There are many great dishes that are boring to look at. Most dips and sauces are monochromatic and have very little texture to them. They taste delicious, but there is a challenge in making them jump off the page at a viewer. Here is how I took a boring looking blue cheese dressing, and made an image that you want to take a bite out of.
Above is a picture of a delicious blue cheese sauce. Does it make you hungry? Sure it is on a colorful background, but by looking at this image, there isn't anything special about it. Even worse, you may not even know what the dish is. It looks like white sauce in a bowl. The only way to make this photo any less interesting would be to place it on a white background.
So, how can you make a boring looking dish grab your viewer's attention? Tell a story! A few weeks ago, I talked about using menu based props to style a shoot. In the case of boring looking foods, I like to take a similar approach and style with a story in mind. When I think of blue cheese dressing, the first thing that comes to mind is a platter of spicy buffalo wings and celery sticks. Buffalo wings are almost always accompanied with a container of blue cheese dressing (or ranch) and celery sticks. When seeing a plate of wings with a mysterious white dipping sauce in the center, it is easy to guess that its blue cheese!
Here is a look at the plate with the wings and celery.
Notice how the dip is surrounded by wings and celery sticks, but the bowl of dip is in the center of the frame. I am treating the accompanying food like it is the background. I am okay with the plate, wings, and celery running outside of the frame. I want the attention to be on the dip in the center. When using other foods to help elevate the interest of a boring food, remember that the focus of the shot should still be on the boring food. The surrounding food is there to help tell a story and create some interest in the image. To help keep the focus on the boring food, you can have the more visually interesting supporting food out of focus or cropped out of the frame.
Blue cheese dressing isn't the only boring looking food that needs help from a supporting dish. When you have hummus as your subject, try pairing with pita chips or vibrant colored vegetables. Shooting french onion dip? Try ridged potato chips. If it is a bland looking bean dip, try red or blue corn chips to add color and interest. What are some boring but delicious food pairings you have had to photograph?
For those of you interested in lighting diagrams, here is a set shot of the image. The main light source is a battery powered flash inside of a Wescott 43" Apollo Orb.
Want to learn more about food photography? Check out issues 1-8 of photographing FOOD!