Food Photography like a Pro
Follow our simple guide if you want to photograph food like a pro. These food photography tips will help make the process of photographing food easier.
We were commissioned by Divine Cuisine Caterers for a food photography shoot of the Caribbean food they specialise in. Although they had been in business for a while they had not had professional images of their food.
Why are professional images important?
Why are professional images of your product important? Think about when you are shopping online, imagine you know nothing about a product except what you see online. What convinces you to buy into that product? The images and the website. Business through word of mouth is excellent, but if you want to also attract business from outside of your circle, business from bigger clients your window to them, the first thing they will see about you online has to draw them in.
This is why professional images are important. A photographer is providing a company with one of their most important marketing tools, their images.
So how do you go about approaching a commission like this?
# 1 MOOD BOARDS
Understand what images the client is trying to create, what type of look, feel, lighting, textures and styling. If they are unsure take the direction in this.
Create a colour palette and mood board alongside your client. These points will help to create a clear idea of the direction of the shoot. It will prevent dissatisfaction with the final results, in a scenario where the client wanted something completely different.
We created a colour palette of bright vibrant colours we felt would compliment the Caribbean Food we were shooting and the spices used in the creation of that food.
Hire / consult a stylist. The main subject (the food) in food photography is only part of the picture. Depending on the company you are shooting for this may already be provided and you may work with the person fulfilling this role on the shoot. You may be able to style the shoot yourself if you have the skills for this. If not you may need to work with a stylist. We styled this shoot ourselves after a clear understanding of the clients needs.
#2 – LIGHTING NATURAL VS ARTIFICIAL
There will be photographers that advise about using natural window lighting and others that are in the artificial lighting camp. I am firmly in the second, natural window lighting is great … if you can get it; but this is England! We often have grey gloomy days, and days where the weather, shadows and colour temperature fluctuate greatly. This just makes for an inconsistent shoot and lots of post processing.
We were also working in a kitchen with no natural light. As a photographer we need to be prepared to work in a variety of conditions and still be able to execute the shoot for the client. So for consistency we used flash. This was diffused to create a soft shadow on the food and mimic window light as much as possible.
A constant light could be used just as effectively. We always light the food from an angle behind and use reflectors in various places to fill shadows.
The other benefit of using artificial light is that the scene can be set up anywhere and is not limited to shooting near a window.
#3 – STUDIO OR LOCATION
Some commissions will be easy to transfer to a studio, others are easier to shoot on location. This was easier to shoot in the catering premises where the food was being cooked, we had access to lots of extras that we decided to use as the shoot evolved.
For this type of shoot a relatively small space is needed, we set up a studio of about 1m squared in the kitchen.
#4 – LENSES
Nothing can beat a good macro for food photography. We used a Sigma 70mm Macro and a Canon 50mm f1.8.
If you do not have one of these an alternative may be a 50mm or 35mm. Take advantage of the lowest aperture setting, shoot f2.8 or below on standard primes and f5 or below on a macro.
Aim to have something in focus and other objects that give context to the food out of focus in the frame.
#5 – ANGLES
Unless your client has a clear brief to shoot at a particular angle, we always shoot a range of angles. We use the formula 25 degrees, 75 degrees and 90 degrees for each set up.
This will give the client a good range of images for their food photography, as items will look different at various angles.
#6 – THE UNREAL
Styling for food photography like a pro is styling for how it will look in a photo and not reality. By this we mean the main consideration in styling is what it LOOKS like, not what is logical or would taste best.
This may include undercooking the food item, adding garnishes that you would not normally have with that dish, but look right in the photo and using props such as cocktail sticks and double sided tape to hold items at a particular angle.
We also used contrasting colours that still stayed within our colour palette to dress the dishes, which looked aesthetically pleasing.
The contrasting green mint against the white cream and brown chocolate flakes and dar red cherries, which bring the eye to the dessert. The red tea towel also compliments the red cherry sauce in the desert.
#7 – STYLING
If you are styling the image think about EVERYTHING in the frame.
The shape of the plates, cutlery and glasses. The colour and shape of accessories like salt and pepper pots, the colour and texture of the surface you are shooting on.
We tried three different cutlery sets with this shoot. One felt right, the other two were totally wrong, which we could see as soon as we put it next to the food.
#8 – HERO CONTEXT
When styling it is important that the accessories give the correct context to the ‘HERO’ – the food your are photographing. For example, burgers accessorised with a knife and fork would make no sense, coleslaw accessorised with Worcestershire sauce again would not make any sense .
Surround your hero with ‘sidekicks’ that support it.
Do the dishes match the colour or style of the food? Are the sizes of the accessories proportional? Your HERO still has to dominate the image, it still has to be the biggest and be centre of the frame. Just like Batman could never be smaller than Robin, and still always takes the lead role. Imagine your main item is the ‘HERO’.
Use the ‘sidekicks’ to help tell a story to the viewer.
Accessories such as herbs, condiments, and utensils can tell the viewer how the dish is made. This is a styling method we used for this shot.
Cutlery, tins, glasses, jars, fabric, pots and dishes can speak of the origins of the food. For example if you see a tagine you instantly link this to its North African origins.
Place items around the ‘hero’ to add depth, meaning and a story to the photo. A top tip is that some of the unique accessories can be found in second hand shops. Most other accessories can be found in everyday high street shops. These were some of those we took to the shoot.
#9 – LAYERS
Food photography is very much like many other types of other photography.
Layering adds depth to a photo. Photographers speak about this in newborn photography, fashion photographers speak about it in fashion photography, even street photographers speak about this. It may also be referred to as foreground and background interest.
It is a part of your styling and important in building your image. You may want to play around with placing objects in different areas, taking the shot from the same angles, and deciding on the best photo from the group.
#10 – TRIPOD OR FREE HAND
Shooting with a tripod can allow you to make small changes to a scene and compare them all. This will give you an exact like for like comparison.
This is also important for shoots where you may want to shoot a range of ‘HERO’S’ but have the setting exactly the same. We did this on a cocktails shoot for Bottega Birmingham.
Once everything is shot and edited, it is worth thinking about your whole package, will you need a new logo and graphic design. How are the images going to be designed on a flyer or booklet or presented on your website?
We recommend a good Graphic Design and Web Design Company such as Creative Media Design to produce your a logo to compliment a new rebrand. A good Graphic Design company will also ensure your booklets, menus, banners and products that feature the new logo are consistent with the rebrand.
To commission Lensi Photography for your business Food Photography or to have 121 training sessions to improve your own food photography, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
To commission Creative Media Design for your graphic design and website needs contact them on email@example.com