One of the most photographed subjects of all time - next to fashion models, kids, animals and landscapes - is food. Seeing people snap pictures of their food at restaurants is just an indicator that this phenomenon is not going anywhere. Professional food photographers are always looking for ways to make dishes look more appetizing and interesting. It might seem simple, but there’s actually quite a lot that goes into it. If all the elements aren’t right, a decorated chef’s meticulously crafted masterpiece of a dish can end up looking lackluster or unappetizing, ultimately tanking all the chef’s hard work, no thanks to a bad photo. There are many precise techniques that top food photographers use to create that mouthwatering end result of a great food photo. When you put certain tricks and methods into play, you don’t need an expertly plated dish as a subject; you can be shooting a simple fruit or vegetable and still make your audience’s mouth water. Here are a few hacks; tried and true methods that top food photographers do to ensure their food photography ends up looking absolutely gorgeous and tantalizing:
Food Photography Lighting Tips
Go Natural: When it comes to food photography, it’s really simple: natural light is best. Just completely avoid any kind of artificial light, flash and run miles away, as fast as you can, from traditional fluorescent light or ugly, orangey, tungsten light. It will create harsh, uncontrollable shadows, make your image look flat and give it a greenish tinge - (or, an orange tinge, with the tungsten.). At best, it will make your food look uninteresting; at worst, traditional fluorescent light just serves to make wonderful, fresh food look like it’s seconds away from going rancid. Stick to natural light, whenever possible use a north facing studio so the light remains consistent throughout the day , when showcasing food.
Hit a Photography Studio: Heading to a professional photography studio or loft is a great way to ensure an environment that has plenty of natural light as well as a controlled environment. Daylight Studio in Manhattan, for example, offers many professional photography studio suites and lofts that have huge windows, letting beautiful daylight filter in. It has plenty of white canvas space as well, which is great for a fresh, naturally lit photo for food. Plan for a white photo studio rental ahead of time to secure the most controlled, ideal environment for your professional food photography photo session.
Artificial Lights - If You Must: If you are forced to shoot at night or need to use artificial lighting for some reason, there are ways to fake the daylight using a construction light, translucent and heat resistant white paper or light diffuser, backing paper, a reflector, and a daylight balanced LED bulb. This is much different than traditional fluorescent which again, is a no no.
Manipulate the Light: You’ll want to place a diffuser between the main light source and the subject to soften harsh shadows. It gives the subject a softer look with more evenly spread light, softer shadows and less to non-existent contrast. This also allows for details in the food to show up more and softens those bright highlights that are caused by direct sunlight.
The viewer’s eye is usually always attracted to the brightest thing in the photo and if background items are being lit up to much, they could end up competing for the attention and taking from your photo. If you’re going for a slightly darker, ore low-key image - or if natural light is falling a bit too much on the background or surroundings, you can use a black card to stop it from doing so.
When finding your settings, be sure to expose for highlights. Something that happens a lot in food photography is the brightest parts of the photo being washed or blown out; make sure you can capture the detail in the brightest parts of the photo. Bringing some of the detail back into the darker parts of the photo is always easier than bringing back details in a blown out, overly exposed area.
Food Photography Angle Tips
Where you shoot your food subjects from is another super important aspect to capturing great shots. With food, there really isn’t a lot of variety in angles and there’s really just 3 main angles that work the best. The first is aerial, the second is from the side, and the third is diagonal, so that you can see a bit of the top of the dish or food and a bit of the side. Aerial pretty much works for everything, since food goes on flat surfaces. Things like soups, açai bowls, oatmeal bowls and rice bowls look great from above and lend themselves to being photographed with a nice design. Pastries, cakes, cupcakes and burgers and things that have layers can look good from the side or diagonally. Drinks/cocktails tend to look good diagonally or from the side as well.
Food Photography Composition Tips
Composition is the next biggest thing that helps great food photography look so spectacular. First of all, you’ll want to choose a neutral background that doesn’t take the attention away from the food. Solid colored dishes or display mounts work best. Many great food photos use props or display items to help the star of the photo shine. Prepare things like display dishes, silverware, or cookware ahead of time and bring them with you on the shoot.
Next, keep in mind your photo is telling a story and you should look at the dish or food item you are photographing and pull the story out of it. Props can help with this. Choosing a direction for your photo will help dictate what types of props will make sense. For example, if you’re going with a rustic, fall feel for a cozy, autumn dish like pumpkin bread or butternut squash soup, a wood slice or wooden spoon will make for a great display props. Other props you can use include using elements that are used in the dish’s recipe. For example, if something was made with pomegranate or orange, taking a chunk of the open fruit and spreading some pomegranate seeds around or orange peels around the main item can help set the flavor profile for your audience and add a beautiful pop of color to the photo. Besides kitchen items and other types of food, you can also decorate using elements found in nature that lend themselves to setting the season. Again, if it’s an autumnal tone, you can use things like fall leaves, seasonal flowers like marigolds, acorns, pinecones, etc. If it’s a lighter, spring or summer feel, try using colorful edible flowers or light herbs like dill or fennel as a garnish and surrounding prop. Other mood setting items can be household items that would appear next to your food item in real life - for example, if it’s a coffee cake or dessert / pastry you’re photographing, try posing it next to a book and a cup of coffee, perhaps sitting next to a soft scarf, sweater or rug. This sets the scene of a comfortable stay-at-home moment and helps the audience imagine what the flavors and feels of your subject are.
Keep these basic tips and tricks in mind next time you’re planning to do a food photoshoot and watch how your food ends up looking like it came straight from the pages of a celebrated food magazine or like your favorite homemaker influencer’s latest post.