Food has an agenda. It wants you to eat it, and it wants you to eat it now.
If you dilly-dally around Food, trying to photograph it instead of eating it, its defense mechanism kicks in. It immediately looks terrible in pictures, forcing you to give up, put down the camera, and eat the Food. Natural selection at work.
The time has come to subvert Food’s Evil Agenda. Read our tips, take up your cameras, and join the glorious food photography revolution!
We’ve all heard the rumors about the terrible things food photographers do to make food look good. Horror stories about food stylists with their cans of shoe polish, burnishing raw turkeys to make them look roasted. Scoops of mashed potatoes glistening atop ice cream cones, covered in chocolatey-looking motor oil.
Fortunately, few of us know how to accomplish styling atrocities of that ilk. We’re just ordinary Joes, trying to make restaurant food look as good as it smells, or capture the deliciousness of Aunt Sally’s fresh-baked biscuits. It takes a little doing to make food photogenic, but it’s easy once you know how.
The Ten Tastiest Food Photography Tips
Choose a setting that enhances, but doesn’t distract from your food. Pick a simple, plain background or tablecloth.
Use plates whose color contrasts with or harmonizes with your food, but not ones that are the same color.
Before you start shooting, make sure there isn’t any distracting clutter in the background of the shot (stray people, silverware, whatever). Using a wider aperture to blur the background will help.
Use natural light whenever you can. The ideal set-up is a next to a large window, with a white curtain to diffuse the light.
If you can’t get natural light, don’t be tempted to use your flash. Flash photography is too harsh for food’s delicate sensibilities. It flattens everything out and makes for unappealing shiny spots.
3: Color Balance
Learn to color balance. Especially in situations where natural light is unavailable, your photos can have a yellow or blue cast that makes food look terrible (see the blue bacon pictured right). Use the white balance setting on your camera, or adjust the color digitally later on.
4: Don’t Move
Hold still. In low-light situations like restaurants and kitchens, long exposures will register any camera movement as blur. Use a tripod whenever possible. If you don’t have one, try resting your camera on a water glass or the back of a chair. Or make yourself a string tripod.
5: Shoot A Lot
Take lots of pictures. Move around the food and see what angle looks best: down low to see the food head-on? Up high to take in the geometry of the presentation?
6: Zoom In
Get in as close as you can. Use the macro setting on your camera if it has one. Fill the frame with the food, so the viewer can almost taste it.
Don’t forget to take pictures of the process. Sometimes making the food (chopping, cooking) can be as interesting as the final product.
8: Be Quick
Work quickly. The faster you take pictures of the food, the fresher it will look. Cold, congealed meat and wilted salads just don’t look good.
Use an empty plate to help you set up your shot before the food is ready. At the last minute, slip in the real plate of food.
The devil is in the details. Check the edges of your plates and glasses for stray food, and wipe away any smudges. Use sauces and garnishes to add color to drab shots (i.e. adding a lemon wedge to iced tea).
10: Don’t Shoot
Know what not to shoot. Some things will just never look delicious, no matter how hard you try.
Meals that are all the same color and brown sauces are best left alone. And tasty though they may be, we defy you to make a haggis look good.
- Read more about the shocking world of food photography.
- In a world without food stylists, there would be no fast food.
- Three places we like to go for food photography inspiration: Smitten Kitchen, TasteSpotting, and Delicious Days.