have found the right angle and lightning then it is time to dress the food onto the plate and take the picture. Take the first shot and check how it turned out. Take a bit of time and pay attention to shadows, lighting, smudges and empty spaces and adjust them if needed. Now take pictures, a few with the same angle as you planned and then move your position slightly. Take several shots with various angles, lower, closer and from different sides. These days with digital cameras it so easy to delete unwanted pictures, so you can take advantage of that.
It is always best to shoot photos on a tripod or, if unavailable, try to rest the camera on a flat surface. A few books, the edge of a table or similar will help. This is particularly so when making pictures indoor and the lighting is not that great. In those circumstances your camera will open for a longer exposure to compensate for the low-light. A flat surface will ensure that the pictures do not blue due to movement during the shooting.
One can never be assured of the perfect shot until it is downloaded, cropped and correctly set. What might be looking great on the monitor on the back of your camera might look darker or duller when the actual photograph appears on your computer. This however, can mostly be adjusted with your photo handling program.