Food photography – 7 tips for your creations
What use are perfect cooking and stylish presentation if the design of the photograph, the illumination or even the background is just not right? You of course want to convey what makes your creations special and get people hungry for your meals. That’s why we’ve used the blog to summarise seven basic principles of food photography for you.
1. Prepare plenty if you can
Preparation is key. It will mean less improvisation during the photo shoot and less fiddling around with your photos afterwards. And that can save a lot of frustration. Think about what you need. Fresh ingredients are of course essential. Think about your kitchen utensils and any accessories that might match. But you may want to hold onto a few components from your dish and use them for decorative purposes. For instance, you could use chopped, raw vegetables or perhaps fruit. Herbs and spices can also round off a composition nicely. It is important that you have a clear idea beforehand of how your picture should look. What about the background? Do you even need one? Are you snapping your food in landscape or portrait format? Or perhaps both might be better? Here we think it makes sense to take a few test photos with simple objects, allowing you to experiment a little with the effect, the environment, the structure and even the lighting.
2. Cook for the photo
Bear in mind that you’re not cooking for a guest, but only for the photo. You don’t need to cook everything properly. Just cook your ingredients briefly. This makes vegetables appear crunchier, meat looks juicier and fish retains its translucent appearance. Pasta should be al dente. Get the best out of your ingredients.
3. Be well equipped (camera, technical equipment)
Macro and wide-angle lenses aren’t ideal for food photography – unless you are deliberately aiming for a specific effect. You will achieve good results with fixed focal lengths (40, 90, 100 mm). These offer perfectly crisp, clear images. You can also use telephoto lenses from 18 mm – especially if you want to achieve slight blurring effects. Bear in mind that a tripod can be a great advantage. What about lighting? Do you have daylight, large windows, or perhaps neon lighting?
4. Use light sources to your advantage
Daylight is no doubt the best option and you should use it where possible in order to achieve a balanced, tasteful presentation of your dishes. Even so, many kitchens and restaurants don’t offer the best conditions. So you may find you have to rely on soft boxes, diffusers and reflectors to illuminate the food as well as possible using indirect light. Never point lights directly at the food. This makes the image look cold, flat and highly unnatural.
If you don’t have any professional equipment to hand, then you could even try covering floor and desk lamps with sandwich paper in order to create soft, diffuse light and imitate a soft box. Styrofoam plates can serve as reflectors, spreading light uniformly across shaded sides. Use a tripod. This allows longer exposure times with no wobbling. It is also possible to purchase daylight bulbs, which offer a more natural result compared to neon lighting.
5. Play around with compositions and arrangements
Create variety in your arrangement. Depending on the ingredients you use, you might want to include vegetables, fruit, herbs or spices as decoration in the photo – but remember that less is often more. Don’t overload the photo.
Combine different forms. One useful tip is to structure your image from left to right – a bit like reading a text. Make use of implicit lines produced by different elements to draw the viewer’s eye to your dishes.
Make sure the colour of the decoration doesn’t clash with the food. Use different shades of the same colour or complementary colours. So for colourful meals it is a good idea to work with a simple, uniform background with one colour.
And don’t forget about what your food is actually on. Wood has a rustic feel, while slate is both classic and modern.
And remember: smears on glasses, marks on plate edges, unwanted crumbs on the table – take your time, or you probably will forget something!
6. Take plenty of pictures
Once you’ve taken care of everything else, it’s probably time to get snapping! Or you might want to use the self-timer instead, to make sure you don’t cause any unwanted wobbling if the light isn’t great.
Now you just need to think about what you’re going to focus on, and the angle. The whole thing? A certain part? Or perhaps focus on details? When it comes to finger food and dishes arranged in portions, many people like to photograph details – this creates a more exciting picture. Experiment with image proportions.
Divide the picture up mentally into three equal sections and think about what changes if you shift the main subject away from the centre. This often makes photos look more balanced. Bear in mind the golden ratio as you play around.
Finally, the shooting angle can be the finishing touch. Photographing from above makes images look flat. But you can achieve great effects with soups, using colours and forms.
Generally speaking it is a good idea to give photos a little depth – and height. Try a few perspectives and see for yourselves, paying attention to shadows; adjust your lighting if necessary. The shooting distance between the subject and the camera should usually be between 30 and 60 centimetres.
Good to know: Liquids should always appear level! You wouldn’t want any to appear to be leaning to the left or right in your photo.
7. Only edit photos if you really need to
Nowadays it’s perfectly fine to tweak photos on your computer using image processing software. It’s the only way to correct things like brightness, colours or an unwanted spatter of sauce. But remember: This is only a means to an end and should not be regarded as an essential part of the process from the beginning. The better the basic ingredients, the less you’ll need to cheat later on.