Food is an incredibly stimulating subject to photograph. Think about the last menu you looked at that had images and how those pictures influenced you in your choice. The truth is, we eat with our eyes before we eat with our stomach. It is important to keep the basic precepts in mind, with food photography being much like any other area of photography whereby the images should tell a story and be composed according to the same rules relating to composition, lighting and colour.
The following tips should help as a guide to help you achieve great results.
Getting lighting right
Where possible, make the most of available natural light as this is typically the most flattering for any subject. Find a bright space to work in, perhaps near a large window. Direct sunlight is not ideal, as it will produce harsh shadows. Instead, use a diffuser to spread the light more evenly and therefore avoid this problem. If you are opting to add light, use daylight-balanced flashes or strobes to closely replicate natural light, ideally set at 5000K.
Preparing the dish
Professionals will use food stylists to get the perfect images, but there is no reason you can’t achieve similar results on your own. In general, you want every element to be brightly coloured and carefully placed for the greatest aesthetic impact. For the most part the food items should be positioned neatly, though in certain cases, like a family feast, a more ‘messy’ look with used cutlery, drips of sauce and sprinkled pastry crumbs may be appropriate.
Keep food items fresh and plates clean. Give cutlery and plates a good wipe before shooting. Fingermarks may go unnoticed during shooting but can show up to spoil your image. Garnishes should look freshly picked – they should not be wilting, whilst sauces should have a nice gloss. If shooting over an extended period of time, replace items that have lost their colour or shape and re-plate if sauces have run.
Focus on details like char-grill marks on meat and surround the main subject with items that have a complimentary colour to add a little creative flair.
Selecting your angles and focus points
Test and compare various perspectives, angles and focus points to see what works best. Shooting from a 30-45° angle is a good rule of thumb for food photography but capturing the shot from a birds-eye view or at plate level can sometimes provide more interesting results. You can even try angling the plate by propping it up slightly, but be careful not to lose your subject!
Consider what depth of field will have the strongest impact for the image you are trying to create. Keep in mind that the available light will affect your aperture and ISO settings, which will again affect your depth of field. Shoot in RAW where possible to afford yourself the most flexibility when editing images later.
A shallow depth of field will create drama. Keeping the focal point toward the front of the image will create a wonderful fading blur into the background. A very wide-angle lens will have an extremely close minimum focus distance and make the food in the foreground appear enormous.
Avoid cropping. Try to frame the image you shoot exactly as you would like the end product to be so that you don’t have to sacrifice image quality or composition at the editing stage.
Finally, experiment, modify, experiment more and continue repeating the cycle until you have that perfect shot!