Food photography intrigues me. It’s amazing what a good photo of food can do to the mind and body: a great photo can make you salivate involuntarily (Pavlov, anyone?), create cravings, and can even influence how well or how badly you eat, the next time you eat. Conversely, bad photos – even if taken of good food – can make food look unappetizing, ugly, and even gross. Restaurants pay good money for good shots of their food, so that you eat more of it. (Consequently, I think I’m in the wrong business.) If you cook or bake for others or yourself, for fun or for pay, or just to show off what you’re eating, here are some tips on how to make your food look delectable:
Color is Everything.
Color can make or break a food photo. If your white-frosting wedding cake looks yellow (incandescent lighting can make anything look yellow), it can give the impression that it’s old, sour, bitter, or otherwise unappetizing. On the other hand, if your cake looks blue or green (florescent lighting can do that to you), it can make your photo look cold and unwelcoming. Also, did you know that the color blue can make you lose your appetite?
The cake on the left was shot using natural light (it sat in the window of a bakery), while the cake on the right was shot using a flash pointed at the ceiling. I had no control over the 10 year old who ran by and stole a blue rose off the cake to the right, either.
Have a flair for the dramatic.
Depending on what you’re shooting, you may want to consider involving some drama in your photo, to add interest or show a fun food shape. Drama helps when your food subject is otherwise plain, or could be considered “boring.” Vegetables and fruits, for example, which are pretty common food items that you might find to be difficult to get an interesting shot of, can be lit dramatically, shot at a close angle, or placed in large groups for visual interest.
This pile of peppers in the kitchen could have been really boring, but I spiced it up (Hah!) by using the strong morning light coming through the window, and getting as close as I could while still being able to see the peppers for what they were.
A box full of lemons is much more interesting than 1 single lemon.
Don’t forget the details.
Food shots are all about the details: the little things that make the food look delicious. A thick slice of tomato poking out of a sandwich; a glistening cherry on top of an ice cream sundae; the drizzled zig-zag of mustard on a hotdog (not all of your photography has to be of GOURMET food).. those little touches can be everything when shooting food. Don’t be afraid to get close, but don’t get so close that you leave out those important details that let you see how good the food is. Show the sprinkle of sugar on top of that cookie, but don’t get so close you can’t tell it’s a cookie. What do you think of when you think of watermelon? The sweet, sticky juice dribbling down your chin as you maneuver around the seeds. So when you shoot a watermelon, get close enough to see the juiciness of the fruit, but not so close that you leave out all the seeds, or so close that the seeds are overpowering. (You’re not eating seeds the size of grapes, after all.)
See the cinnamon glaze and sugar sprinkled over these cinnamon twists? Mmmmmmm
You can’t photograph smell or taste, but you can (and should) photograph texture.
Texture goes hand-in-hand with detail. In fact, I could probably just say, don’t forget the detail and texture, but what’s the fun in that?
Texture gives you a visual reminder of what food feels like, both in your hands and more importantly, in your mouth. Does the food have a rough texture (will that scratch the roof of my mouth?), a smooth, yogurty texture (cool, creamy, refreshing), or a bumpy, irregular texture (gourds and squash, in case you’re having trouble picturing)?
What’s your favorite food to take pictures of?