Food photography

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  • 1. Getting Started in Food PhotographyFood photography is one of those subsets of general photography that makes people stand up andtake notice. Tell someone at a cocktail party youre a food photographer and the response yourelikely to get is wow! The next question after that is generally, How do you get into foodphotography. I was lucky enough to have a formal education in commercial photography and thenapprentice with some wonderful photographers. But dont rely on others to teach you what youwant to know. There is no substitute for doing.Its important to understand that all specialties of photography require a particular skill set andattitude that are individual to that specialty. If youre a move fast, shoot from the hip, f/8 and bethere kind of photographer, foods probably not going to appeal to you. If youre methodical,studious and like to study a scene and tweak it for hours at a time, youve got the right rawmaterials.1. Understand how food works.It helps to be a foodie. First, it just makes life easier to be around things that you like all the time.Also, its important to be able to converse with clients and others in the business about food. Im nota chef by any stretch but I like to cook, I certainly like to eat, and I enjoy learning about new foods. Itmight be important to know the difference between ice cream, sorbet and gelato one day.Remember that to illustrate the essence of a food you must first know what makes it special.2. Understand how light and composition work.This of course applies to all photography, but more so in still life/food work. You dont need a lot ofexpensive equipment to light food well (although certain types of shots, like splash and pour shots,do call for specialized gear.) But you need to know how to use the tools you have available. For most

2. beginners, good window light, a sturdy tripod and some reflector cards are sufficient to get theimages rolling.3. Understand that food produced for consumption is not the same as food produced forphotography.You dont need to be a food stylist, but you do need to understand the processes and methods thatgo into food styling. One of the best ways to learn this and to understand it better is to carry acamera with you and for one week. Shoot everything you eat just before you eat it. Youll quicklyunderstand how much work needs to go into manipulating and styling food for photography.To learn about a recent food shoot and a quick description of our workflow view this video.4. Understand what creates an emotional response in your audience.Pay attention to how you and others around you react at a great meal. Find what sets off theiremotional and biological responses and incorporate those triggers into your work. This can be verychallenging. When were at the table we eat with all of our senses. The aroma and feel of food inyour mouth can be just as exciting as the flavor itself. Of course with photography youve only got atwo dimensional visual representation so weve got to work extra hard to make those visual cuesstand out. Get close to the food, use all of the visual tricks up your sleeve like selective focus, hardlight, chiaroscuro and contrasting colors.5. Understand what others have done before you and how you react to their work.Look at the work of other photographers and artists who do the type of work you enjoy. Study theirwork and find out why you like it. Incorporate those aspects into your work.Finally, understand that, like all lifelong pursuits, its a process. One great thing about foodphotography is that you can work on it at your own pace. You dont have to arrange models andlocations and wardrobe, just go to the store, buy food and shoot it. Remember Thomas Edison,Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. So go shoot something Food Photography An Introduction 3. Visit any bookshop and head for the cook book section and youll be overwhelmed by the array ofbooks filled with scrumptious recipes accompanied by wonderful photography of the meals beingwritten about.Colorful stacks of vegetables drizzled with rich sauces on a clean white plate with glistening tablesettings you know the shots. Sometimes the photography is almost the true focus of the book withthe recipes taking a secondary role.But how do you photograph food and get such great results?1. LightingTreat the food youre photographing as you would any other still life subject and ensure that it iswell lit. Many of the poor examples of food photography that Ive come across in the research forthis article could have been drastically improved with adequate lighting. One of the best places tophotograph food is by a window where there is plenty of natural light perhaps supported withflash bounced off a ceiling or wall to give more balanced lighting that cuts out the shadows. Thisdaylight helps to keep the food looking much more natural.2. PropsPay attention not only to the arrangement of the food itself but to the context that you put it inincluding the plate or bowl and any table settings around it. Dont clutter the photo with a full tablesetting but consider one or two extra elements such as a glass, fork, flower or napkin. Theseelements can often be placed in secondary positions in the foreground or background of your shot.3. Be QuickFood doesnt keep its appetizing looks for long so as a photographer youll need to be well preparedand able to shoot quickly after its been cooked before it melts, collapses, wilts and/or changescolor. This means being prepared and knowing what you want to achieve before the food arrives.One strategy that some use is to have the shot completely set up with props before the food is readyand then to substitute a stand-in plate to get your exposure right. Then when the food is ready youjust switch the stand-in plate with the real thing and youre ready to start shooting. 4. 4. Style itThe way food is set out on the plate is as important as the way you photograph it. Pay attention tothe balance of food in a shot (color, shapes etc) and leave a way into the shot (using leading linesand the rule of thirds to help guide your viewers eye into the dish). One of the best ways to learn isto get some cook books to see how the pros do it.5. Enhance itOne tip that a photographer gave me last week when I said I was writing this was to have somevegetable oil on hand and to brush it over food to make it glisten in your shots.6. Get Down LowA mistake that many beginner food photographers make is taking shots that look down on a platefrom directly above. While this can work in some circumstances in most cases youll get a morebetter shot by shooting from down close to plate level (or slightly above it).7. MacroReally focusing in upon just one part of the dish can be an effective way of highlighting the differentelements of it.8. SteamHaving steam rising off your food can give it a just cooked feel which some food photographers like.Of course this can be difficult to achieve naturally. I spoke with one food stylist a few years back whotold me that they added steam with a number of artificial strategies including microwaving water 5. soaked cotton balls and placing them behind food. This is probably a little advance for most of us however it was an interesting trick so I thought Id include it.Styling Your Food for PhotographyIve never had the luxury of working with a food stylist; if you arent well-known, you will most likelytake on this role yourself. While I lack the massive collection of props that a professional stylistwould own, I do have at my disposal some place settings, backgrounds, and typically some degree ofcontrol over how food is presented. I dont tend to use stand-ins or other tricks to get the resultsthat I want, but remember that those are available if you need them. Whether I am at home or outshooting at restaurants, I am always challenged to use my on-hand supplies and creativity to createthe right mood and draw the viewer in without distracting them. Getting started in styling food isnot as difficult as you might think: Place solid or simple patterned papers (available at a scrapbooking store) as a background.Figure out what works and does not work in terms of contrast and similarity. Also, make surethat you have enough paper to completely cover the entire field of view. Experiment with incorporating serving pieces, whole place settings, napkins, placemats, andtablecloths. Set the table with silverware, drinks, and even candles to convey the rightmood. If youre budget-conscious, you can always find these items at thrift and resale stores,flea markets, and garage sales. If you have multiple food subjects available to you (like two dozen cupcakes from which tochoose), use only the best examples. A blemish can easily ruin an entire photoshoot. Mist fruit, vegetables, and glassware with water to create condensation and make them lookmore appetizing. Shiny food appeals more than dull food, and anything you can do to makeyour food shine will make a more interesting photo. Incorporate elements from the food youre shooting or place appropriate condiments in theframe. Slice cucumbers thinly and place them on top of yogurt soup to lend it somefreshness. Accompany Thai food with small bowls of sugar, chili, fish sauce, and fresh limes.Some ideas will work, and some wont. 6. Food Photography CompositionMy natural inclination when I startedphotographing food was to anchor myselfsomewhere, pick one zoom length for the entireshoot, center the food in the frame, and lookdown on it at a 45-degree angle after all, thisis how food appeared when I sat down to eatdinner. What I realized is that it didnt make forinteresting photos. Better shots play with anglesand perspective: Zoom with both your lens and yourfeet to put the food in its place.Whether you are using a prime lens or azoom lens, you can always get in closeto magnify a detail of the food or loosenthe shot up to show the food as acomponent of a l