Just look around any restaurant, or even street food area, and witness the number of people taking a snap of their recently-arrived food. The growth of decent cameras on phones has turned everyone into photographers, and social media has given them a platform to show them on.
If you are one of the throng who insist on photographing their food, at least give it the consideration it deserves, and take a good photo. And if you are unsure as to how to do that, just read on...
Food photography is one of those subjects in which it looks difficult to make the fare look fantastic, but is actually fairly easy to achieve. We see sumptuous food shots all over the place now. We have cookery books and pamphlets, websites, and even exhibitions everywhere, presenting highly detailed images of the best-looking food. Eye-catching pictures grab our attention and draw us into them. When looking at these, it’s easy to believe that they have been taken with expensive equipment, however the truth is that with a little skill, a few tips, and not a great amount of equipment, you too can produce these awe-inspiring photographs too.
If you are planning on photographing food for any reason at all, perhaps for your website, or even for a book, the thought that you may have to hire a professional to take photos for you may be daunting. However, you need not fear, as you can create you own high quality pictures with quite simple equipment and just a little thought.
Get the Freshest Looking Food
There are many different aspects to photographing food, all of which are important in their own way, but one of the most fundamental is picking the best and freshest ingredients that you can. If you are starting out with limp and tired looking produce, then it doesn’t matter how good your photography skills—or the level of your equipment—are, you will still end up with poor-looking images. As with any photography, if you start with less than good subject matter, no amount of skill will make it better.
With food, much of it is intended to be fresh-looking, and it needs to be so for the best photos. If you are concentrating on fruits and vegetables, as many books and websites do, then if you have anything that is less than fresh, high-resolution photos will magnify their limpness and lack of colour. You need vibrant and crunchy-looking items to get the most out of your photos, rather than wrinkled and grey produce that will make your final photos look equally tired.
Using the Right Equipment
While, as we have already said, you can take some truly excellent photos using fairly run of the mill equipment, it still has to have suitable specifications. Indeed, many of today's range of mobile phones have suitably good lenses and chips to be able to take excellent photos. Today’s digital cameras—including those used in mobile phones—use Charged Capacitive Device (CCD) chips to capture images, and these are key to the standard of photo you can get. The CCD chip will determine the resolution of the photo, and ultimately, how sharp your picture looks.
Whether using a phone, a tablet computer, or a digital camera, you will need to have a camera capable of achieving at least megapixels resolution. Though plainly, the larger you make the print from those images, the higher resolution you will need to make them look good.
Lighting Is Everything
Now, with your actual equipment sorted out, you need to turn your attention to the actual area, and way in which you take the photos—and the conditions. The most important of these is the lighting, since how you illuminate your subject will have a huge impact on what you finally get as a picture. There are five fundamentals that you need to consider with lighting:
- You need glow rather than direct sources. Choose an area near a window—and then preferably North facing (or South facing if you are in the Southern hemisphere)—so that you don’t have direct sunlight falling on the food. Also, pick your time of day to make the most of lowering sunlight. An evening type meal looks great offset by a setting sun.
- Use filters to take the edge off the light. You can use a number of different filters on a phone to get all sorts of artistic effects.
- Reflect. You can take advantage of strong sources of light by bouncing them off semi-reflective surfaces to produce variations of light and shadow. This can be used to highlight certain parts of your food picture, and draw attention to specific parts of it.
- Turn off the flash. Any camera_or phone—with an integral flash will produce harsh, unnatural-looking light. The notion of the flash is to fully illuminate an area, and while that may work in some instances, definitely isn’t good for subtle photography. If you can disable the flash, do so, but if you can’t, cover it up.
Experiment with light before you come to taking the photos and you will soon find some novel ways of getting the right levels—and directions—of light on your subject.
The Big Set Up
If you hope to just set your plate of food down, throw a bit of light on the subject and snap away, and still get fantastic shots, then you will be disappointed. Even when you have your camera sorted out, and have finalised your lighting, you still have a fair bit of work to do to get the right shots. You will have to consider a number of factors when getting that great shot. These include;
- Keeping the shot simple. While you may want to show a number of different products in your shot, you need to be aware of overcrowding. You should be focusing on something in particular—a few fruits, a selection of vegetables, a bowl of soup, or a roast dinner. If you start to add more elements, you create clutter, and detract from the central image that you are trying to convey. Try not to have clashing colours, and be aware of shapes. Similar shapes work best together, but variables of them—say onions with carrots—also work well.
- Be aware of colour. Some foods are dull and will sap light. Brown soup will always look, well, brown, so you need to add other, bolder colours to offset the drabness of the main image. Add a slice of buttered toast with the butter melting to add deliciousness. Put the soup in a colourful bowl, or add other elements like red, green or orange vegetables nearby to counter the brown soup.
- Pay attention to the colour wheel. Look for complimentary colours that draw the viewer in and show off other colours in the best light. With the colour wheel, opposite colours match, so red compliments green, yellow compliments purple, and blue compliments orange. Use these and other combinations to make the best of your colours.
- Make it look natural. Consider how you set up your photo. A plate of food always looks better if it is at a set place on a table, rather than just sitting in plain surrounding. Make a real scene of your shot with a drink, condiments, and a nice backdrop to really pull the viewer in. In addition, you can use raw props—some of the ingredients in your meal—spread around to show how natural your dish is.
- Have more than one shot. Having a variety of shots from different angles will give you something to choose.
- Keep it clean. Dishes and cutlery with splashes and food marks detract from the overall image, so mop up any spills and odd-looking shapes from the plate or bowl.
- Add a human element. Food shots always look better if you show at least a piece of someone in it too. Having a hand with a spoon or fork in the shot brings it to life, and gives the impression that someone is enjoying it.
- Make it look succulent. If you have a burger in a bun with some salad, make sure that you add your glass of a fizzy drink or a beer (depending upon your audience) to make it actually look like a meal, rather than just a dish. This is a classic way of making a simple picture of food look ready to eat and delicious.
Food photography looks hard, but actually isn’t if you follow a few simple rules, and take your time to work out what you actually want to photograph. Add in other elements, light sources and strengths, complimentary colours, and concocting a natural-looking environment, and you will soon be an expert at creating great food shots.
Now eat it, before it gets cold!!!