Tuesday, May 22, 2012
I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t like good food, or pictures of good food. Good food photography can make your mouth water and your stomach grumble. It makes you want to reach your hand into the computer monitor, grab a piece, and take a bite. At least, that’s what the people posting the photos would like for those on the receiving end of those pictures to feel!
Food photography has a special place in my heart. My love affair with photography started a very long time ago, but it was food photography that brought some real passion into the relationship. Those who know me in real life know that I love to play around in the kitchen and come up with healthy new recipes, and that I’m one of “those people” who takes pictures of my food at restaurants, particularly if the food has an artful composition. What I’m going to focus on today is how to get the best pictures of food photography at home with a simple setup. This should be useful for anyone that has a food blog or just likes to make their friends jealous. :)
Tip #1: Lighting is everything. Buy or build a cheap light box.
Good lighting is important for any subject! However, I think it’s easiest and really simple to accomplish good, even, diffused lighting on a small scale with a light box. I have one that was purchased for me as a gift, but they are easy to make too!
If you are looking to purchase one, I have the “Portable Photo Studio” from ThinkGeek (shown below). It came with some nice little lights to use too. I’ve even used this thing to take awesome camera phone pictures.
If you’d like to build your own, it’s pretty easy too:
(1) Get a cardboard box that is approximately 18” square and cut the flaps off.
(2) Lay it flat on your work surface with the same orientation as the light box shown above.
(3) Cut large windows in the panels that are oriented to the top and sides (leave about 2 inches around the edges).
(4) Tape some white tissue paper over the windows.
(5) Cut a piece of white poster board that is long enough to tape up on the inside back panel and drape down out the front for your continuous white background.
(6) Add some table lamps near the tissue paper and voila.
I attached some black fabric to the inside of my purchased light box for the effect shown in soup (above) and sandwich (below) images.
Honestly, sometimes I’m too lazy to take out the side lights too. I’ll attach my external flash to my camera with a diffuser, point it toward the back or top of the light box, and just let the diffused light bounce around. I’ve achieved some pretty good shots that way. Another technique that I like to use is to place the light box near an open window on a sunny day and let the sun light up the box from the outside.
(This is just a turkey sandwich, but it sure looks fancy in a light box, right?)
Tip #2: Color contrast will make your food pop!
If you want your food photos to pop, you’ll need some interesting color contrasts to help out. I like to shoot on stark white plates against a black background to highlight the food on the plate. That’s just personal preference since I do a lot of fine art photography and it reminds me of a photo in a black frame with a white mat. You should style your food in the way that lets your own personality show through.
Consider using printed fabric as your background to mimic a table cloth, or adding some minimal props for visual interest. Don’t overdo it with the props though. You want the food to speak for itself. Sometimes, simple garnishes work really well for this. In the image below, I added some green leaf lettuce to a photo of an unconventional savory sorbet - roasted tomato with bacon. The lettuce made it more of a BLT. ;)
Tip #3: Get down to food level.
Most people are used to looking at food from the perspective of it being on a table and them being seated at the table looking down. If you really look at food magazines and cookbooks though, you’ll notice the perspective is much more “food in your face”. I like to shoot an an angle slightly above the plate, so I can get a good view of everything that’s going on and capture not only textures, but the height of the food on the plate. You might need to experiment slightly to see which angle works best for what you’re shooting.
(This is a roasted tomato BLT salad with goat cheese, pecans, basil, and balsamic vinegar drizzled over the top. The roasted tomatoes were left over from the sorbet experiment.)
Tip #4: If there is more on the plate than the main subject, use a shallow depth of field
In the above photo, you’ll notice the tomatoes are in focus, but the leafy green stuff in the back is not. That was done on purpose. If there is a lot going on in the composition and multiple things on the plate, or multiple containers on the table, try setting a shallow depth of field with a wide open aperture (the smaller numbers). Pick a visually interesting spot on the plate, or select the main food that you want to be the focus of your post.
For example, I made some delicious gluten free chocolate chip cookies, but they were kind of plain looking when alone on the plate. I added a glass of nut milk (no dairy for me either!) to the background to give it the more familiar feel of “milk and cookies”, but when it was all in focus, it was a little busy, and the focus wasn’t just on the cookies. Changing the depth of field to put the cookies into focus and blur out the rest really drives the point home that the picture is all about the cookies.
Tip #5: Crop in close to the food.
Cropping the photos close to the food gives it that larger than life feeling that helps the viewer to further focus in on it. Try to frame it so the important pieces take up most of the real estate in the photo. Ideally, you want minimal background in the photo, so as not to distract from the food and the plating. Remember that plating can be part of the artwork just as much as the food can.
(This is an Asian noodle soup that I made in my crock pot)
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! If the soup photo is making you hungry, here is the recipe as an added bonus:
Shiitake Mushroom Crock Pot Soup
* cover bottom of large crock pot with dried shiitake mushrooms, broken into bite sized pieces.
* thinly slice 4 carrots and toss in
* slice 4-5 scallion stalks and toss in
* smash and chop about 6 cloves of garlic and toss in
* cover all that with a layer of dried rice noodles
* cover it all with water (crock pot should be maybe 4/5 full) and simmer for a few hours
* toss in about a teaspoon of black pepper
* toss in about 2 tsp of sea salt
Set the crock pot to high for 2-3 hours and forget about it. When it’s done, sample the broth, and if you find it tastes bland, sprinkle and mix in a bit more salt until you think it’s right and the flavors make your mouth happy. :)
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