Food Photography: 10 Tips to Stage Food
Sometimes I get really excited over food photography. People often think I am a huge photo nerd when they see me walking around a party taking pictures of food displays rather than the people! In fact, one of my favorite things about shooting weddings is capturing the details and food. Why, you ask? Because with inanimate objects you have perfectly obedient subjects that you have complete creative control over! No mood changes, emotional pressures, or behavior issues to get in the way..ha ha!
I also appreciate the time and preparation that goes into cooking and I think a nicely prepared meal or dessert is definitely worthy of a good capture. I enjoy using my creativity to style food and make it look pretty in a photograph. It fulfills some kind of creative need in me. Like decorating a room, or making a homemade card. There’s a little reward at the end, a beautifully composed photograph, like artwork, which you put thought and originality into!
I want to share with you some tips on composing and styling food for food photography. I am going to show you some example photographs and give some tips on how I achieved them.
10 Tips for Food Photography
TIP #1: Emphasize texture by using a wide-open aperture (small f-stop) and focusing sharply on one area.
Choose a part of the food that looks yummy/gooey/juicy and set your focus point there. I like to shoot handheld so I can quickly change angle and levels. If handheld, use a shutter speed of at least 1/125 to get a sharper image. Also shoot down low, at the level of the food.
TIP #2: Choose prop colors that compliment the food.
Find props like linens. utensils. serving dishes and garnishes that go with the flavors of your food. Recently when I did a food shoot for a local magazine, I brought strawberries, lemons, limes and raspberries after I found out the flavors of the desserts ahead of time. I also brought linens, fabric, plates and serving utensils in lemon and lime colors. The mat board colors I brought for the background were also fresh, light colors that would compliment the flavors of the food. These were strawberry limeade bars. I tried to incorporate the lime flavor by using limes and background props in lime colors.
TIP #3: Choose props that may have been used during the preparation/serving of that food to emphasize a homemade look and feel.
For example, a cooling rack. a cutting board. a certain knife or other serving utensil. These are also great for added texture in the photo. In this photo I used
a wooden cutting board.
TIP #4: When photographing desserts, don’t be afraid to stack ‘em and line ‘em up for compositional depth and perspective.
What’s better than one delectable dessert? Two or three! Not only does it look tasty to see more than one, it’s fun to experiment with perspective when food is lined up in a row. Also, apply what you know about photography composition. For example, in this photo I utilized both the “rule of thirds ” and the “golden spiral”. I love empty space on the side of a plate of food. It draws your eye to the plate.
TIP #5: When possible, use natural light for softer, more natural highlights and shadows.
Indirect window light is best. You do not want the sun shining directly on your food. Try to find the biggest windows possible and place your food as close as you can to the window. Unless you want a more moody look with more shadows, move further away. I tend to lean more towards high key window light because I like bright images. If your only choice at the time is orange tungsten light, you can go back and fix the color casts later in post processing. There will be times no doubt when natural light is not available. Embrace whatever light you have to work with. I loved all the reflected candlelight/bokeh in this image (taken at night at a wedding).
TIP#6: Don’t forget the little details in food photography, they add emphasis and identify the flavors in your food.
Garnishes on the top or at the side of your plate make it look professional and give it a finishing touch. Lemons in the background of some lemon bars, or coconut sprinkled on a plate holding a slice of coconut cream pie help identify the flavors of the food. Other garnish examples…powdered sugar, chocolate chips, parsley, mint leaves, nuts, limes or berries…all add pretty color and inviting detail nicely. For a great read, check out this book Food Presentation Secrets: Styling Techniques of Professionals . It’s loaded with more great ideas on plate styling and garnishing.
TIP #7: Be careful not to over-saturate the colors in your food in post processing or your food will look un-natural and unappealing.
TIP #8: Use plain colored dishes and subtle prints in your linens as to not distract from the food.
White is my favorite for dishes. Really makes the colors in the food stand out. If you use a printed fabric i.e. a napkin or tablecloth, make sure it’s the only print in the photo. And the simpler the print the better. Small polka dots, subtle stripes are ok. Remember, you want to notice the food first.