If you’ve ever dived into a food photography shoot hoping to wing it, things probably went a little awry because there are so many moving parts to food photography. In this post, I’ll share my best tips for a no-fuss, no-stress food photography shoot to help you achieve the vision in your mind.
If you’re shooting for your own food blog, portfolio, or perhaps a brand collaboration, you might well be doing everything yourself, from the shopping and cooking to styling, shooting, and even washing up. In this post, I'm sharing my tips — learned through trial and error — on balancing all these roles without pulling your hair out.
It Starts at the Store
Make a grocery list of everything you’ll need to prepare and cook the dish(es), including supporting items for styling. There’s nothing worse than not checking what’s in your cupboards, and halfway through cooking, you need to dash out to the store. Ideally, you’ve already made the recipe before shoot day, so you have a good idea on how long it will take to cook, any time-sensitive parts, and how long you have to photograph the dish before it starts to wilt or needs some extra attention.
Plan Out Your Ideas Beforehand
Think about the dish you’re photographing and what angle(s) it will look its best. You could sketch out some ideas on paper or jot down a few notes about whether you want an action shot, overhead, 45-degree, or straight-on image.
Think about the food and how it will look at its most visually striking. A pancake stack will look awesome straight on so you can see the height and the layers, whereas a cake with some amazing details on its top might look better captured at 45 degrees so you can see both its height, sides, and the details on the top.
Think about color theory in your planning to help you pull props and surfaces. You could use analogous, complementary, split-complementary, or even monochrome palettes to help guide your image. The Adobe color wheel is a useful tool to check this. Pull a selection of props and surfaces you think will work for the dish beforehand and lay them out in easy reach.
This will give you a place to start, and if it doesn’t work out how you planned, you can adapt as you shoot.
Set Up Your Lighting and Props Before Plating
If there’s some time while your dish is baking, simmering, or settling, this would be a good time to set up your lights and props and take some test shots. Make sure the colors will complement your dish and dial in your lighting settings so that when you plate the dish everything is exactly as you want it and ready to go when the food hits the plate. There's nothing worse than panicking as your dish starts to look sad while you're wrestling with soft boxes, reflectors, and triggers.
Proximity to Kitchen
If you can, set up with relative proximity to your cooking space so that you don’t need to trek through multiple rooms in your house or up and down stairs when transporting food to and from your set.
Sometimes, you can create a false sense of urgency for yourself once you’ve plated the dish and put it into your scene. Understandably, you don’t want the dish to wilt, go soggy, look sad, etc. But remember, there are always little tricks you can pull out your sleeve to bring a dish back to life like re-plating it, swapping out any wilted garnish for fresh ones, or spritzing some water on salad and vegetables. If you’re starting to rush, take a breath, come back to your notes, and continue calmly.
It’s awesome when you get what you think is going to be your hero shot, and it’s tempting to pack everything away at that point, but I’d recommend changing up your angle and snapping a couple more images. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve captured the “hero,” continued to play around with my angles, maybe moved the light, or swapped a prop in or out, and one of those “extra” shots ended up being my star image.
Creating a no-stress food shoot lies mostly in the planning. Prepare thoroughly, take your time, and you’ll enjoy a smooth and stress-free photoshoot. I'd love to hear what else you do to set up for an easy shoot day.