Taking great photographs of food is a hard-earned skill. A good food photography image should allow you to taste the food with your eyes. When writing about food, it is important to supplement the text with visually appealing photos so good that your mouth will water.
While it may seem easy, food photography is one of the more difficult types of photography. Because of the complexity of the set-ups and limited working time of the prepared food itself, if you can master this type of photography, your talents will be in high demand. That’s why some people are lucky enough to get paid for it.
Food photography centers around three things – color, texture and lighting. Because of this, you have to consider equipment, lighting, background and props when planning a shoot.
The equipment requirements are simple and most photographers already have the items: a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera, tripod, remote shutter release and a couple of lenses, such as a close-up or wide angle lens in the 18mm to 80mm range. If you don’t have a remote shutter release, use the self-timer on your camera.
If you notice, in the equipment list, there is not any specialized lighting equipment listed. Bare flashes do not work in food photography because of the reflections and “hot spots” created by the flashes, so instead strive to use natural light.
Natural light shining in through a window diffused by white sheer curtains creates a soft directional light. Just be aware that the direction of the light is changing throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky. If you already have soft boxes with modeling lights, you can use them too.
Refrain from your Auto white balance setting. Instead, when using natural light, set your white balance setting to Daylight.
Although most of a background ends up blurred, a simple, non-distracting, complementary background “makes” a food image. When thinking about backgrounds, go beyond the obvious. Along with conventional backgrounds, such as tablecloths, think about other color, texture and background options.
Just like backgrounds, props are important. Plan the prepared foods you intend to shoot and then gather the props accordingly. Look for props that both compliment and contrast the food dishes. As far as plates, generally stick with plain white or black; that way the plate won’t draw attention away from the food. Think about silverware, napkins, tablecloths and even garnishes. When searching for non-food props, watch for sales at stores such as Target, IKEA, Pier 1, etc. With garnishes think color, such as fresh green herbs, red radishes, yellow curry and orange paprika.
When photographing prepared food, you have very little working time before the food starts becoming visually un-appealing, so everything must be planned and staged ahead of the actual shoot. Have the background and props already in place so when the plate of food arrives, you replace the fill-in plate with the real one having the food and start shooting right away.
Set your aperture to f4 or f5.6 for a shallow depth-of-field. This will throw everything, but your point of focus – the food – slightly out of focus. Set the tripod height so you are shooting at an angle slightly down towards the food, but not straight down. Use a low ISO of 100 or 200.
Even under the best conditions, you will only have about 15 minutes to shoot a dish of food. During that time, try different angles, camera heights and employ different garnishes. Employing the help of a trained chef to cook the food and prepare the presentation is invaluable. Work out a deal beforehand that is beneficial for both of you.
Once you have mastered the art of food photography, you will be in a small niche of a highly specialized type of photography that is high in demand for your talent.
Photos by Yogendra Joshi