Home How-To Tip Of The Week Food Photography In Five Easy Steps—08/30/10
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Monday, August 30, 2010

Food Photography In Five Easy Steps—08/30/10

Simple tips for fantastic food shots

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Food photography is difficult. Not only do you have the normal photographic challenges such as lighting and composition, you also have the added difficulties that come with preparing food and making it look appetizing. When stomachs are involved, the bar is considerably higher for good photos, so utilize these five key tips to help you get started.

1. Recruit a skilled chef, food stylist or someone who really knows how to cook. More importantly, you need someone with the skills to make food look good. For commercial assignments this usually means hiring a stylist with food experience. Stylists know how to prepare food so that it looks its best, rather than a chef whose primary expertise is based on how food tastes. Sure, chefs want their food to look good too, but a trained stylist knows all the secrets—like using Alka Seltzer to create bubbles in drinks, or creating grill marks with a metal skewer and blowtorch. Even if you’re a great chef you’ll have your hands full with the photography alone. Bringing in some skilled helping hands will likely pay off more than anything else you do.

2. Prepare the lighting before you prepare the food. Yes, you’ll have tweaks and changes to make once the hero has arrived on set, but until then you should use a stand-in to prelight the scene. No matter whether you’re using hot lights, natural light or studio strobes, having the scene ready to go and then dropping in the food is a much better approach than preparing the food and watching it wilt as you get everything else set. Even food that appears relatively stable will tend to collapse as it sits, so don’t make it wait.

3. Brush the food with oil. There’s no single solution for making food glisten and look healthy and appetizing, but it’s amazing how many dishes look better when brushed with a bit of olive oil. From grilled meats to fresh vegetables and salads, a thin glaze of oil helps add a little bit of sparkle that works wonders. I think of it like as a catchlight in the eyes of a portrait; it’s amazing how much about health and vitality that little highlight can communicate. The same is true with food. (A lot of food photographers even add a kicker light to help with this—a specular source that adds just enough highlight to bring the subject to life.)

4. Make more than you need. When I shoot food for clients they never bring enough. Not just because I’m hungry, but because our job is to make the food look perfect. If you’re photographing a single chicken breast, prepare six. If you’re photographing a bottled beverage, bring a dozen. Ultimately you’ll want to choose the absolute best subject. Whatever food you’re photographing, prepare a lot more than you think you’ll need so that you’ve got more chances to make it perfect. And because food can fade so quickly in front of the camera, replacing with a fresh subject works wonders in the long run.

5. Keep it simple, bright and natural. If you’re in doubt about the scenario in which you want to shoot your food, trust that less is often more. Move in close with a macro lens to fill the frame with the food. Or for wider shots, a white-on-white approach almost always works. White linens and white dishes add to the fresh, clean feel of practically any type of food. To further simplify both the look and your technical approach, try window light as the primary illumination. Especially when it’s positioned behind or to the side of the subject, window light is both soft enough to flatter and positioned raking enough to showcase texture. Window light almost always makes for an appetizing, natural feel, and working with existing window light is much easier than trying to recreate the same thing in the studio. In the end, the less time you’re fiddling with your lights the more time you’ve got to focus on the food. And trust me, it will show in the finished photographs.


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