Love food photography? Check! Know how to use your camera? Check! Got great props and backgrounds? Check! Practiced basic food styling? Check! Now it's time to step up your work to the next level. But how do you get there and where do you find inspiration? Pinterest, Instagram and Offset are all great places to find new ideas online. Some of my favorite sources of inspiration include actual cookbooks and food magazines. Collect the food images you like the most, study the lighting and styling, and incorporate what you learned into your photography with these tips.
1. HOW TO USE LIGHT?
You've been drooling over the delicious-looking images in your cookbooks or that pasta recipe on your favorite website, and now you're ready to bring them to life and photograph your creations? Don't worry, I won't make you go out and get a fancy camera. Whatever you already have is a good start; even your camera phone can create great results. Lighting and beautiful food itself are the most important parts of the setup. Start with natural light at your window sill; turn off all artificial light, including your flash. Just see how beautifully the sunlight comes in. If the light is too strong, add a diffuser, such as a white curtain, to soften the light. If one area of your dish does not get enough light use a reflector, such as a white cardboard or a mirror to bounce some light back into the scene.
2. WHAT BACKGROUNDS TO USE?
Now that you've played with your camera and experimented with different raw foods, take a look at what backgrounds you can use. Maybe you have a chalkboard, a used baking pan, fancy linens or paper that you can put under your scene. Keep it simple: it's still the food that's the hero. Try to avoid colors or patterns that clash with your food.
3. WHAT FOODS TO START WITH?
Unless you are a food stylist or a trained chef, start with raw produce: root vegetables with leaves, marinated olives, a head of cauliflower. You don't need to be a stylist to set them up, and they won't lose their beauty while you shoot. Look at all the angles; turn them upside down; cut them open and experiment. Explore the best grocery store in your area or your local farmer's market, and look for beautiful fruit and vegetables. Look for shapes and colors that excite you. If you go for carrots or beets, make sure you can get them with their leafy tops. Tomatoes? On the vine, please! Transport everything carefully and photograph it as soon as possible. When you get home, clean the fruit and keep a small water spray bottle around. Spritz the produce every once in a while to keep it fresh and lively looking. Once you set up your scene and get a few good shots, cut your fruit or vegetables in half and explore the inside; oranges, squash, and pomegranates are great for this.
4. WORK WITH PREPARED FOODS
Food styling is a must, but tackling cooking, styling, and shooting all at once can be a bit much. Keep it simple and start with prepared foods like take-out or pastries. Check out your local bakery and select the best looking deserts you can find. Transport them home carefully, plate them nicely and start shooting right away. When you can't stand it any longer, dig in with your spoon or take a bite and photograph again! Check out your local restaurants and see if there's food that looks good and would "stay alive" for an hour. Noodle dishes are usually pretty forgiving. Keep some fresh herbs at hand and sprinkle them on top at the last minute to make your meal look extra fresh!
5. HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH SEAFOOD
Whole fresh fish and shellfish can be absolutely wonderful to photograph. Look for fresh, healthy, and unbruised fish at your local fish market or supermarket. If you live close to the coast, you might be able to get it right off the boat! Again, spritz them with water constantly to keep them fresh and shiny. Some fish keep best in water or ice. When you get home, lay out the fresh fish on wax paper, a piece of slate, or stone and start shooting as soon as possible. Play around with perspective; capture the whole fish or zoom in on the scales. Shellfish look fantastic both fresh and prepared. Cook them for a few minutes, place them on a pretty plate, and drizzle with oil, sea salt, and pepper, and you'll have a fast beautiful dish to photograph. (If you do plan to eat it, make sure to cook the shellfish properly!)
6. TELL A STORY
The final dish isn't the only image you can capture. The ingredients and preparation of a recipe can be wonderful to photograph. The next time you're shooting, tell a story about the process. Your winter cookies are a great subject: photograph the ingredients, the rolling and cutting of the dough, the decorating, and a beautiful plate full of cookies to complete the story.
7. TAKE A BITE
Styling and photographing the "after" photo is another great challenge. You might think that you can just eat the food and take a photo of the empty plate, but as you'll find out pretty quickly, that will lead to unappealing images. Empty or half-eaten plates are very hard to make appetizing. You actually have to create that scene. A salad is a great place to start practicing with. Photograph your finished salad, then start over with a clean, empty plate and lay out a few of the ingredients from the salad. Then, very carefully, smear or sprinkle a little bit of dressing on the plate for a tiny bit of messiness.