Anyone who follows my 365 project knows that I love photographing my food... well I'm a photographer and a foodie, so it makes sense. And I'm not alone, a quick #food search on Instagram demonstrates that many of us are sharing our meals with the world on a daily basis. But there is a trick to conveying the deliciousness of what is on your plate successfully. Now, I'm not pretending that I am an expert... far from it, but I am learning and improving with each shot I take and I hope to continue to improve and eventually get a call from Good Food Magazine offering me a full time position ;-). Anyway, here are my top five tips for photographing your food, either at home or when you are eating out.
1. Lighting - the most important thing to think about is how to light your food. This will make or break your shot. If you are in a cafe or restaurant, you have less control over lighting, but there are small things you can do that will help. Chose a table by the window for example, to make the most of the natural light coming through. If the sun is shining directly through the window, wait for it to be diffused by a cloud. When photographing in a cafe, I have been known to use the back of a white menu as a reflector, to bounce the incoming light back onto my plate and minimise shadows. Try and shoot your food so that the natural light is illuminating your plate from either the side or back and that you bounce the light from the opposite side. If you are at home, move your food to the window, or even take it outside to get even lighting from all angles (If there is bright sunshine, move to the shade or use a light diffuser, such as a thin white material between the sun and your food). Again, think about using a bounce card to direct light back onto your plate. If you are making dishes for a food blog, think about the time of day that you make the food, to make the most of the natural light. And if you are shooting with a phone camera, you can usually change the exposure by taping the screen in different places (although this may also change the focus).
In terms of artificial lighting, I would advise to proceed with caution. Unless you know what you are doing with artificial lighting, it's usually not going to be flattering to your subject. Having said that, I do often use off camera flash (both diffused and bounced from the ceiling) along with an app that turns my tablet into a light box, as my husband is the chef in our house, so I often photograph at tea time when it's dark. My tin of soup for lunch isn't really photo worthy. I've had some reasonable results this way, but I still need more practice. If you are using artificial lighting, it's usually worth turning off your main light, as this will likely create an orange colour cast on your food. And in terms of on camera/phone camera flash - just don't bother. Seriously, don't take the photo. It will suck.
2. composition - think about the angle from which you are shooting. Different food looks better from different angles. For example, if you are shooting a tall cake or a pretty cupcake, it might look better photographed straight on, to capture all the detail. Get down low to be on the same level as the table on which it sits, rather than photographing from standing height. If you are photographing something which doesn't have much height, it might look better from directly above. Try standing on a chair to get high enough, or move your plate to something lower, such as a chair. You might get some funny looks in a restaurant to be fair. But to be honest, once you've done it a few times, you forget about the funny looks. Try different angles, then decide which one you like best. As well as the angle from which you shoot, the crop you chose will have a big impact on your image. Do you want to include other elements in the frame? Or crop in tight, highlighting the detail? Again, this will depend on what you are photographing. Think about what you place where in the frame and how much negative space you leave around the dish. Again, try different compositions and chose which you like best when you have devoured the food!
3. Location/background - If you are shooting at home for a food blog or sharing, think about where you take the photo. Are you always shooting next to your kitchen window, with the same worktops and background? If so, your images will have no variety in them. Maybe move your food to a different room for a bit of variety, or place it on a large board for a different background. One thing I intend to do as soon as possible is buy some small squares of material, which I will use as fake tablecloths. You might also want to buy some sheets of wrapping paper to vary your background.
4. Depth of field - depth of field refers to how much of your frame is in focus. A shallow depth of field is when a small amount of your subject is in focus and the rest is blurred, highlighting the detail in your food. Alternatively, a wide depth of field is when everything is sharp, from near to far. The level of control you have over your depth of field will depend on what you are using to shoot with. A phone camera does not offer much control over the depth of field and, in addition, the small size of the sensor limits the ability to achieve a shallow focus. You do have some control though and most phone cameras allow you to select a focus point by tapping the screen. You can also achieve more background blur by moving your plate further away from the wall or background behind it. If you are using a manual camera, you can decrease the depth of field by increasing the aperture (selecting a smaller number) and, if you are using a zoom lens, by zooming in to a longer focal length. The depth of field you chose may also depend on the composition you have selected, so play around.
5. Finishing touches - finally, to really make your food photos shine, think about your finishing touches. Garnish your food: a dash of creme fraiche and a sprinkling of chives, or maybe a wedge of lemon on the side. Make sure the garnish goes with the food of course. Think about what you want in the frame; remove clutter and only include props that are carefully chosen and placed. I recently bought some new plates/bowls/glasses etc (all my plates are chipped!), along with some quirky glasses and a board and placemat and I'm looking forward to putting them to use in my photos. Think about whether to cut into your food or take a bite; this works especially well with cakes and pies as the inside is often what makes the dish, or maybe include a hand pouring custard or gravy... this can really bring the food to life.
I've put the photos in this blog in the order they were taken. As I said, I'm no professional food photographer, but I can already see an improvement in my images and I look forward to taking this further.
Do you have any other tips for photographing your food? I'd love to see your images - tag me on Instagram (@louwestphoto) so I can drool over your food (not literally).