Food photography is very similar to a painting. You start with an empty canvas and gradually add things. Everything to the last detail is in your control. And this is great but it can be also overwhelming. I´ve experienced that feeling too but once I´ve incorporated these 5 tips into my food photography workflow, my food photos got much better and my workflow is much smoother and faster.
So here they are:
#1 – Brief + Planning
Before you do anything else, take a pen and put your overall vision on a paper. Or draw it digitally, it doesn´t matter. The most important thing is to put your idea into a visual sketch. This kind of planning makes a photoshoot so much easier and saves you lots of time later. Your sketch doesn’t have to look perfect, but it should serve you as a guide during your photo shoot. Draw your composition, decide on your color palette, the mood you want to evoke and also plan what props you will need. When drawing your sketches, also think about the angle you will be shooting from. Overhead shots are great for full table scenes, ingredients shots and any food that has a flat shape like pizza or pancakes. Any tall food like cupcakes with cream, burgers or anything that has layers looks great from 0-45 degrees angle.
#2 – Colors
Colors without any doubt can make or break your images. With so many color options it can be definitely overwhelming at first. In case I feel like I cannot decide on my color palette, I always ask myself these questions:
Do I want my photo to be bright, fresh and clean or dark and moody?
After I make this initial choice, I choose my background. Whether I want bright photos or dark and moody, I always like to go for a neutral color palette that will help my main subject to pop out. Whites, greys, dark shades of brown and blues as well as blacks all work well. In some cases, when I want to go for happy, fun, bright mood, I try to also experiment with colors such as turquoise and blues. These colors look great with orange and yellow food, e.g apricot cake on a turquoise background.
The second question I ask myself is: What colors can I see in my food? Do I want my background and props to be in contrasting-complementary colors, or analogous, monochromatic, etc? Great tool I always use when I want to see how particular colors work together is a Color Wheel from Adobe. You can pick your base color and choose the color rule you want to go for or you can upload your sample photo and create palettes from colors found in it.
When you already shooting food for some time and you worked out your style, colors help you achieve a consistent look no matter what kind of food is in front of you. The consistent look is very important also when you are trying to develop your personal brand as a food stock photographer. If you would like to read more about a variety of styles and new trends in food photography, I recommend this article → Visual Language/New trends in modern Food Photography/A Variety of Styles at a glance.
#3 – Fresh ingredients
When you go shopping for your ingredients, take your time and be very picky. For example when shopping for fruit, look for the pieces that have no bruises, no imperfections or scratches. Think about the food advertisements you see on the panels in the supermarket. All food always looks the best – best color, best shape, fresh and delicious. Pick ingredients that look like that. On the day of the photoshoot, I always try to keep everything fresh. I keep my garnishes on a wet paper towel and I prepare and style my food in the kitchen. This way I avoid any spills, crumbles or little accidence on set which I would otherwise have to remove in post process.
#4 – Props + Composition
You need props because they help you create a mood and tell the story. But you don´t want them to steal the show from your main subject – your food. So use them, but not too much. When people look at your food photos, they should go: Hmmm, I want to eat that! Only then they should look at the props and think about the story they are telling. Also, with props, you can create different layered effects and lines which can help to bring viewers eyes to the main subject. If you intend to sell your food photos on microstock sites, don´t forget to leave some negative space in your photos. It is pleasing to the eye and also leaves some room for text.
#5 – Lighting + Angles
If you take a look at food blogs and food magazines, you will find that lots of images have a very soft look. It´s no accidence, as food photography is a natural subject and soft light helps to give your photos that natural look. You can achieve this type of lighting in two ways.
Your first option is a natural light coming through a window. I actually prefer this type of lighting, it gives you that beautiful soft results which I absolutely love. You can further modify the natural light with black and white cards made of paper or foam board and with a diffusion panel. Place a white card around your set up to fill the shadow areas and black cards to block the light. Diffusion panel can be placed between your set up and your window in cases there is a sun shining directly into your window, or even if it is an overcast day, but you want to soften the light even a little bit more.
If you cannot shoot during the day, or you prefer to have more control over your light, then you can use a studio light and big softbox to re-create a natural soft light. Again, you can use black and white paper cards to modify the light.
There are basically three angles, you can take your food shots from – directly above, straight on and 45 degrees. Just don´t shoot from the same direction as your light source. Side lighting will help you emphasize the shape and depth and backlighting is great for showing texture. Smoke or steam also show the best with backlight.
And the last tip which is actually so obvious, but still – sometimes it happens to me! 😀
Food photography is best done with a full stomach! 🙂
This may be obvious, I know. But you know how sometimes time flies, especially when you are doing something you are passionate about. You just want to finish everything and in the process, you forget to eat completely. But then, when musicians are playing in your stomach, it is much harder to concentrate on the photoshoot itself 😉 Therefore, take a break to eat first (something different than the food you are planning to photograph of course 🙂 and then it will be much easier to focus on taking your food photos.