Whether you are an exclusive food photographer or not, you likely won’t escape the inevitable opportunity to photograph people with food or food details in your photo journey. To get even better at this unique subject myself, I asked 3 expert food photographers to share one tip for getting the perfect food shot and was delighted and enlightened by their thoughts.
Kate Jones: Utilize a Contrasting Background
It seems like shooting on a white background would provide a great, clean, neutral backdrop that would be perfectly suited for showcasing your kitchen creations, especially when you’re shooting dark or brightly colored food. After a lot of frustration behind the camera, I realized that when shooting on a white surface, it is incredibly difficult to get your white balanced and your colors vibrant (not to mention showcasing those details you worked so hard on!) If your food (or the white background) is looking yellow, blue, grey, or green or over or underexposed. If you’re feeling frustrated (and who wouldn’t be?!), try shooting on a darker surface—I often use a dark wood cutting board, a piece of black foam board (and I keep the aperture on the low end so the black background is soft and atmospheric), or even a piece of black foam board that I’ve lightly rubbed the side of a piece of white chalk over for a chalkboard-like effect. Your shots will most likely go from drab and dreary to vivid and exciting almost immediately!
Sara Wells: Prep The Scene First
In portrait photography, you have an ever-changing model, whom you can move, adjust, change facial expressions, change locations, touch up, etc. With food, it takes a lot more effort to reposition anything or change lighting once you’re set up and the actual shoot-time is often very limited depending on the type of food. Ice cream will start melting, gooey cheese will quickly solidify, and if you’re pouring something, you often only have one shot! If I know I have a tricky shot, or a very short window to get “the one,” I take the time to set up the entire shot before the actual food enters the picture. I make sure the lighting is perfect, and I pay attention to just just the actual food I’m shooting, but everything that surrounds it. What’s in the background? What colors will pop out? That way when the food is ready, it can quickly enter the frame and no time (or food!) is wasted. Getting “action” shots with food, like pouring syrup for example, is a great way to add a little life to an otherwise very still-life photo.
ABOUT KATE & SARAH: Kate Jones and Sara Wells started their cooking blog, Our Best Bites, in 2008 with a couple of point-and-shoot cameras and the expectations that no one beyond their sisters and former roommates would ever read it. They quickly gained a loyal following of readers who have helped Our Best Bites reach millions of visitors every month. In the past 6 years, Kate and Sara have become avid photographers, have published two national bestselling cookbooks, Our Best Bites: Mormon Moms in the Kitchen and Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and have participated in a national speaking tour. Kate lives in Louisiana with her husband Sam and their three children, Clark, Meredith, and Will. Sara lives in Idaho with her husband Eric and their three children Tyler, Owen, and Jack. Kate and Sara both shoot with Canon Mark III 5D cameras; Sara loves her 24-70 mm lens and Kate has recently become a tiny bit obsessed with her 100 mm lens.
Belinda Olsen: Find the Story
Food photography isn’t just about the color of the food, background, props, styling or angles, but it is how you use all of these elements together to tell a story. Before I work with a client or photograph a recipe of my own, I sit down and ask questions about the dish and ingredients I’m going to photograph: How many people will this dish serve? Is this dish intended for a quick and easy lunch or a romantic dinner for two? Is this a family recipe passed down from generation to generation? Are there unique or season ingredients that need to be highlighted? After I know the story I want to tell about this dish I pull out my sketchbook. I quickly sketch how I envision the food from several different perspectives and framing options to give me an idea of how I want to create my photo. This is very helpful as usually I am both the food stylist and photographer. In this example of brie and pear puff pastry bites you can see how a varying perspective significantly changes the story and draws in the viewer.
ABOUT BELINDA: Belinda is a self proclaimed foodie with a background in culinary instruction who strives to try a new food every week. This is how she discovered she loved brussels sprouts, sushi and spam musubi! After several years of trying to love mainstream photography, she was encouraged by a mentor to photograph a personal project that had nothing to do with weddings or families. That project evolved into a ‘Food Friday’ series on my blog and she’s never looked back. You can find this recipe for brie and pear puff pastry bites and her photos in the upcoming Food For Your Family Table Cookbook. Her most recent adventure has included moving with her husband to Lehi, Utah at the first of the year to manage theFINDlab.
You can follow Belinda at:
Brooke Snow: Wait for the Perfect Moment
Even though I consider myself a lifestyle photographer, I find myself photographing events that involve food all the time (wedding dinners/receptions, parties, family gatherings, lifestyle sessions…). When food is part of an activity, it can be a challenge to get a flattering shot that doesn’t catch people with their mouth full, chewing, or ready to take a bite… all moments that are not quite as “attractive” to look at.
Tip: When photographing people with their food, WAIT FOR THE PERFECT MOMENT!
I love to use my telephoto lens during food events and hide out in the distance and pick someone to watch. Then wait. And wait some more. Until a laugh or smile comes in the conversation and then SNAP! This is a great way to integrate food into the environment and story of the photo while still being flattering to your subjects.
Brooke Snow is the Professional Photographer for her own family and an Abundant Life Practitioner. She loves tree swings, the month of May, and early morning walks. She lives with her calm husband and adventurous son in Northern Utah. Join her FREE Photo Perspective Photography course for great instruction on easy ways to immediately improve your photos.