Think about extravagant pictures of food on an empty stomach. Even on a full belly, great food images make you want what you see, there and then! Whether done for cookbooks, menus, advertising, restaurants or even packaging, food photography aims to show off and be attractive. Good food pictures will create a sense of WANT, NEED and CRAVINGS.
“A lot of commercial food photography uses fake food with studio lighting to make the item look ‘perfect’. I find that the end result of that is the same as fashion photography with heavily photoshopped models: deceiving, fake, and unapproachable. It’s much easier to be tempted by proper food porn.” – Carlina Teteris
No matter what time we live in – food always has caught our attention, be in a culinary, artistic or creative sense. Already Dutch painters have created lavish food still lifes in the seventeenth century to portray contemporary life, culture and wealth – as have done many painters before and after. As photography had arrived, our craving to depict food only grew stronger.
We asked professional photographer Carlina Teteris about the essentials of food photography. Based in Singapore, but constantly travelling to shoot around Asia, she is running Silk and Salt Images and has a few tips and tricks for passionate food photographers.
Even though still life photography is used to shoot these foods, there are many different angles and creative ways to shoot perfect food images. In recent years it has become increasingly popular for hobby and famous photographers to shoot ‘food porn’, using props, people and certain types of lighting to produce food art that is even more so appetising to the eye.
Nowadays, food photography has become less complex. When shooting food images, cleanliness, simplicity and a decrease in props, is what works best for famous food photographers of today. Combining the perfect meal, a good eye and correct lighting, one can turn amazing food photography into food art.
Whichever technique is used to create food art with a picture, the main outcome is always to bring upon the feeling of hunger and craving within the viewer, without even being hungry or having smelt the food itself. Our senses play a big role in creating the need for a certain food. These are mostly, sight, smell and taste. Food photography obviously speaks directly to your sight.
No matter whether aspiring hobby photographer or Instagram-fanatic – an understanding of what is needed to compose a grabbing image and the confidence to execute what you envision will do the trick.
General Photography Tips
Lighting is 60% the success of your picture. The correct light highlights food and colours. Not too much light though, as the shadows within a meal are important to show depth and layers.
Natural light always works best! Shoot during the day!
White balance in food photography is highly important when wanting to separate your food pictures from the rest. Digital photography allows you to view each photo directly after it is shot, so perfect your white balance. When shooting on a gloomy day with not enough natural light, you can adjust it by warming or cooling down the colours.
Bokeh is very popular in food photography. Bokeh what? – Bokeh is the shallow depth of field and the blur of the ‘not-so-important’ parts of the photo, allowing the focus to be on one mouth-watering food. By blurring the background, you highlight the appetising food even more. You can create an almost intimate moment with the food.
Using the right ingredients can be more important than the actual meal itself. Getting a beautiful shot of the final product is surely important, but using ingredients as props makes the food more attractive and emphasises its flavour and natural richness.
The angle of your shot can add perspective to your food images. While some dishes may look good from above, others are better taken from the side, making them more enticing. Try it all – that is the beauty of digital photography! Close-ups always work well, as it allows layers, textures, shadows and colours to stand out.
What you Should, or Shouldn’t Do with Food Photography
“Think about the composition and feeling you’d like to convey. A single and perfectly staged shot of a dish may not always convey the experience of a meal. I like to look at the preparation, enjoyment and elements of a meal and capture any special moments involved so the audience can share the whole experience.” – Carlina Teteris
- Do always use fresh food or the freshest products.
- Do spray some water onto fruits, veggies or foods that need to look fresh and juicy.
- Do add some steam, creating that glistening look, as well as bringing the idea of a hot cooked meal.
- Allow all layers to be seen with foods that are not one dimensional – shoot from the side.
- Do take as many shots as you can, from many different angles, with different props and lights.
- Do show the process of the meal, food or product! It adds all the information our brains need to feel attracted.
- Shoot main ingredients of the meal – separately and beforehand.
- Do take a bite out of the food being shot. But not always! It can add something special though. Think about the first bite of a good meal, it always the best.
- Don’t use a flash or extra lighting unless absolutely necessary. If you do, it should always mimic natural light.
- Don’t use old food or products.
- Don’t have too many props around your food, other than those directly linked to the product. You don’t want to confuse the viewer.
- Don’t shoot always from only one angle. This will become boring for your viewers and more importantly, for you.
- Don’t over-edit in post-production, especially if your photo has turned out great, using the correct lighting and colours.
Food Photography Tips for You and Your Phone
“A lot of people shoot their food with their phones. The basic principles are always the same. Understanding exposure and how to use light to your advantage is always key. Different lights have different colour temperatures, such as natural light is much cooler than artificial light. If you start mixing light sources, you are likely to end up with cooler or warmer patches on your subject, which does not look natural or appealing on something you want to consume.” – Carlina Teteris
- Keep your phone steady.
- Use natural light, as the phone doesn’t allow as much incoming light as a digital camera. If you have taken a good photo, but the light isn’t good enough, then simply change it into a black and white photo.
- Take shots from directly above or the front, as smartphone cameras often use wide-angle lenses. This doesn’t have to be the norm – mix it up to create interest.
- The perfect background is key, as it isn’t that easy to achieve brilliant Bokeh with a phone. Try a simple background with plain colours, rather than a loaded one.
- Negative space around the food or surrounding the image allows your viewers attention to be focused on what they should – the food.
Food photography isn’t just for professionals! It is for anyone who has a passion for food and photography or either one of the two. Food art and the perfect food image are never created just by accident. You as a knowledgeable and passionate food photographer are the one who made it that way. By using the important details like light, styling of food and composition, you made it happen. You can become one of the famous photographers too, why not? Try all the fundamental food photography tips and see what works for you. Use your iPhone, your fancy DSLR camera or analog camera.
“The instagram-everything trend has led to lots of improper uses of phones in restaurants, and not everyone super enthusiastic about it. In the end, nobody really cares about every meal you have eaten, so use your judgement when and where it is appropriate to practice your food photography. No food photo taken in dim, ambient light during a restaurant dinner service will ever look good, so save your practice for an occasion, when you can take the time to control the environment and elements of the photo.” – Carlina Teteris