Tips to Build Your Food Photography Portfolio

While I personally enjoy eating my food, there are times where that food is worth a photo as much as a bite. That said, if it’s a field you are looking to get into, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Photographer Daniel Norton shares a response he gets to a common question in food photography, and that’s about what kind of lighting to bring to a restaurant to show off the food. Maybe it’s an entire Westcott setup or maybe just an Ice Light?

Norton (correctly) suggests neither for two main reasons. For one, food that’s prepared for eating doesn’t always look as good as food that’s prepared for photographing. Sometimes, the “food” being photographed isn’t food at all, but instead some better-looking stand-ins such as glue, shoe polish, or shaving cream. Yum.

But the other reason is that bringing lights into a restaurant is a sure-fire way to garner ill will from both the restaurant owners as well as other customers who are just trying to mind their own business and eat a meal.

Better still is to master the art of natural light. For instance, when I visit restaurants, I’ll often try to sit outside or by a large window just to take advantage of the good lighting. No LED is necessary when the sun and a window will do the trick.

Norton also suggests directly working with the restaurant by taking pictures of food in your own home and then pitching those photos to the restaurant as an example of what you can do when given access to their food and facilities. While I’m not one to encourage working for free, it’s one way to do it.

Once you’ve gotten that far, however, it's probably good to invest in some lighting equipment and practice, practice, practice. If you’re looking for a couple of good food photographers to get some inspiration, check out the work of Minneapolis food blogger Kat Peterson, who uses a mixture of natural light and lighting equipment to really make her food photos good enough to eat off the screen, or New York-based Daniel Brennan, who has made a career out of professional food photography.

Do you have any food photography tips you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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