Many of you may want to step up your food photography from iPhone to fabulous, but you’re sure that it’s quite impossible to do without a food stylist and ten grand worth of gear to help you make that dish look amazing. I am living proof that that’s just not the case. If you have a team that is willing to work hard and a location that allows for great lighting, you’re more than halfway there.
1. Work with a great Team – Even if You’re the Only One on it
Since you likely don’t have a food stylist, make sure you have a chef that’s willing to go above and beyond when it comes to plating the dish. You want everything to be brightly colored and placed neatly. Any garnishes should be super fresh (no wilted greens, please!). Sauces, when used as decoration, should be bright and shiny. Since you don’t have a stylist, you’re in charge of styling the food on the plate. Look through your lens and take a few test shots. Look at the images and determine what (if anything) is detracting from the image. If there is, fix it and try again!
2. Keep it Fresh
If you must photograph for an extended period of time, you may wish to replace parts of the dish as needed. For example – melted cheese will harden quickly and no longer appear appetizing. If you are photographing any type of meat, it will likely start to release juices that will mar the plate. Re-plate it and keep shooting! It’s better to take the time to redo something, rather than try to correct it in post-production.
3. Focus on the Details
For example, if you have a piece of meat that is grilled, make sure those grill marks are beautifully straight and perfectly criss-crossed. If you have a sushi roll, make sure the pieces are placed in an appealing manner and that any details like sauces or garnishes aren’t detracting from the image. Sometimes less is better when it comes to food photography. A plate with too much going on will easily detract from the star of the image.
4. Use an Abundance of Natural Light whenever Possible
Natural daylight tends to be the most flattering for any subject, food included! I love to shoot food right next to a big window. You can either backlight it by shooting into the light, or use the available light to light your image. If you must use lights, try to use daylight-balanced hot lights or strobes (around 5000K if possible). This will nearly replicate natural light and allow you to achieve beautiful results.
5. Use a Shallow Depth of Field
This creates interest and drama in the subject and allows you to make the best of the available light. When you shoot with a shallow DOF, you’ll want to keep the focal point towards the front of the image. So, if you’re photographing a sushi roll, don’t focus on the pieces furthest from your lens – focus on the piece closest to the front and let the rest of the roll elegantly fade into a beautiful bokeh.
Overall, have fun with it! I’ve been photographing food as a commercial photographer for more than a decade. Every shoot is different and I’ve worked under nearly every condition imaginable, including completely dark rooms. Be creative, be willing to think outside the box and get ready to experiment and have fun.
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