I love food.
I love to eat food and I love to photograph it. Many of our traditions involve food: homemade apple pie on Thanksgiving, hot dogs and beer for the 4th of July, cupcakes during birthday parties, and fresh grilled burgers when camping. Photographing the meals you eat can bring the memories of an occasion flooding back, so don’t forget to capture them along with all the smiling faces and silly antics from a day or event.
1. Start With the Prep
Food photography isn’t just about the finished product. There are many times that just watching someone cook is enough to make my mouth water and my stomach rumble. Whether you get in close or scoot back to get the entire picture, use the visual senses to stimulate the viewer’s other senses. Can you hear the sizzle? Smell the grill? Feel the warm summer sun? Taste those charcoal kissed veggies?
2. Get Up Close
When you step back to get an overall image there are times that you can miss certain elements. Depending on the food, it may be better to move in close to initiate the senses. Moving in close will allow you to show off the texture of the food. In the image below, can you see where the cold ice cream meets the hot brownie and starts to melt? Yum.
3. Keep It Real
It’s fun to use a vintage technique, sepia, etc. when processing portraits but when it comes to food photography it’s best to keep the colors true to life. There’s no quicker way to turn your viewer’s appetite than to show them a meal with poor, desaturated colors or glowing neon colors. Keep the colors alive and real and you’re sure to draw them in.
4. Keep It Simple
There are many textures and colors present in foods and it’s best not to distract from an item with busy surroundings so you avoid drawing away your viewer’s attention. Keep it simple and clean so that the focus stays where you intend.
5. It’s All About the Light
It’s very important to find good light when photographing food. Inefficient lighting, or the typical artificial kitchen lights, will not result in the best colors and will give you poor white balance to struggle with in post processing. For the following image, I placed the plate on the kitchen table about 3 feet from a large window. The sun is over the house so the light coming in is directional but softer without harsh shadows.
6. Shoot the Clean Up
Just because the food has all been gobbled up doesn’t mean you have to set the camera aside. There are always great photography opportunities after the main event is over. Tell the full story of your meal and photograph the kids helping to clear the table, licking the bowl etc. Capture the joy (yes, I said joy) that comes from scrubbing the dishes, and sometimes, you can find beauty in an empty, ready to be cleaned dish.
7. Freeze the Mess
No, we’re not talking about leftovers here! While I consider it to be inappropriate to photograph an adult shoveling food into or falling from their mouth, there’s nothing cuter than a happy baby once they’re finished with a favorite. Make sure and grab those images while they’re young!
April Nienhuis, Oklahoma
Director of Online Media | CMU Instructor
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Lover of thunderstorms and despiser of socks, April lives in rural Oklahoma with her firefighter/EMT husband and their 3 homeschooled kids. For CMU, she teaches the Exploring Creative Photography workshop, showing others about her love for unique perspectives, exposures, and compositions and not tying yourself down to one style.