With millions of food images online, it’s becoming exceedingly difficult to grab people’s attention with your own food photography. But, with a little effort and thought, it’s not impossible.
Here are a few pointers that’ll help you stage an attention-grabbing food photo. Just remember: food photography is a process of trial and error that’ll make you a better photographer each time you try something new.
Use natural light.
Good lighting is one of the most crucial parts of getting an exceptional shot, and unfortunately, there’s just no way of getting around this one. If you’ve ever tried to photograph something in poor conditions, you know exactly what we mean. Without it, food looks dreadful on camera… and let’s face it, no one cares how good it tastes if it doesn’t look the part.
We shoot primarily with natural light, which can be a challenge at times. Artificial light kits are an option if daylight isn’t available, but we’d urge you to choose wisely. Many lights cast an unflattering or warm hue, and don’t come close to replicating natural sunlight. If you’re shooting a darker, moody scene, they can also be particularly challenging (they enhance very subtle, unnatural-looking tones in the image). A clean, white set tends to be the easiest to tame with artificial light, at least in our experience.
Play with shadows.
Understanding how to harness light and shadow takes years of experience, and as photographers, it’s something we’re constantly aiming to improve. Depending on your taste and aesthetic, lighting can transform the emotion of a photo entirely, so don’t be afraid to shoot during different conditions and times of day to experiment with the shadows.
Spend time on the photo’s background.
One of the biggest trends in food photography right now is the growing amount of detail that goes into the background of food images. For many, the surface is an important part of the overall aesthetic, but it’s important to remember that the attention should remain on the food. Ideally, you want the background to enhance your subject, not draw attention away.
Investing in a high-quality photography surface is a great option if you can afford it, and lucky for you, there’s some great options out there. Erickson Wood Works is a favourite of many food photographers and bloggers, offering high-quality boards at fairly reasonable prices. Each board is completely customizable and best of yet, double-sided.
If you’re just starting out with food styling, make life simple and consider sticking with a basic set-up that’ll leave you with more energy to focus on what’s really important — the food!
At first, we relied solely on backgrounds we made ourselves — using a piece of plywood, a little sandpaper and some paint from the hardware store. Your backdrop really doesn’t need to be anything fancy to be functional, and sometimes that means thinking outside the box. Vintage cookie pans and trays are another popular option, and can often have very unique and interesting textures or natural patina that you won’t find elsewhere. Hit up thrift shops, rummage through your parent’s basement, or check out that neighbour’s garage sale. You never know what gems you’ll find.
Acquiring beautiful objects is, without a doubt, one of our favourite aspects of food photography, but it’s certainly taken some time (and money) to develop our style and know what’s truly worth investing in. Once we took on food photography full time, we could no longer rely on the hit-or-miss selection of a second-hand shop, and had to start thinking more about pieces that were going to serve a purpose, and bring something extra to our photography to help it stand out.
Start your collection small, and try to bring in pieces that serve you in several ways. There will always be the need for seasonal or holiday items that’ll likely only be used a handful of times a year, but try to keep those to a minimum in your collection. Instead, opt for classic pieces that will stand the test of time, and add a layer of texture to your images. It’s important to explore your personal style, and find pieces that fit.
Form a balance between texture and colour.
Finding ways to inject colour and texture into our photography is always at the top of our minds, and helps us to craft images that are vivid, interesting and will hopefully inspire you to make the dish at home. Being aware of how colour and texture add to your photography is downright addictive, and once you get started, there’ll be no stopping you.
It’s important for us to point out that we’re big believers in creating something that’s actually doable for others. Crafting something colourful and outrageous just for the sake of it is missing the point, and while it may result in a pretty picture, it’s purely entertainment.
Instagram is full of images like smoothie bowls with fifty obscure toppings, or burgers piled high to the sky, which quite frankly, are made purely for internet consumption. Don’t fall for it. Instead, work on creating images that are beautiful and delicious. After all, this is food we’re talking about. If it’s not even something you’d want to eat, who cares how nice it is to look at?