Making food look appetizing, is not quite as simple as photographing your plate. There are a number of tricks that you can use to really enhance the subject. By using your camera creatively, you can capture the scrumptious side of food. Whether it’s your favorite dessert, or a full meal, these tips will help take your food photography to the next level.
8 Tips for Food Photography Newbies
1) Use a very shallow depth of field
When you’re about to take a photo, the first technical question you want to ask is, “What kind of background would be best?” With food photography, you typically only want a sliver of the subject sharp, and the rest of the plate to be a soft blur. To do this, choose the widest aperture your lens allows. At f/2.8 the opening in your lens is physically wide open, creating what’s known as shallow depth of field. If you’re using a kit lens, the effect will be enhanced if you use your lens at a longer focal length, and get closer to the food.
2) Less is more
While looking at the scene through your camera, ask yourself, “What’s really the subject here?” This simple question will help to shape your composition. While this may seem rudimentary at first, the impact is undeniable once applied. For a helpful reminder, consider taping a small note to the inside of your lens cap. Check all four corners of the frame carefully. Anything that does not work towards emphasizing the chosen subject should be eliminated. The goal is to create a clean frame as opposed to visual clutter.
3) Design your composition
Think beyond the obvious subject, and consider shape and form when crafting your composition. Adding a knife for instance, can balance a composition if placed in the rule of thirds. By shooting from directly overhead you create an elegant frame. In the image above, the towel in the left hand corner adds a pop of color, while the parsley, lime and avocado all add various shades of green. To add more shine to your silverware or reflective objects, in this case the knife, use a reflector board to bounce in extra light.
4) Get messy
To make your food photography look real and not staged, try adding crumbs to the set. This imperfection may seem odd at first, but it adds visual appeal. A bit of cheese sprinkled over the plate is an easy way to accomplish this. A little bit goes a long way here, so be subtle with your approach.
5) Use a high ISO
Simply put, the higher the ISO number is, the faster light can get into the camera. At ISO 800 you will get light into the camera faster than you would at ISO 100 or 200. When shooting food indoors you will often need to be at 1600 or even 3200. I generally do not recommend using ISO 6400 or higher as they will show an increased amount of digital noise, also known as grain. If noise is an issue for your camera, try using Lightroom’s noise reduction tool.
Editor’s note: as this article is aimed at newbies the author assumes you’ll be shooting handheld. If, however, you will be shooting with a tripod, it is recommended to use the lowest ISO possible to keep noise to a minimum and get the sharpest, crispest images possible.
6) Use natural light to your advantage
Rather than adding flash, or working with harsh artificial light, take advantage of the beautiful natural light available. This can give a food picture a feeling of bright airiness. Look for spaces where sunlight streams through a window to set up your shot. The morning is typically the best time of day for this, as the light is softer, with less contrast. You can keep shooting in the afternoon but you’ll want to move the food into an area with even light, to avoid harsh shadows.
7) Try black and white
Perhaps the most famous food photo of all time is Edward Weston’s “Pepper No. 30”. It was captured in black and white, and shows the shape and form of the subject beautifully. In your food photography, try shooting in monochrome from time to time. Not only does the lack of color simplify the shot, but it also works well to reveal contrast, highlight, and shadow. If shooting in RAW, convert the shot to black and white in post-production. One of my favorite tools to do this is Exposure X by Alien Skin, as they have a large array of creative options.
8) Take a bite
Great food photography doesn’t need to be staged. Once you are done with your shoot, go ahead and take a bite. This photo adds a sense of authenticity to your shoot. If you’ve made the viewer want to take their own bite, you’ve succeeded in your goal of creating scrumptious food photographs.