How to Photograph Food: Part II

>> Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In Part I of our food photography series, we covered styling food, paying attention to colors and textures, framing, and lighting. Today, I'd like to cover one of the often forgotten steps. Taking process photos -- from start to finish.

Though the end result (that prize-winning pie or sumptuous soup) often steals the show, but I really enjoy looking at the chopping, flipping, blending, measuring, etc. shots. In fact, those photos are my favorite.

Like these, for example:

Taking thoughtful process pictures involves paying attention to five specific aspects of cooking/baking. But sometimes it's difficult to stop and shoot when you're, for example, elbow deep into some pizza dough. So, the next time you find yourself in this situation, stop what you're doing. Wash your hands and pull out your camera.

Then think about the following things:

1.) Ingredients. What I find so fascinating about cooking and baking is how I can turn all different kinds of ingredients into a cohesive dish. Especially in summer, fresh produce is just pouring out of farmers markets -- and it's all gorgeous. Even the most imperfect looking tomatoes have their charm.

Give your fruits, veggies, and other ingredients the glamour shots they deserve. After all, they are what's IN that final meal that you spend so much time putting together. Let them shine on their own. And I'm thinking most of you who read this blog also appreciate knowing exactly what whole foods go into a soup, sandwich, or other recipe you see online.

2.) Tools. There are a multitude of items we use in our kitchens to make our lives easier. From knives, mixers, and juicers to spoons, spatulas, and whisks -- they're all important. And you guessed it! Taking photos of the tools you use makes for good food photography.

Sometimes I like to combine the ingredients and tools and take from-the-top shots. Yeah, it may take a little extra time to set everything up (and make sure your measurements are still correct) -- but some of my favorite photos are taken in this way.

3.) Methods. Here comes the good part. Just like I mentioned above, sometimes you're kneading dough or whisking ingredients in a specific way. Breads, like challah, call for braiding . . . cookies require rolling dough in sugar . . . cakes beg to be drizzled in icing. Whatever the process is, people like to see it. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing -- it's also helpful to newbie cooks learning the ropes.

Of course, some methods are more difficult and/or interesting than others. So, if your dish just requires a quick mix, you may want to skip the shutter-fever. But if you are performing a process that even has you scratching your head, your readers/viewers will more than likely want to see what's up.

If you don't have fancy software to create an animated GIF image (like this guacamole one), consider taking a brief video of what you're doing. Or go old school and group a couple photos in a series to show what you're doing.

4.) Before and After. I like to juxtapose my final product with its individual parts. There's no secret to doing this yourself -- just keep around some remnants (orange peels, leftover pepper chunks, surplus garlic cloves) and stick it next to your creation.

It's as simple as that!

5.) Mess. No one loves a good mess more than I do. Show the good, bad, and UGLY -- and you'll love what you end up with. Here are some of my favorite kitchen fail shots. Anything goes in this category -- including shots of your plate AFTER the meal is consumed by you.

If you missed Part I of our Foodie Photography Series, you can check it out here. And if you have any of your own tips to share -- don't be shy. We'd love to hear 'em. Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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