Recipe for Food Photography
April 12, 2010
The internet is flooded with food photography. What was once a niche for only professionals, food photography has turned into a hobby for foodies and amateur photographers alike. I’m dedicating this post to all the bloggers who devotedly photograph food, but end up feeling like the real thing looked better than the photograph.
I don’t want to build to high of expectations; after reading this post you will not become certified food photographers, but you will be able to come out with some tips and you’ll definitely be able to improve (if even slightly) your photographs.
1 camera (preferably SLR)
1 macro lens
2-3 light reflectors, sliver and gold
1 (or more) windows
- The most important thing is that food photography needs natural light (or studio flash’s if you are really intent on investing). I know that alot of people prepare food in the evening and really want to photograph it with the camera’s flash, but I’m sorry- I don’t have a solution to the lack of light. A typical camera’s flash will produce a photograph which does not stimulate the taste buds. So try to make time to prepare your subject (food in this case) during the day. Natural light doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to shoot only on sunny days. If you have a tripod, shooting on a winter’s day will work just fine.
- That brings me to the second step- the tripod. It’s very hard to properly photograph close-up shots without a tripod; most likely your photos will turn out blurry if you aren’t using one. The tripod enables several things, one of which is that you can shoot even on a gloomy day. When the camera is set on a tripod, you can photograph at very low speeds, allowing more light to enter the frame. Don’t be scared to photograph even on 2 seconds, as long as the food is not moving it will turn out great. It’s important to remember to work with the timer button, because the second you touch the camera’s shoot button, you will make the camera shake. The second thing that a tripod enables is composition work. If the camera is mounted on something stable, you have all the time in the world to arrange the frame exactly how you want it.
- The use of a macro lens is not mandatory but if you aren’t using one you are limited in your capability to get close to the subject. Pay attention to your lens’s limits and when the photograph is not in focus- you will know that you crossed the limit. I highly suggest to anyone who photographs food on a regular basis to invest in a good lens, because it is the most important tool for a photographer, even more than the camera body. I can tell you that I use a 90mm Tamron lens. Tamron has a large selection of lenses varying in quality (they also have really bad ones). The one I use is really great; I’ve been using it for several years and every time I enhance a frame to 100% on the computer screen, I learn to appreciate it even more.
- Now we’ve gotten to the most critical part- if you are able to crack the lighting issue, your photographs will jump to the next level! Find yourselves a spot at home next to a large window which doesn’t have direct penetration of sunlight. You can also use a glass door with sun exposure. Set your camera up so that the light comes from the side of the camera (in the first stage it’s better that the light is not frontal). Before you start shooting, go to a craft store and buy a foam board and silver and gold paper and make homemade light reflectors by gluing the paper to the foam boards. The reflectors work in a very obvious way-the angle of hit equals the angle of return. What does that mean? You need to place the reflector in the angle to where it hits the light and it will instantly return the light into your frame. The more you work with the reflectors, the more you will notice that each angle will reflect different amounts of light and provides different effects.
After all of these instructions, here are several tips which will help during the process:
- Imagine the frame you want to shoot in your head that way it will be easier to get to what you had in mind, and besides, it’s always good to have inspiration.
- Look at your subject- color, shape, the story behind it (what world does it belong to- sweet/savory, night/morning, hot/cold). That will help you make decisions about the styling.
- Arrange your set and look at it through the camera’s viewfinder before you set up the tripod. Move around the subject and see which angle it looks at its best.
- Choose the angle you are going to shoot from and attach the camera to the tripod.
- Now for composition- look through the viewfinder, because it looks very different otherwise.
- Manually focus your lens- don’t let the camera do it for you.
- Set up the reflectors- after you’ve tried several options, you’ll find the right angle.
- Choose an aperture setting- the smaller the number the more out of focus in the background- that’s the general rule.
- Set the timer.
- Check the image on your computer to see the results, and if there need to be adjustments.
I know there are a lot of steps, but if you follow these instructions I’m sure that the recipe will come out just right!
Oh, last thing, If you really want to put effort into your photography I suggest finding references that you like (professional photos) and try to copy them, like in art class. It will always teach you a thing or two.
Good luck- I’m always happy to answer any questions you may have.