I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there – we’ve been out for an incredible meal or made a superb dinner and yet just can’t get THAT shot. The lighting is poor. The presentation of the dish doesn’t correctly represent how good it tastes. Knowing which angle to shoot or how busy the shot should be is a huge internal debate. By the time you get to eat, your food is just warm and you still haven’t got a shot good enough to justify it.
Sometimes this still happens to the best photographers – you can’t always be in control of every situation (I know that’s difficult to hear for some of us control freaks). To hopefully help make those times fewer and far between and make nailing those food shots come more naturally (it all takes practise), I’ve compiled a list of helpful, simple tips from my own photography experience shooting for food clients and my blog to share with you. So, here you go! Simple food photography tips!
We all know presentation is important. If you’re cooking at home, it can be a tiny bit easier to correct presentation as you have an array of tools at your disposal. Some key things I’ve found useful for home-cooked dishes are:
- Plates look better with food stacked, rather than spread across the plate – think height
- Make sure your plates are perfectly clean and smear free – remove any liquid/crumbs which have come into place from serving the food unless of course, they add to the effect you want to achieve. A good camera will pick these up, and it’s harder to remove with editing than wiping them off in the first place!
- Longer vegetables, such as Tenderstem or baby corn, work better as sides, than peas or sweetcorn
- Think about all the colours – Home-cooked roasts are regularly classed as one of the most unattractive food posts, and this is often because it’s pretty beige. Consider the colours in your dish, and try to add extra colourful ingredients where possible
- If all else fails, a sprinkle of herbs on top of a dish can add colour and do wonders for the overall appearance
If you’re out for a meal, most chefs will have the presentation in mind, especially in the age of Instagram. However, there might be the odd time when you need to smarten the dish up. Don’t be afraid to do so.
- Ask for extra napkins and wipe the edges of plates – just like if you were at home
- Make the most of any additional props you have on the table, or can pick up from different stations around the restaurant i.e. sauces
- Move parts of the meal (the bits you can) – i.e. straighten burger buns and position gherkins, place sides which arrive separately close by or position on the plate
If the dish itself is pretty beige, then think about how else you can add colour to the shot – perhaps there are colourful napkins, tea towels, bright drinks, table decorations, or a colourful wall in the restaurant you could use as the background – take a few shots and see which works best.
This is a constant bugbear of many, especially in the winter when the sun is lower and daylight hours are limited. Not everyone has fancy lighting they carry around, and when out for dinner taking a speed-light flash unit is not appropriate so we have to work with what we have. For these quite infuriating times:
- Use the aperture priority setting, set the ISO to auto, and use the lowest aperture to get the fastest shutter speed. This does mean you won’t get a very wide depth of shot (the background will be blurred out), but the main focal point should be good enough quality to be able to edit
- Use another light – e.g. another phone light. Play with the angle of the lighting and even try and cover the phone light with a napkin/tissue to give it a more natural feel. You might get shadows with this method, so it does take a few shots to see where is best for the light to be positioned to minimise this
- Have a go using custom white balance. Katy English has written a great post on this here.
This is another key aspect that can make or break a photo – think about it…a simple pastry can look pretty superior when photographed along with a swirly flat white, on a marble tabletop, accompanied by a handbag/scarf/colourful book/diary, taken at a height. Here are some points to consider/do:
- Do your research – Spend some time on Instagram looking at similar dishes/foods and how they’re shot. Get a feel for the best angles and compositions and take notes for future shots
- Turn plates around and experiment with different directions – the compositions of two or more plates can interact with one another, so take a few photos with plates in different directions
- Take photos of different angles (flat lays and from the side), so you can look back later when editing to decide which works best for what you want to achieve – you might change your mind later
- Again, think about any other props you can possibly use, and play around with including them in the frame, whether all in or only part featured
There are a number of editing tools/programs which can be used, and it’s really all about finding the best for you. Lightroom is a fab photo editing product, and I will go into this in a later post. However you don’t need to pay lots to be able to get great quality food photos – I used to edit my blog photos through Instagram, playing with the manual tools. It’s all about finding something which works for you.
I will mention here though, the one big faux pas I’ve seen in edited photos is the images being made too warm due to being oversaturated. Be careful – saturating images is great in making colours like greens and reds pop, but it can add extra warmth to the image. Be sure to counteract the increased saturation with a reduction in warmth. Look at any white space in the image, and use this as a gauge – does it look true white?
I know it’s annoying to hear, but it really is all about practice. Get the camera out and shoot everything you eat, experimenting with the presentation of the dish, lighting, angles and composition. You’ll start to get used to what works for what type of food/dish.
Scroll through Instagram and build a bank of ideas for future shots, and try them out. This is one of the best tools for photography ideas, with 95 million photos and videos posted each day, so make sure you utilise it.