BY TIM JONES, SENIOR PHOTOGRAPHER
Food photography is arguably one of the most challenging types of photography out there. Like painting, you start with a blank canvas and build. Everything in the photo is a decision.
Starting out is frustrating, I know. Once you reach technical proficiency with the camera, what’s next? How do you improve your food photography beyond the basics? You work on the story. Whether it's a brace of pheasants fresh from the shoot, or a homemade roast chicken, like all photography, you’re telling stories. Some shoots are more complicated stories than others, and it may sound like a lot of work, but it’s really not. Here are five quick tips you can use to seriously improve your food photography and tell better stories.
1. One Light
With food photography, making the food the star is usually a matter of carefully selecting a single, large, diffused light source. Before you check out Amazon in search of the biggest soft box you can find, nine times out of ten a simple window will be all you need to create beautifully diffused back or side light. We want lighting to be as natural as possible, that’s one of the reasons window light works so well. It also means, though, that there are going to be naturally occurring shadows. If you feel they need to be softened, or that some fill is necessary, use a bounce card.
2. It's All About the Lighting
The best light for food photography is the light your audience won’t even notice when they look at the shot. Backlight is key to making the food look appetising and lighting from the back or side will create dimensions and highlight the textures within the food. Backlighting will also allow any steam to show up in the image as steam will show up most prominently when lit from behind.
3. Less is More
Food photography is definitely one of those genres where less is more. Take out the stuff you don’t need. Take out things on the table that are distracting. If the food once cooked is unattractive, only show a portion of it. Fish heads are not all that visually stimulating so you could get creative with props and cropping.
With all these props and ingredients in the frame, how will we ever get the audience to look at our subject? Well, bring on the trusty techniques of composing with lines and layers. You can use props or ingredients to create lines and layered effects in your images. This is a compositional technique used by photographers to lead their audience’s eye to the main subject. You can use various props to create lines, even something as simple as a napkin and cutlery can lead the viewer straight to the focal point.
5. Never Touch the Stylist's Food
Don’t learn this one the hard way. You take your job seriously and so do they. Once the food hits the plate it’s off-limits to you. Turn the plate if you want to but if something needs to be moved or added, it's best to ask your stylist to do it. They’ve been hired for the same reason you have – they’re talented and they know what they’re doing. They’re not reaching for a camera, so you don’t reach for the food.