If you scroll through your Instagram feed or on your favorite Pinterest board, you’re bound to start drooling over some amazing food photography. Great food images are a must for food bloggers to pull those readers in, but surprisingly you don’t need a whole lot of expensive studio gear and fancy cameras. To make delicious looking food images, as you see in magazines or on your favorite foodie blog, you simply need a strong understanding of the basics and some practice. So to get you started, here are 6 food photography tips for beginners that will have you capturing your stunning kitchen creations with confidence and vision.
Shoot Like A Pro With These Food Photography Tips
1. Master That Light
Each food photograph is a story. You start with a blank canvas and build your image one layer at a time, constructing your story until you have a perfect balance between reality and your unique vision. The best light for food photography is lighting that fits the story and speaks of a world outside of your frame. Poor lighting will immediately ruin your story and send your audience running no matter how delicious the recipe. So making sure that you have the best light for food photography will help out your images big time. Here are a few cheap tools to help you immerse your food scene in gorgeous light.
Placing a large diffusor like this one here or even a large white bed sheet between the light source and your subjects, help create beautiful soft highlights and shadows. This works particularly well when you’re fighting the harsh direct sunrays streaming through your window or when working with artificial lights like a flash or studio strobe. As the light hits the diffusor, the diffusor itself becomes the new light source, and nothing cuts the extreme contrast of direct light better than having a nice large light source close to your food. This article here from WeEatTogether.com dives into what a diffusor does with a great explanation on how to use it to get some magical light for your food photography.
Foam Core and Gobos
Head down to your local craft store and pick up some black and white foam core cards. These cards can be used to modify the light and its direction in so many awesome and interesting ways. Black and white foam core usually comes in 3ft x 2ft cards, and because they’re so useful, you’ll want a few of each. Start by holding the black cards near the shadow areas of your food for added contrast and the white cards to bounce your natural or artificial light back into your scene, revealing those important details of the food image.
If you want to get a little more advanced with the cards, you can use them as “gobos” to block and shape the light for your food photography in a lot of interesting ways. One of my favorite ways is to pin a black card near my background. Often when using a window, the natural light will fall on your backgrounds or props, making them as bright or even brighter than your subject. Our eyes gravitate towards the brightest spot in a photo first, if that spot is not our subjects, it can harm our story. This is also a very important technique for creating darker, low-key styled images.
2. Work The Camera Like A Pro
One of the fastest ways to improve the quality of your food photography is to start working that camera like a pro. That means you have to switch that camera dial over to “M” for manual. Learning how to manually expose your food photos is not as scary as you might think. There are simple systems like the “Sunny 16” rule that works great if you’re using natural light for food photography. There is also the exposure triangle that nicely lays out the relationship between your camera’s aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
If that’s too much for you, rocking your camera’s exposure for food photography is actually not that hard.
Manual AV For Food Photography
The biggest reason to learn how to manually expose your images is because blur will suck those viewers into your yummy photos. The f-stop (amount of light entering through your lens) you use controls the amount of blur (depth of field) in your foregrounds and backgrounds. Blur forces the viewer’s eyes to zone into your food. To make those huge improvements in your photos you need to choose the right f-stop (therefore blur) for your subjects and camera angles. Once you choose the f-stop the other two exposure settings, shutter speed and ISO can easily fall into place.
TIP 1: I generally suggest using an f-stop of f/4 when your camera angle is in front of the food and f/8 when the camera is above the food.
TIP 2: Set your ISO as low as possible, choose the desired f-stop you want, and then adjust the shutter speed until you have a properly exposed image. (Depending on the amount of light, your shutter speed may be rather low necessitating the use of a tripod)
TIP 3: Find Your Inspiration
Taking a moment to reflect on the style of work that inspires you is one of the most important steps to grow as a food photographer. Luckily in the age of the Internet, you don’t have to search hard to find some truly amazing photographers.
It’s a good idea to set the camera down for a week. Have a look at what other photographers have created. You should look for those artists who create work that you would LOVE to be making. Find those photographers, painters, graphic designers who spark that creative fire within you.
• Create a mood board on Pinterest, titled "My Inspiration" and fill it with their work.
• Make little notes about what inspires you from each pin.
• Once a week add more inspiration to this board.
• Reference it before you pick up your camera.
Keeping that folder or board filled with a strong collection of inspirations sets a bar for your own food photography. This bar keeps you honest, a constant reminder of how far you have to go and a destination to reach for. As your photography progresses so does that bar. As you improve, you may leave your old inspirations behind and gain new ones. Which is great.
4. Style To The Camera
One of the quickest ways to not only improve your composition but to speed up your entire production is to approach your food photo shoots by styling to the camera. This requires the use of a tripod, or if you’re shooting from above the food, this super easy overhead camera mount for food photography is not only great for photos but can be used to whip up food recipe videos as well.
Creating your food photography compositions by styling to the camera allows you a single point of reference; an unchanging view that you consult with each addition to your story. With every addition or subtraction from your story, you take a picture. With each change, you cycle between the images to judge how your composition and story is progressing. You can see a great video here of some awesome styling tricks that wouldn’t be possible without styling to the camera.
5. Learn Editing For Food Photography
Learning how to edit food photos is one of the great dividers between having stunning images and photos that are simply ok. Beautiful lighting, great composition, styling and an amazing recipe are nothing to sneeze at, but a few minutes spent editing on the computer can turn that great image into something magical.
Investing in software like Lightroom, Capture One, or even Photoshop gives you the ability to make that food image POP off the screen. I prefer editing food photography in Adobe Lightroom. Learning how to navigate each program can be tough at the beginning, but luckily there are plenty of resources and tutorials that you can find here and around the web.
One of the greatest features of Lightroom is the ability to use presets, which give your food photos that wow factor in a single click. Companies like VSCO specialize in making great presets for Lightroom, but they can be a bit pricey. However, with a bit of searching, you can find other great presets like these 5 free ones made specifically for food photographers here to get you started.
6. Tell Great Stories
The boundary of your frame is your own little world. Start with the recipe and an empty table. Then fill the lines of that story one background, prop and garnish at a time. You could speak about the history of the dish and the culture it came from. You could show the labor and love that it took to bring that recipe to life. You could even speak about the vision you have for your own lifestyle. Here are a few simple questions you can ask yourself before you start clicking away.
As you cook up that great idea for your next food photo think about:
• How many people will be eating?
• What would they eat this food with?
• What would they drink with this meal?
• Where and when would this meal take place?
Answering one or all of these questions will not only inspire your styling and prop choice, but your lighting and composition as well. Food Photography is all about using your camera to start delicious conversations, and there are so many possible stories to tell.
About our guest contributor:
Skyler Burt works as an editorial food and travel photographer and for over 10 years has been providing award-winning imagery to some of the worlds best publications and brands. His work has appeared in Southern Living, Sunset, Saisonküche Magazine, Time Out, Forbes Traveler, and The Ritz Carlton Magazine along with many other brands and publications. He also speaks worldwide about food photography and the industry for brands such as Canon, Fujifilm and Zomato. To view his portfolio visit www.skylerburtphotography.com.