Thursday, February 7, 2013

Photographing Food

by Linda

Taking pictures of food seems like it should be pretty simple, right? All you have to do it just take the picture. When you come across something delicious in a restaurant or you have created a new recipe and you want to share it with everyone it's easy, right? You're in complete control of where you put the food and it won't wiggle around so you happily click away and pat yourself on the back. Then you rush to upload it to show everyone and you are horrified! No one would eat that! It looks like a pile of (fill-in-the-blank)!

What happened?

When I first started blogging I was taking lots of pictures of food and posting about it. They were OK at best. I knew I wanted my pictures to look better. I followed several other food blogs and their pictures looked much better than mine did. I had a point and shoot and convinced myself that if I had a DSLR, my pictures would be so much better. Right?

Well, yes and no.

While the DSLR does give me more control, there are many other factors that make food look good in a picture. I want to share some things I learned about taking a picture of food so that it looks appetizing and not like a pile of (fill-in-the-blank)

Food photography relies 100% on the viewers eyes. A picture is a one dimensional rendering of something that is real, tangible and a picture of food must be not only recognizable but also appetizing to the viewer. There is no smell, no taste, no sound. The picture alone must stir these other senses in the viewer. The picture must connect with a memory the viewer has that will make their mouth water, make them want to reach out and take a bite.

Certain things are really hard to photograph and certain things are really hard to make look edible. Not impossible, just not easy. White foods (like mashed potatoes or vanilla ice cream) are hard to photograph because it is difficult to give them texture. They usually look like a white blob. And oils and grease and sometimes gravy, just look bad on food. It is difficult for the viewer to know what it is without smell or the sound of a sizzle.

While it would seem like you could take your time while photographing food, sometimes you must work quickly because the food will start to wilt or melt or discolor and start to look like a pile or (fill-in-the-blank) on it's own. It's best to have everything ready for the photo shoot before the food is ready.

(did you know there is a national Nutella day? Nutella! Can I have a moment of silence)

In this post  I mentioned light is the most important factor to make food look good. I like natural light and will position my food near a window. Most fancy restaurants have terrible light, unless you use your flash, and watch the other diners gasp in horror and give you the evil eye when it goes off, or unless you bring in your lighting equipment, (that's a whole other problem), forget about getting a good shot in a restaurant. Of course you can always rely on processing to fix the lighting. (or bring a flashlight and have someone hold it for you, this also comes with wide eyed stares) I do photograph food in restaurants and brave the stares. I ask to be seated by a window when possible. My dining companions are used to it and when the camera comes out and the table settings get rearranged, they will duck out of the shot or move a distracting cup or napkin without so much as a lull in their conversation.

I have several places near windows inside my house I use to photograph food. Sometimes I go outside to my covered back porch for pictures. Taking food outside can add interesting backgrounds, sometimes bokeh to the shot.

Once you have found the light to use for the food, you need to think about how to place the food in your shot. The rules of thirds and good composition work for food just as they do with everything else. You do want the food to be the star of the shot and the best way to do that is by placement in the shot. To make your food stand out, use white plates. Or light colored plates. Food looks good on white plates (except white food) The white plate will provide a nice contrast and it won't be competing for the attention of the viewer like a bold colored plate or a patterned plate would.

(I know, not quite a plain white plate but it's not trying to steal the show from that cupcake. cupcakes! mmm!)

So you put your food on a white plate, kinda boring, now what. Sometimes you need to add some props. Some silverware,  a centerpiece, put the plate on a placemat, fold a napkin and put it next to the plate, sometimes a simple flower near the plate, something to add interest to the picture without distracting from the food. Remember, you want the viewer to want to reach out and take a bite of the food.

Now that all the props are ready, you have to decide how much or how little of the food you want in the shot, how close or how far away to get from the food and what angle to shoot it from. It's helpful to practice before the food gets there so you have an idea of what you're going to do. Use the empty plate for practice. Put a piece of fruit or napkin on it and look through the viewfinder. Check to see how the props look and think about the depth of field you will use. This is a good time to move things around and try different set ups with the props so you can focus on the food when it is there. Things will look a little different once the food arrives so be ready to take lots of shots from different angles and move the plate around to find the best side of the food.

Too complicated? Not really. It saves a lot of frustration when you only have time for a few shots before the food changes (or gets eaten!)

If you would like some ideas for props to use or set ups to make your food shots look yummy, look through your favorite cookbook. Many cookbooks have beautiful pictures in them. One of my favorites (for the recipes as well as the pictures) is "Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan. 2 forks up on that one. Our girl Martha Stewart's cookbooks are beautifully photographed too.

There is a website called Foodgawker where you can see some terrific food shots as well as click on the picture to get the recipe! You can also submit your own photo to them and they will let you know if it has been accepted. Be prepared for honest critism. Not all pictures are selected and when they reject one they will give the reason why. Reasons like poor lighting, poor composition, color is off. Don't get discouraged if you get a reject, learn from it. It's not personal. But if you get accepted, it's a good way to drive some new traffic to your blog.

Well, I don't know about you but I need a snack.

Bon apetit!

"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie."
~Jim Davis


Barbara said...

Great post on food photography, Linda. The pictures connect with a memory I have and make want to reach out and take a bite... so delicious.

I've never tried to take pictures of food. My home is to dark (especially my kitchen). Waiting for a Lowel ego light (still on my wish list) to give it a try.

Thanks for these awsome tips!

Barbara said...

Such a good post Linda, I didn't know this is something you like to photograph. Me too but now very good at it. Loved your post, a lot of good info. It will come in handy as next week on one of my flickr groups this is the theme.

Cathy H. said...

I'm sitting here going "WOW!" This is some seriously beautiful food! You're very talented at food photography! I don't photograph food very often, but you certainly have inspired me to try! Thanks for your tips.

Allison said...

What lens do you recommend?
Lovely shots by the way. :)

terriporter said...

Well, if your goal is to make people want to reach out and take a bite, you have succeeded! Oh, my! Everything looks so delicious! Great tips on photographing food, something I've tried but not succeeded at, so thank you. Now I think I need to go find something to spread some Nutella on -- or maybe just eat it from a spoon!

terriporter said...

Well, if your goal is to make people want to reach out and take a bite, you have succeeded! Oh, my! Everything looks so delicious! Great tips on photographing food, something I've tried but not succeeded at, so thank you. Now I think I need to go find something to spread some Nutella on -- or maybe just eat it from a spoon!

Linda said...

Allison, it depends on what I'm trying to do. If I want to get close to the food I'll use a macro (usually my 50mm compact macro) if I want to get more in the shot then a lens with a wider angle (like my 24-70mm) Thanks for stopping by and your kind words!


Deanna said...

Wonderful and delicious post. I love taking pictures of food and I agree about restaurants being so poorly lit, it is so difficult to get a good shot of their wonderfully arranged food. I think I am going to check out that blog-site...sounds like fun.

Dotti said...

You are rockin' this food photography, dear sister! I know you love to cook and that helps (insert big smile here). Seriously, I wanted to take huge bites out of my computer monitor, it all looked so scrumptious. Wow!!!

Leigh said...

Well thanks a lot I'm starving!!! Beautiful shots!

heyjudephotography said...

Your photos are wonderful! They certainly make me want each and every one of them! Beautiful work Linda. You know, in NYC at least, some restaurants are forbidding any photographing of their food. Hmmm, could be that their dim lighting makes it all look so bad they're getting bad press! Ha! I'm sure it's not that, but hey, you never know! Now, off in search of cake!

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