You plan, shop, prepare, cook and serve the most beautiful and delicious dishes around the holiday season. You work hard for days to impress and fill your guests’ bellies. Why not capture that work in a photo to sit back and admire all that went into making your day delicious? Here are a few tips and tricks to take your food photos from yikes to yum in no time.
Let’s start with tip #1: Do not use on camera flash to photograph food. Just don’t. Whether shooting with a smart-phone, a point and shoot or your DSLR, you can quickly and easily use light to make your food appetizing, not something that looks like a mug shot. I shoot with natural window light and artificial light when creating my food art. Which one I use depends on the situation and time of day. A simple window can give you the most beautiful light for food photography. Artificial light is very useful in situations when you are shooting at night or indoors with little or no access to daylight or windows.
Don’t have a fancy photographer lighting kit? No worries! A window with good light and a piece of white foam board or poster board to fill can work wonders. If the sun is shining directly through and is bright and harsh, diffuse it. If you don’t have a handy diffuser panel or a 5-in-1 reflector set, use a sheer white curtain or even a white bed sheet. I have even seen some people use white tissue paper taped to a window to help soften direct sunlight. Hard light can work sometimes for high contrast photos with hard shadows and bright highlights. Get creative! There is no wrong or right way to shoot, you just have to make the food appetizing.
A work light clamped to a table or pole and shining through a diffused material can be a great window substitute. Try adding in tin foil or borrow Aunt Suzie’s compact mirror to use as a fill for shadows and to add highlights to your dish. Using a light source from behind or to the side can cause dark shadows along the unlighted side of the dish. This is where the fill card/white board comes in handy. You are basically reflecting light back into your dish to soften the shadows. If you do use an artificial light source like a work light and a 200W bulb, try to use the proper white balance so your turkey is golden brown instead of a bluish hue.
Side lighting, diagonal and back lighting can all work great. I like to shoot dishes that have a lot of details like the swirls on top of a cupcake or pasta with sidelight because I feel it shows the most texture. I love to shoot drinks with a light source coming from behind. It really showcases cocktails beautifully while helping to eliminate unwanted reflections on the glass. Some photographers use multiple lights and fills to photograph food.These are just suggestions.
*Check out the photos section for some simple examples of lighting using a simple window, table, fill card and camera.* I personally suggest using a tripod or bracing your camera to avoid camera shake and blurry pumpkin pie.
Tip #2: Look at your dish from different angles. How does your pie look from above? Try shooting your mashed potatoes at eye level or your green beans composed somewhere in the middle. Instead of having your photo horizontal, try shooting with your camera vertical/portrait. Move around and really look at your composition and you will be amazed at how many different ways there are to shoot a dish.
Tip #3-Get in close to your subject. If there are a lot of dishes and entrees on the table it can really distract from your main subject. I love using props and staging photos, but I only use what will enhance my photo, not take away from it. Shoot from close up to where your dish fills the plate and then step back or zoom out a bit and see which you like better. You might like both and you may even like everything in your photo. You are the artist so the choice is up to you.
Tip #4-If you are shooting with a camera that allows you to shoot on Manual or Aperture Priority/Av, choose which ever option you are most comfortable with. If you are able to expose properly on manual, try shooting around f/4.0. Maybe go wider to f/2.8 or even closed down to F/11. See how blurred out the background is (bokeh) at each setting and how much you are getting into focus. I am not going to get too technical, but this is a great way to focus the composition on your turkey, not the wall behind it.
Tip #5- Feed your guests. Photographing food can become an addiction…I should know. If you don’t have time to shoot everything the day of your special meal, grab some leftovers and have fun. Food prep photos can be fun as well. If you are anything like me you will start dreaming about your next food shoot in no time.
Leave comments and questions below! I would love to answer any question you have. Like my facebook page to stay up to date with more tips and photos!