Every great chef or nuanced foodie knows that food presentation is a huge part of whether or not a meal looks appetizing. After all, your customer will always eat with their eyes.
When it comes to food photography, the way that a dish is presented is even more important. There are no accompanying smells wafting off of the food, and you can’t reserve your judgment based on how the food tastes, either.
Instead, your clients have to get all of their information about how a dish would smell or taste based on sight alone. Good product photography is all about creating an illusion - especially when it comes to food - and we’re going to show you how to create that illusion for yourself.
How To Take Great Food Photos
Preparing Your Setup
Before you can get to photographing a dish, you need to prep your shooting space. Whether you’re taking pictures in your home with a portable photo studio or shooting in dedicated studio, there are a few things you need to think about. This includes your background, scene decor, and lighting.
You may be wondering ‘Why do I need a background if I’m just photographing food?’ Well, it’s pretty simple. Your photograph has to tell a story, and part of that story is context.
Although your main focus is on your food and the surface under the plate, some foods will require you to take a few different shots at a number of angles. And, when you switch between angles, your client or customer is going to be able to catch a glance at anything that lies beyond the plate.
If you’re taking a picture directly over your food, then you won’t need to worry about any other background besides what is underneath your plate. But if you need to show off the side profile of a juicy burger, then you may need to dress your shooting space up a little bit more.
The easiest way to do this is with a vertical backdrop. Ideally, you want a backdrop that can be set up both underneath and behind your subject. You’ll also want to think about the overall aesthetic of the food that you’re photographing.
White photo backgrounds are great for taking pictures of colorful dishes and can give your photos a more professional look. Similarly, black photo backgrounds are fantastic for showcasing unique or high-end foods like sushi.
But, if you’re photographing a homecooked meal like roast chicken and potatoes, then you may want to create a warmed aesthetic.
Choosing the Right Background
For more simple foods, you can use a wood background to simulate the look and feel of a rustic kitchen. One of our favorite ways to create the illusion of a simple kitchen background is to use Replica’s Butcher’s Block surface underneath our plate and a surface like Subway Tile or Herringbone Marble to create a backsplash.
Replica Surfaces are super inexpensive, so you can mix and match different surfaces and create a mini food photography studio at home. Replica Surfaces are also amazing for food photography because they are completely stain-resistant. All you need to do is wipe up any spills or messes and your surface is once again good to go.
Decorate Your Scene
Nobody wants to look at a picture of a lonely bowl of pasta. Of course, if your dish is vibrant and has a lot of colors and elements to it, then you can get away with photographing the food on its own. But for more simple foods like burgers, pasta, or even a bowl of cereal, you’ll want to add some excitement into the mix.
Because you’re shooting food, you’ll want to keep any photo styling elements related to the concept of eating. Your subject will more than likely be beautifully plated, but a plate isn’t enough to garner excitement or intrigue from your client.
Adding in objects like cutlery, cooking utensils, and even drinks can help you to add a bit of pizazz to your final image. Just be sure to keep a good balance in your photo and try not to clutter your scene too much.
A knife and fork on either side of the plate can bring in some fun symmetry, but having too many elements can be distracting.
When you decorate your scene, try to think of things that will make your main subject more appealing. You can also use this step of your setup to get creative - you’re not limited to crockery and kitchen utensils.
By incorporating some of the dry ingredients that you have used in your dish, you can add some great color to your shot. For example, if you’re photographing a gorgeous chocolate and blueberry smoothie, then having some loose blocks of chocolate and a few scattered blueberries around your glass will add to the overall aesthetics of your dish.
Try and think outside the box for styling your image, but make sure that your items are related to your food in some way.
Food photography is a great way for amateur or beginner photographers to get used to playing with shadows, composition, and angles. This is because you don’t need a complicated lighting setup to get started.
Similarly, your subject is also static, which makes it easier to get your lighting just right.
The best type of lighting for food photography is hands-down natural lighting. Artificial lighting is often too harsh for food photography. It can drown out the natural colors in your dish and can make your food look greasy and unappetizing.
This is also true if you’re using your camera’s flash. You want to avoid using any sort of flash with food photography because it makes your dish look unappealing and can create harsh shadows around the plate.
For the best results, you should place your dish near a well-lit window or door. The light should also ideally come from the side of the plate. This will help to create some contrast between the natural bright spots and shadows of the food and will help to illuminate and accentuate specific food textures.
Be careful and avoid getting shadowed spots in your shot, though, because this will detract from the food. You’ll want to strike a good balance between bringing out the natural textures in your food and having too many shadows for the gorgeous picture.
Just like with other photography niches, you also want to avoid bright, direct light when you’re taking your shots. If the light is too bright, you can use a sheet or any other thin, transparent fabric to diffuse the sunlight.
The goal is to have bright enough light to see the detailing of your shot while also keeping the light as soft as possible.
Preparing Your Food
Okay, so now we’re getting to the most important part of food photography - the food! There are a few things that you’ll need to think about when shooting food, which include plating your food, styling the dish, and composition.
When we think about plating, we often think about serving our food up onto a plate with no real care or consideration for how it looks. In the culinary world, plating takes on a whole other meaning.
Plating refers to how you arrange the food on your plate. So not just how you serve it, but how it is presented as well. For food photography, this is extremely important, because this is all your client or customer will have to go on - the way that the food looks.
The presentation doesn’t always have to be meticulous, though. Think about how the type of food you’re photographing would realistically be served. For example, a more hearty, homecooked meal would look messier on your plate than a dish you would order at a restaurant. While you still want to keep your food arranged well, you can be a little more messy and fun with the overall look.
When you’re having a homecooked meal, you wouldn’t expect it to look perfect, right? That’s part of the charm. So, by leaving a little spot or two of gravy on the side of the plate, you can create a more realistic and appealing shot.
Alternately, if you were taking a few shots for an upmarket restaurant, you would want a cleaner presentation.
No matter what type of food you’re photographing, you’ll always want to create some sort of symmetry. This will keep your final shot looking balanced and professional. The best way to ensure good symmetry in your plating is to start arranging the food from the middle of the plate and work your way to the edges.
You can also use different elements like sauces or reductions to add some fun and artistic style to your images. You can use these to express your creativity and add your own unique flair to your food pics.
Styling your dish is entirely different from decorating your scene. Instead, styling your dish is crucial to getting really good food pictures.
Most of the time food that’s prepared for food photography isn’t going to be eaten. So you can really think outside the box when it comes to making your dish look as appetizing as possible. For example, you can make a burger look taller and more appealing by propping it up with a toothpick.
A light spritz of water makes the food shimmer and shine, making it look extra tasty.
You can also add a sauce or garnish onto your plate that would never be paired with your specific dish. But, since it’s not going to be eaten, you don’t have to worry about the flavor. You just need to think about whether or not it adds to the beauty of your plate.
When you’re photographing food, the composition of your shot is heavily dependent on your angles and depth of field. There are no strict rules on how your shot should be composed, and it will typically change depending on the purpose of your shot and the food that you’re photographing.
There are a few rules of thumb that you can keep in mind to keep your pictures looking high-end and professional, though.
When it comes to angles, you need to decide what part of the dish you want to focus on. For example, the best angle for a burger will be one that shows off every layer of the dish - the buns, patty, cheese, and garnish. Side shots are great for showing off foods with different layers, like lasagnas, sushi, or even just a sandwich.
Angles are definitely not one-size-fits-all. After all, you wouldn’t want a side shot of a pizza. For a pizza, you’ll want to angle your camera above the dish. If you’re just starting out with food photography, take some time to experiment with different foods to get a feel for how you should move your camera to get the best shots.
Similarly, you want to consider how to focus on the food. This is related to the depth of field. Some foods may require more close-up shots in order to showcase certain elements, while others might not. Again, you can experiment with how you focus on certain foods and use a technique that suits you and your photography style.
Tips And Tricks For Food Photography
Fresh Is Best
When it comes to photographing food, keep in mind that you only have a brief window to take your shots before your food stops looking fresh. For your food to look appetizing and appealing, it usually has to be fresh.
This is an important step to getting a great shot because you'll need to use your time wisely. If your food has been left to sit for a while after it was prepared, you'll generally lose some of the vibrancy in your final shot.
To keep your food looking fresher for longer, you can slightly undercook the food. Because you won’t actually be eating the food, it helps to undercook the food for a brighter, more appetizing look.
You can also keep your food looking extra tasty by lightly brushing over it with a small amount of oil. This is especially true when you’re dealing with different types of cooked meats like burgers or steaks.
Take More Dynamic Photos
Photographing food is similar to taking still-life pictures. This is because your food is static. To make your food look more dynamic, you should try to play around with a few action shots to add some movement to your photographs.
Taking a dynamic photo doesn't have to mean photographing a model mid-bite. Instead, you can use actions like pouring sauce onto your dish sprinkling a dessert with powdered sugar to give your shot some movement.
Dynamic shots make for terrific food photography because it feels more realistic and will appear much more appetizing. After all, you don't just look at your food - you eat it as well. By adding some realistic action shots, you can make your food look even more tantalizing.
There are a number of fascinating and unique approaches to experimenting with your food. Don't be scared to try new things. Whether that means creating food that has some artistic flair or making foods with interesting color pallets, the possibilities are endless.
Finding a new spin on the idea of food photography can help your images to really stand out with your clients or customers. By creating a more distinctive perspective on your photography, you can better grab a viewer's attention.
Food photography is one of the most fun and interesting photography niches out there. By lending your own creative spin to all of your pictures, you can be sure to establish your name or brand among your clients or followers.
So, whether you’re photographing your food to promote your business, taking shots for clients or restaurants, or posting your delicious pictures to your feed, you can use your new knowledge on food photography to get your viewer’s attention - and stir up their appetites!
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