Sunday, September 29, 2013

5 Tips for Better Food Photography

In my "previous life", when I was working for a media house, part of the job description was food photography. I was never too interested in it, I have to admit, but I learned to like it - not the least so because I realized I wasn't photographing food; I was photographing people

Yes, you read that correctly. Food photography is about people! What you really capture with your photos is the passion of the people who prepared the food. Your photos must reflect the effort the cook put in preparing the dish, the hope it will be liked by those who will try it, as much as the reward this artist (because cooking, ultimately, is a form of art) will be receiving.

Food Photography is about capturing another person's art: The chef's!

So, without further delay, here are 5 great tips for stunning food photos:

1. Obviously enough, as I said already, talk with the cook (and any possible assistants). Ask about the food, learn more about their motivation behind preparing it. It's the same as taking photos for a band: you must capture with your art the art of another person. If you don't understand why this dish was prepared, what kind of challenges it contains, what kind of twists and unexpected surprises, then how will you capture this with your photography?

2. From a technical standpoint (camera settings, lighting checks and adjustment, etc.) you must be ready before the food is ready. Everything has to be set, and once the dish is brought forward, you must be ready to finish work within minutes. Depending on the dish in question, after some time the appearance will begin to deteriorate*. In addition, sometimes you will need to document the process as well - at least partially. Be ready for that as well.
* Still, be careful with steam coming off hot dishes. This is something you might or might not want to show on the photos.

3. Presentation is absolutely critical, and this is something you need to agree with the cook beforehand. The person who prepared the dish is an artist of the kitchen, you are an artist of the camera. S/he doesn't (necessarily) know too much about photography - you can take into consideration their wishes, but you must have the final say when it comes to colors, shapes, background, etc. By the way, you do know exactly how the food will look like once ready, right? (see point 1.)

4. Food photography, besides the limitation of time mentioned above, is an extremely controlled situation. No running or crying children, no jumping singers, no bugs flying off the second you're trying to take a photo of them. However, this also means that you have to control everything. Light, angle of view, absolutely everything in a still life scene must become alive thanks to you and you alone - no hope to expect for a funny expression, an unexpected situation, or anything like that. A still life patiently waits for you (or until the icing starts melting anyway!) but you must do everything. Think your goals carefully, have a detailed plan in mind in regard to positioning, angle of view, lighting, etc.

5. Post-Processing is equally important. That is always the case, but particularly so with food photography. The colors and tones must be very carefully adjusted to look saturated but natural, smooth but punchy. Work carefully, use layers and masks. Color should usually be as accurate as possible - a white cake should look white, not greenish grey.

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