YOU EAT WITH YOUR EYES FIRST
It happens while choosing food from a menu in a restaurant. The server walks by with someone’s meal, and you think, “That looks good.”
That’s essentially how it would play out in the traditional sense but with so much user-generated content on social platforms, food photography tips need to go beyond the staged layouts of magazine inserts and into the heart of your kitchen. Here are some core photography essentials to consider from the time you prepare, until it reaches the table for an Instagram photoshoot.
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THE ART OF PLATING
CHOOSE THE RIGHT SURFACE
Use wooden cutting boards and slate tiles to create a rustic feel for presenting comfort foods like burgers and fries. Classic white plates can give colourful foods a more vibrant pop.
Less is more. Cluttered shots with many elements often distract from the main item.
With the exception of some fine dining restaurants, the objective of your shoot will usually be to make the food look plentiful, implying value-for-money. Using large white plates with a small heap of food in the middle can make the food look sad and the plate look empty.
By using smaller plates with less space around the food, you will fill more of your frame and create the appearance of larger helpings.
START IN THE MIDDLE
When plating food, it’s best to start in the middle and work your way out from there in order to ensure symmetry in the plating of your food.
LIGHTING YOUR FOOD PICTURES
LIGHT FROM THE SIDE
Lighting from the side of your food is a great way to bring out the shadows and bright spots of certain food textures—such as bread, meat and cheese. This is especially important when photographing food that balance a lot of textures, like sandwiches and burgers.
The tiniest gleam reflected off a juicy orange can create a highlight that makes you want to lick the fruit right off the screen.
For more extreme highlights, reflective and shiny surfaces, such as aluminum, can create great effects similar to flash photography without creating unexpected shadows and flattening of your image.
WATCH FOR HARSH SHADOWS
You want to bring out the textures of your food, but harsh shadows can be off-putting and unappetizing. If you notice a lot of harsh shadows in-frame, try to adjust the angle of either your light or camera to balance out the shading in the frame and bring out the texture in the food.
AVOID LIGHTING FROM THE FRONT
Lighting from the front has a tendency to create harsh bright spots in your photograph, meaning that textured foods won’t be contrasted to in a way that emphasizes the texture in the photo. This can make your food appear bland and tasteless.
Another way to introduce texture into your image is through fabric.
GLAZE HOT FOOD
Food can dry out extremely quickly, especially when it’s hot. This is true with anything that has been fried or baked, which can look tough and shrivelled on camera. To fix this, brush hot food with oil over the top. Use a basting brush and get your meat glistening, so it has a nice sheen for the camera.
COMPOSITION OF FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
SELECTIVE FOCUS AND DEPTH OF FIELD
The depth of field concerns the distance between objects in the frame and the way that focus creates emphasis on parts of the food that is closest. Try experimenting with focused, close-up shots and less focused backgrounds. Playing around with the depth of field of your photographs can help to add emphasis to more textured foods.
When it comes to the angles of your photographs—you want to think about what part of the food you’re looking to emphasize. If you’re taking a picture of a steak, for example, you might think about cutting it in half and shooting from the side to show the texture and juiciness of the beef.
Side-shots won’t work for all food though. Things like a salad or a charcuterie board are best shot from in an overhead, flat-lay style in order to show the intricacies of the arrangement of elements.
You want to avoid shooting your food from a front-facing, downward angle. This is a common mistake in photographing food usually made because this is the first angle a person sees when a plate of food is placed in front of them. It’s for this same reason that shooting from this angle tends to look uninteresting. There are definitely exceptions to this rule, but generally speaking, rarely are the best textures and lines of the food emphasized from this angle.
SOCIAL MEDIA FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
TIPS FOR POSTING TO YOUR BRANDS SOCIAL PAGES
Possibly one of the most interesting trends in food photography has been the emphasis on movement and human interaction with the food.
While cookbooks still often feature the perfect, untouched dish, social media has led the way for photos with hands, people, and even lipstick marks on cups or bite marks in cookies, and anything else that shows somebody enjoying a meal.
Behind-the-scenes shots also fare well on social media. Icing sugar being sifted over a cake, final garnishes being placed on food, or drinks being poured in a cup—not just the final product—are often the centre of attention.
While shutter speed will often determine the emphasis of the shot itself, how you style the image will help create the narrative. Make sure your models have a fresh manicure and change of accessories or clothes, so you can mix it up.