Digital Food Photography - Too Good to Eat

Monday, December 10, 2012
A good food photograph allows you to taste the food with your eyes. When writing about food, it is important to supplement the text with photos so visually appealing, it makes your mouth water. As easy as it may seem, food photography is one of the most difficult types of photography.
Because of the complexity of the set-ups and limited working time of the prepared food itself, this field is still wide open. If you can master this type of photography, your talents will be in demand.
Food photography centers around two things - color and texture. These two elements bring a whole host of considerations when planning a photo shoot, such as equipment, lighting, background and props.
Equipment - The equipment requirements are simple and most photographers already have the items: a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera, tripod, remote shutter release and a couple of lenses, such as an 18-80mm and a 70-300mm. If you don't have a remote shutter release, you can substitute the self-timer function on your camera.

Lighting - If you notice, in the equipment list, there is not any specialized lighting equipment listed. Bare flashes do not work in food photography because of the reflections and "hot spots" created by the flashes. It is best to use a constant lighting, such as natural, incandescent or fluorescent.
Natural light shining in through a window diffused by white sheer curtains creates a soft directional light. Just beware the direction is changing throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky. If you already have soft boxes with modeling lights, you can use them, but any of the above three sources work as well.
Refrain from using the Auto setting on your white balance feature. Adjust the white balance to match the color of light, so you can eliminate any color cast due to the lighting color temperature. This will save you time by not having to correct color in the edit process once the photos are loaded into your computer.
Incandescent bulbs throw off a yellow cast; fluorescent bulbs a green cast. Even if you use natural light, set your white balance setting to Daylight instead of leaving it on Auto.
Background - Although most of the background ends up blurred, a simple, non-distracting, complementary background makes a food image. When thinking about backgrounds, go beyond the obvious. Along with conventional backgrounds, such as tablecloths, think about sand, bricks, leaves and fabrics. As we said earlier, food photography is about color and texture and the background plays a large part in both.
Props - Just like backgrounds, props are important. Plan what prepared foods you intend to shoot and then gather the props accordingly. Look for props that both compliment and contrast the food dishes. As far as plates, generally stick with plain white or black. The plate is merely something for the food to set on. By sticking with either a plain white or black, the plate won't draw attention away from the food. Think about silverware, napkins, tablecloths and even garnishes.
When searching for non-food props, watch for sales at stores such as Target, IKEA, Pier 1, etc. You can stock up on great props and spend very little money. With garnishes think color, such as fresh green herbs, red radishes, yellow curry and orange paprika.
Techniques - When photographing prepared food, you have very little working time before the food starts becoming visually un-appealing, so everything must be planned and staged ahead of the actual shoot. You have to work fast and get close. I like to visualize the setting and draw it out beforehand on a piece of paper. That way I can have the background and props already in place when the plate of food arrives, so I can squeeze out more working time.
Now comes the easiest part - shooting the food. Everything should already be in place before the plate of food arrives-tablecloth, props, tripod mounted camera, lighting and even an empty plate as a fill-in until the "real" one with the food arrives.
You'll want to zoom in to fill the frame, so set the lens aperture at f4 or f5.6 for a shallow depth-of-field. This will throw everything, but the food, slightly out of focus. The human eye focuses on the part of the image in focus, namely the food. Set the tripod height so you are shooting at an angle slightly down towards the food, but not straight down, although there are times when shooting straight down may work, depending on the food subject. Use an ISO of 200.
Work fast. Even in a best-case scenario, you will only have about 15 minutes to shoot that dish; most of the time much less time. During that time, try different angles, slightly different camera heights and employ different garnishes. Employing the help of a trained chef to cook the food and prepare the presentation is invaluable. Work out a deal beforehand that is beneficial for both of you.
Once you have mastered the art of food photography, you will be in a small niche of a highly specialized type of photography and in high demand for your talent.


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