How to Photograph Food: Part I

>> Friday, July 23, 2010

I promised you all this post a long while ago. I started it, but then got distracted. Also somewhat overwhelmed, quite honestly. It's difficult for an (extremely) amateur photographer to explain technical tips/tricks for taking good photos. So, I decided to not make it technical, at least for this first installment. Below are the top five ways you can better your food photography -- today!

The best news of all is that you don't need a DSLR to take good food photos. Yes, it give you an extra edge. More flexibility. But these tips work with a point-and-shoot just as well as they do with a fancier camera.

1.) Take time to style your subject. A photo of a pile of lentils on a white plate isn't at all appealing. On the other hand, sometimes simplicity is key -- for instance, if you're taking a photo of a beautiful raspberry. Sites like Tastespotting and Foodgawker serve as great sources of inspiration for how to style your plate.

Would you rather look at this:

Or this?


Or this?

Styling your food isn't just in the placement and framing. You get better results when you take the time to add extra embellishments -- coconut flakes and carob chips, as in the example above.

2.) Make good use of color and texture. This tip goes right along with #1 -- styling your plate involves attention to the placement of your food . . . but also the colors and textures. If you're shooting mashed potatoes, a white plate may not be your best choice. If you're snapping soup, you may want to throw a cracker on top to make it look extra tasty.

This photo plays the green of the plate against the red of the strawberries. I also piled the dish with bananas and cacao nibs for extra texture and height.

In this photo, I kept the salad bowl a simple white. But to bring out the orange in the dressing, I chose an aqua plate. Of course, this plate isn't necessary to catch any stray spinach leaves -- in fact, I put it back in the cupboard when I was done shooting -- but it adds something, right?

3.) Know when to get up close and personal with your dish. Sometimes I like to take what I call aerial shots of my food -- a nice overhead look at the whole meal. But those of you who frequent (never home)maker likely notice that I often take closer-up photos. My decision to go either way really depends on what I'm photographing. And just because I take a photo one way doesn't mean I can't take it another way. That's the beauty of digital cameras. You can take pretty much an unlimited number of shots . . . at all different angles.

Aerial shot:

Up close and personal:

4.) Avoid using flash whenever possible. Natural light is your friend. If your house or apartment is dark, go outside. If you're making cookies late at night, consider waiting until the morning to take photos.

After all, would you rather have a shot like this:

Or this?

The ingredients' true colors can pop without being washed out with a deluge of white light. Plus, it just makes the whole pic look more, well, natural.

5.) Don't go too crazy trying to get the right shot. Over time, you'll get better and faster at taking photos of your food. While you're learning, though, (and I'm still very much learning) it's tempting to spend a long time (and many, many shots) trying to get the best shots possible. In the process, however, your food will get cold. Your friends and significant others will grow frustrated and eat without you.

Exhibit A: Cold Pizza . . . that wasn't meant to be cold.

If you don't get a prize-winning picture, don't fret. It's just more reason to create another great dish. But you can't do that without a full stomach. So eat up, and know that you'll improve for the next session. I try to limit myself to around 20 shots per food item. If I end up going beyond those 20 shots, it isn't worth it for me. Plus, it makes me think more about how to apply the above tips and get the best results for my time.

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