There’s an Art to Great Food Photography
Despite what you’ve heard, food photographers do not have an eating problem. They do have a much bigger challenge – bringing food and drink to life long after the dishes have been washed and put away.
At the Kinetic Agency, we know that food photography capturing the freshness of the salad, the deliciousness of the casserole, the warmth of the coffee, and the decadence of the dessert takes diligent preparation and exceptional skills. Below, we offer some tips to help you make your food photos as tasty as can be.
NATURAL LIGHT IS THE BEST
Natural, indirect daylight creates wonderful photos. The light falls evenly on your subject, producing an image free from the orange or yellow tint that artificial, indoor lighting can cast. We’re not talking bright sunlight, which will be too harsh and introduce shadows and erase details in your whites and lighter colors. For much the same reason, flash photography should be carefully employed.
If you are shooting in a coffee shop, take over a window table or a conference room that offers soft, diffused natural light. The same applies if you must shoot at your workplace or your home. Find that magic window. Is the sunlight a little too bright? Find a white curtain to diffuse those natural rays. Remember to expose for the highlights to see some detail in the brightest areas of the scene.
Cloudy days are wonderful. Mother Nature’s giant diffuser is at work illuminating the area with soft light, creating subtle shadows and introducing depth. Sometimes harsh shadows will work for you to create unusual shapes. You can use a reflector, bounce card for a flash unit, or white posterboard to reflect light back onto your subject to fill shadows.
SEE THE PATTERNS
Look for the interesting light-and-shadow patterns in your subject. Shifting the plate, cup or display will reveal new patterns. Find the placement that works best to highlight your subject. Following the rule of thirds, your subject should be offset from the centerline, a positioning that will draw more attention.
Shooting against a neutral background works best for most food assignments. The food is the star, so keep the background colors and patterns subdued and complementary. Shooting products on wooden surfaces, tablecloths, solid dark tabletops, stone slabs can produce great results.
You’ll want to work the angles. Shoot from straight above? From a 45-degree angle? At eye level? See what works best. Overhead shots can reveal lots of details of the food and your background. Remember, different angles can provide engaging perspectives, but some may introduce unwanted background noise.
COLORS, CROPS AND CUPS
Capture tight shots, detail shots, wide shots, and bird’s-eye view shots. As your campaign comes together, the variety of options will serve you well. Explore leaving some empty negative space that may add some interest to the overall photo.
Accessorize with care. Plates. Glasses. Cups. Utensils. Garnishes. Small plates work well, but be careful with dishes with patterns and bright colors. Garnishes can be the cherry on top – or a big distraction.
Complementary colors can create a harmonious scene. Contrasting colors may excite the viewers’ senses. Try lots of combinations. Experiment. Let your photo instincts (and little bit of emotion) be your guide.
RIGHT EQUIPMENT? CHECK!
Earlier, we mentioned the need for reflector or white posterboard to reflect light back onto your subject to bring detail to the shadows and dark surfaces. If you need more daylight, you can add tabletop fluorescent lights to your efforts or larger studio lights with a softbox hood to cast light as if it was coming from a big old picture window. A tripod is essential to keep your camera completely still. This is no time for slight blurring. Get a solid one that adjusts easily to the positions you’ll explore.
Needless to say, a quality camera is an important tool and must be a strong performer in automatic and manual mode. Equally important is your glass. You’ll want full-frame lenses on hand to maximize your options for setting your aperture, shutter speed, depth of field and white balance. In your editing process, you can lighten or darken images and make a host of adjustments, particularly if you shoot in the RAW format, which gives you greater power over editing your photo.