1. Find the light
Just like photographing people, lighting is a key component for food photography. You do not need a fancy light set up either, natural light will be great. With food photography you can use the light to set the mood and enhance the food. The right lighting will make your food pop off the screen in a way that has people running for their kitchens to cook. It is important to have accurate white balance when photographing food in order to have it look tasty. White balance can be tricky if you are shooting in the kitchen with indoor florescent lights so it can be helpful to use custom white balance (I use either the kelvin settings or my Photovision target to set my white balance when photographing food). For this image of the artichoke I saw the light streaming in through the window first, then placed the plate down in the spot where the light was shining. This turned out to be a different image than I originally planned but I used the lighting to my advantage.
2. Use props to help set the scene
You do not need to spend a ton of money or get really elaborate with props but they can help set the mood and the scene with food photography. Do you want to set the stage for an afternoon tea while photographing cookies? Try using an antique plate, napkin, and silverware. Do you want to show what dinnertime looks like with the kids? Try using fun, colorful plates and napkins. I have used my everyday dishes for many of my food shots (see the artichoke above) while adding in some fun touches like colored cloth napkins. For these grilling images I wanted to show what it would be like to actually be cooking and eating outside on a summer day (which is actually what we were doing!) so I used a light colored tray and dishes to help set the scene.
3. Set the scene before you add in the food
When I am photographing food I am usually photographing the food that my family is going to be eating. This often means that my husband and son are standing there waiting for me to get the shot before they sit down at the table! If I plan ahead then I can set up the table before the food is ready where I want to shoot it, add the food when it is cooked, shoot, and still eat it while it is hot. For this veggie burger shot, I knew I wanted a rustic feel so I had the cutting board and brown paper already there. I set my white balance, ISO, aperture and shutter speed before I even sat the burger down to help me get the shot quickly. When the burger was in place I just made the needed adjustments which were much easier since I had planned ahead.
4. Use items to help add to the composition of the image
Composition is just as important with food photography as it is with any other kind of photography. You want the subject (food) to clearly be the star but you are also telling a story with the food and trying to draw the viewer into your image. Here is an example of where I could have added in another item to help round out the composition.
I like the colors and the focus on the food but if I had added in a tall glass of something to drink in the background then it would have added some height to the image making a triangle with the composition therefore making it a more pleasing image. There is always next time, right?
5. Don’t be shy & take your camera out with you
This one can be tricky because you don’t want to annoy other guests or the people you are dining with but it can be really fun to shoot while you are out to eat. The food is already cooked and styled for you. This isn’t really the time to move items around or take a large number of shots (be sure to be aware of any special limitations the restaurant may have against photography). When I want to shoot while I am out to eat, I will typically pull out the camera, adjust my settings including white balance, then take one or two quick shots. Sometimes when I am out to eat with the family or at a crowded restaurant I don’t want to take the time to pull out my DSLR. In these cases I will use one of the many wonderful camera apps that are available on my iPhone. There are even phone apps available that are geared toward food photography like Evernote Food and Foodspotting. It can be quicker to use your phone camera plus these type of apps have the advantage of allowing you to keep track of the restaurant name and additional information like what you thought of your meal.
6. Shoot the process
It can be a great storytelling experience to shoot the cooking process as well as the end result. I tend to do this most often when my son is helping me in the kitchen. It is fun to capture him enjoying cooking. Plus, if he is helping, then I have a little bit more time to shoot the story. The images may not stand up alone as a portfolio image but they will tell a great story when shown together! Photograph the ingredients before you start (maybe even include the recipe or cookbook in the shot too), a few of the actual steps, then photograph the final product. I will snap a few of the people enjoying the food too when they let me!
Most importantly, have fun when you are cooking and photographing your food. Take your time to set up your shot (it can be nice to photograph something that won’t move and doesn’t need to be chased) then be sure to share your results in the food section of the Clickin Moms photography forum!