How Do You Do: Food Photos + Styling
Natural light...ONLY. Composition aside, lighting is the most important thing - that's not news, I know, but artificial light can destroy every good intention, and that's especially the case with food, and especially especially the case if you're not working with a professional set-up. Do your food justice and give it daylight: pull your table next to a window or under a skylight, or up and move your whole operation outdoors. It takes strategy - whenever I shoot for Gordy's, I'll wake up super early to prep so I can start shooting as soon as the light in my living room gets strong. If that's not an option for you during the week, think about setting aside a weekend day to knock out a few shoots. Just remember, a picture taken at 9AM is going to look very different than one taken at 11 or noon or 1, so efficiency is key if you're shooting a series to illustrate a recipe. You might even need to double up on ingredients in order to shoot both process and completed product in the same light.
Composition + props. I tend to shoot from above (generally while standing on a chair) because I usually shoot in my apartment, which offers either busy (a bookshelf) or boring (DRYWALL) backdrops if I shoot straight on. Regardless of what angle you're taking, it's pretty easy to get a good background going for the food itself - I reach for brown Kraft paper, a white sheet, a pretty tablecloth, some canvas, or sheets of parchment paper, and then build from there. If I'm lucky I'll have planned far enough in advance so that I can shoot at my studio - the wood tables don't need ANYTHING, and I'm currently sChEmIn' on a big huge marble tile to add to my arsenal at home.
Once you've got a background in place, the props are the fun part - and EVERYTHING is a prop, from a wineglass to herb sprigs, and there aren't any rules. Don't want to use a plate? Use a slate cheeseboard instead! Going for rustic? Keep those cookies on that awesomely old baking sheet! Want things to look a little messy? Throw Maldon all over that biiissh. Don't feel tied to symmetry, don't feel like the fork has to go on the left, don't feel like you have to use a fork at all. Here's a Pinterest board for inspiration.
Shoot shoot shoot shoot shoot. This might fall back on my lack of camera settings skills, but in my own experience I've learned that when food is the subject, a couple of pics aren't going to cut it. Shoot from every angle, take props components away, add them back in, move everything around, etc, etc, etc - even if the composition is PERFECT, something might turn out blurry; even if you think the composition is perfect, moving something half an inch to the left might end up making you way happier. I have very honestly taken over a hundred photos of one grilled cheese sandwich, and in general it's always the last of the bunch that ends up being used.
Edit edit edit edit edit. And when you're going through the 100+ photos you took? Take a step back. This is hard - cooking is so personal, and there's a lot of EMOTION tied up into what's coming out of your oven. But if it's blurry, don't use it. If it's too mushy-looking, don't use it. If you realize you didn't take the background into consideration, don't use it. Sometimes it's not going to translate and the beauty lies simply in enjoying the meal. My most recent failed attempt was a bowl of beet soup. Disgusting! But delicious.
Post-production. A tiny bit of time spent on post-production will go an incredibly long way, whether you're doing it on a computer or an iPhone. Photoshop Elements is an amazing (and inexpensive) program that should cover all your basic needs, and there are one trillion YouTube tutorials to show you how to amp saturation, clone stamp over crumbs, and lasso, say, that spot on your tablecloth where you didn't notice you'd spilt that coffee, and then pull the yellow tones from it so it's not even noticeable. And if Elements is more of an investment (financial or time-wise) than you're looking to make, let it be known that #iPhoneonly is a magic word, but taking a pic with your Instagram camera should be a sin. Make sure to snap from the phone camera itself, then run the photo through a free app like Afterlight or VSCO before taking it to Instagram. It's an additional three minutes of anti-social, staring-at-your-phone behavior, sure, but well worth it.
In general. Go easy on the sour cream, watch out for glare and reflections on your silverware, make sure your linens are steamed or ironed (or cohesively rumpled), don't attempt any artistic plate/sauce swirlies (unless that's your THING! but it's probably not) - and don't clone stamp out ALL the crumbs. Perfection isn't the goal - the point of all your time and effort is to present the very best version of what, when all is said and done, is your ARTWORK. Don't overthink it, and yes, I AM going to end this how-to by telling you to have fun. And I mean it.
December's Topaz + Arrow workshop will cover more aspects of styling for food photography (and also for fashion, events, and lifestyle). Join us 12/8!
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Labels: how do you do