Are you interested in adding food photography to your portfolio, but don’t know where to start? Don’t be intimidated. Yes, you can spend a lot of money on expensive lighting equipment, lenses and cameras, but these aren’t necessary to make a beautiful food image. If you are a portrait photographer, landscape photographer, sports photographer, or an expert instagrammer, you can use the gear you already have to make beautiful images of your food!
With these four simple tips, you can begin to take your food images from bland to mouthwatering.
1. Keep it natural with a one light set-up
You can use multiple lights to create delicious looking food images, but it is not a necessity. Do you have strobes and soft boxes? What about a tungsten light and a reflective umbrella? Is a window and foam board reflector all that you have? With any of these lighting set ups you can create beautiful images of your food. Use your light sources to create a “window light set-up.” This set-up recreates the beautiful, soft, even light you would find next to a window.
Position the key light on the side or behind the subject. Use a soft box, umbrella, or bed sheet to diffuse this light source and create a soft light. If you are using a window with indirect sunlight coming through you may not need any additional diffusion. To control the contrast, reflect light back onto the subject using a foam board or 5 in 1 reflector. Below are examples of images taken with a window, a tungsten light, and a flash as the key light. In all these images there is only one light source and the fill is created with a foam board reflector.
2. Perfect your composition by using a tripod
Unless you are shooting food before slaughter, your food will not move on set. It doesn’t take direction and will sit there until you move it where you want it to be. You are in charge of moving the food, props, and any other ingredients in the shot on the set. Putting your camera on a tripod will allow you to make small adjustments without worrying about going back to the same camera position every time. If you are planning on doing a composite, like a pour shot, a tripod is a must!
Another type of shot that tripods are great for is one with many dishes. These shots require many small adjustments to get the perfect shot. Using a tripod will keep your camera in the same position while you make your adjustments.
3. Choose an angle that complements the dish
In portrait photography, there are certain camera angles that are more flattering to the human body than others. The same is true with food. The camera angle that you shoot a paella with is not necessarily ideal for shooting a hamburger with.
A paella is served in a large shallow pan with all of the ingredients on top. Choosing an overhead camera angle will highlight the ingredients.
A Sandwich has a bread top with the ingredients piled into the center. Choosing a head-on camera angle will highlight these ingredients. Shooting overhead will only show bread.
4. Use color to your advantage!
Food is full of color! Walk into the produce department of your grocery store and you will see every color of the rainbow (except for blue). Color can be used to show diversity, highlight freshness and make your viewers taste buds salivate. Using color theory in your food images allows you to capture a viewer’s attention and make them hungry at the same time. Here are a few ways in which you can use color to emphasize your food.
Use a monochromatic color scheme (one color) to emphasize the shape and texture of the food!
Use black or white background to highlight the vibrant colors of the food and help set a mood.
Want to learn more about window lighting, color theory, and composition for food photography? Check out issues 1-4 of photographing FOOD.