As personal chefs one way to market your business is by showing off your food in mouthwatering photography. But all too many of us wind up with blurry and poorly lit shots of dishes that in real life were spectacular. One of our APPCA members, Chef Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food, took this challenge to heart and learned everything she could about quality food photography. If you check out her website you’ll see she’s become quite the expert. We asked her to share her insights with you and she generously wrote a guest post with seven tips for better food photography.
Seven Tips to Better Food Photography
by Carol Borchardt
1. Study Good Food Photos
First familiarize yourself with what really beautiful food photography is. Websites such as FoodGawker.com and Tastespotting.com feature some of the best food blog photography on the web. Any food blog that has earned a “Saveur Sites We Love” badge will have exceptional photography (Saveur.com/siteswelove). Some of the most renowned food photographers have a portfolio of their work on their websites:
When you come across a photo that really appeals to you, study it and determine what it is about that photo that moves you. When you can determine what a good food photo is, you can begin to move your photography in that direction.
2. Understand Camera Fundamentals
· White Balance: It’s called white balance because whites should be white and it can affect the entire color balance of your photo, which in turn greatly affects its visual appeal. White balance settings include Daylight, Shade, Cloudy and fortunately, Auto, which is where I keep mine set.
· Exposure: Three camera settings determine the proper exposure: Aperture (size of lens opening), shutter speed and ISO (a measure of sensitivity to light). For highest quality, shoot with the lowest ISO possible.
· Depth of Field: The portion of the image that is in focus and a purely stylistic and artistic decision. This depends on the aperture and can only be achieved with a dSLR/SLR camera.
· Camera Modes: The easiest mode to begin shooting food is “Aperture Priority (A or Av on the dial).” The camera will control the shutter speed based on the aperture you choose.
· If all you have is a smartphone camera, helpful apps to make the most of it are: CameraPlus, VSCO Cam, PicTapGo and Tadaa. If you’re still using a flip phone, you may want consider upgrading.
3. Understand Lighting
The right lighting can take an ordinary photograph and make it extraordinary. Making food look good in artificial lighting is tricky and requires additional equipment and skill. Fortunately, the best lighting for photographing food is natural light and it’s free!
Know where your light is coming from. Side lighting or back lighting is best. Think of your plate of food as a clock. If the light is coming from 9:00 or 3:00, you are working with side lighting. Back lighting will be coming from 12:00. Front lighting (6:00) would mean the light source is in back of the photographer, which means the photographer would be blocking much of the light.
Two major lighting rules apply:
· Turn off the flash if you don’t have the proper artificial lighting. The flash causes glare and it gives food an unnatural look.
· Never mix artificial and natural lighting; it throws off the color balance.
4. Establish a Photography Work Area
Study and locate the best source of natural light in your home. Preferably, you want a north or south- facing window. The set-up does not have to be permanent. Once you’ve established an area in which to work, start gathering basic tools, supplies and props.
· Backgrounds: Fashion something, such as a piece of plywood or MDF, that you can set up to block out what doesn’t belong in your photo such as your sofa. Paint one side white and the other a dark color such as black, brown or green. White lends softness while a darker background is dramatic.
· Surfaces: Gather fabric remnants for soft surfaces (and backgrounds). Repurpose old and distressed wood from pallets or fencing, use old cutting boards and metals with a weathered patina such as a well-loved cookie sheet.
· Gather unique textiles, plates, old silverware, old serving pieces, platters, etc. Use simple round matte (no gloss) plates and bowls. Avoid patterned plates; white is always a good choice. Square or rectangular plates are very difficult to make look good in a square frame.
5. Pay Close Attention to Cooking and Plating
· A mouthwatering photo starts with quality ingredients.
· Read the recipe and visualize the dish. Evaluate whether it will make an interesting subject to photograph. Any brown food is going to be difficult.
· Make sure prep is meticulous and keep the finished product in mind throughout the entire cooking process.
· Be realistic with serving sizes. Some food bloggers love to load up plates and bowls. That’s fine for a food blog; however, our clients are looking to us to help them eat better.
· Go for height. Try to “lift” your food off the plate. Stack brownies and cookies, place proteins on top of the starch or the vegetable. Don’t spread food around the plate; it looks flat and boring.
· Garnish, garnish, garnish! Use whole herb springs instead of chopped and sprinkled; it’s a cleaner look that makes a bolder statement. However, the herb sprig should not dominate the photo.
· Use food as props if the food was used in the dish: A bowl of avocados, cloves of garlic still in the skins sprinkled around, herb sprigs half chopped, etc.
6. Understand Composition
Think of composition as a group of ingredients required to cook up a good photograph:
· Orientation (Vertical or horizontal)
· Balance (the visual harmony in the photograph).
· Rule of Thirds is a good rule of thumb. Think of your photograph divided into a “Tic Tac Toe” grid (nine even sections). One of the points (off center where those lines intersect) is generally where you want to place your subject.
· Create “movement” with triangles. A great food photo keeps your eye moving around the photo in a triangle shape. The triangle can be the plate of food and two props or leaves of basil in a pasta dish.
· Create “movement” with objects. Show something else going on besides the food just sitting there. Get a helper to hold a spoon of gooey macaroni and cheese being lifted out of the pan, the spatula still frosting the cake, etc.
· Say it with color. Opposites on a color wheel always work together and a monochromatic look can be very dramatic. Watch out for colors that clash. If you wouldn’t wear the combination, don’t have it in your food photo.
· Avoid “tight” or extreme close-up shots. Zooming in too tight can leave food unidentifiable. Your clients want to see your food as they would see it sitting down to the table, not how it would look two inches from their face.
· Not every part of the photograph needs to be filled with props. Negative space or space that is left empty can make a very powerful statement.
7. Find a Good Editing Program to:
· Correct exposure and brightness
· Lighten shadows
· Adjust highlights, contrast, color saturation and balance
· Crop and straighten
There are many free programs, such as Google’s Picasa, GIMP, Paint.NET, and iPhoto on Macs. Your camera probably came with software to do this.