How to Photograph Food
There has never been a bigger moment in time for food photography than it is now. The rise of the internet, social networks and new types of marketing campaigns has brought something that was previously reserved for restaurant menus, books and magazines, to a whole new different level of popularity.
The rise of smartphones has inspired many people to take photos of their food, use different filters and post them online, but this also means that the need has arisen for high quality and creative pictures as well, taken with dedicated cameras and with a lot of attention placed on lighting and decoration.
If you’re looking for a good starting point on your adventure to discovering the charms of food photography and you’re ready to learn some new and interesting information, then you are more than welcome to check our five step guide below.
Food photography as a still life photography genre
What kind of gear should you use?
Since taking photos of food is a highly creative process, we would recommend using a Full Frame camera and a bright aperture prime lens. This combination will give plenty of room to experiment with background blur in your photos, as well as give you excellent image quality when it comes to colors, sharpness and dynamic range.
Actually, there are multiple types of prime lenses you could invest in, all depending on your style and work requirements. A 50mm lens would be the most versatile one, but there are also 105mm macro lenses that will allow you to get really close to smaller types of food or 24mm wide angle lenses for those shots from above.
A tripod and a tripod arm extender are recommended for close up food photography, as well as the aforementioned shots from above. For those occasions where there won’t be enough natural light available, you could use a strobe light, which will do the best job of giving you as much light as possible, without interfering with the colors of your food.
What are the best exposure settings for shooting food?
There are no special rules when it comes to exposure settings for photographing food, but you should always try to keep the ISO value on its lowest setting. Since you’ll be dealing with still subjects and you’ll have a lot of options to control the lighting conditions, it makes perfect sense to minimize the noise in your photos.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with your depth of field. While a lot of your photos will require you to use smaller f-stops to keep the food in perfect focus, try to open the aperture once in a while and see if you’ll get a more pleasant and artistic look with a more blurred background.
Still, be mindful of your shutter speeds if you’re shooting handheld. For example, if you’re using a 50mm lens, try to use a shutter speed of at least 1/50 second to give yourself a good chance of blur-free photos. You could go lower than that with a stabilized lens or a camera body, but we would only recommend it if you’re sure that you have steady hands.
Why natural light is your best friend
While relying on natural light won’t always be an option in dim and sometimes dark restaurants and coffee shops, make sure that you always try to make the best of it and stay clear of artificial lighting as best you can.
Using indirect natural lighting will give the food an evenly lit look and balanced colors, without the harsh shadows and reflections sometimes caused by artificial lights. Also, attach a lens hood to your lens to reduce the possibility of lens flare and the loss of contrast.
You will also have the option to expose the food to more natural light to give it a warm yellow cast, making it look more appealing to the viewer. If the natural light in the room is too strong, diffuse it by covering the windows with white sheets of paper.
Also, make sure to soften the shadows by bouncing the light off a sheet of paper.
Be aware of your composition and your surroundings
What’s great about food photography is that it will give you a lot of creative freedom to express yourself and find your own signature style. While you will always keep your subjects the main focus of your photos, you will have a lot of options to do so.
Using the rule of thirds technique is always a nice way to start photographing food. After you enable it in your camera’s settings, it will display a 3×3 grid on the screen and allow you to precisely place your subject to your left or to your right, right under one of the vertical lines.
The point of that technique would be to smoothly guide the viewer’s eye to your subject and to give you a more pleasant and focused composition. Don’t be afraid to open up the aperture on your lens or come closer to the subject to give it more separation from the background and make it stand out from the rest of the frame.
In a lot of food photography photos, backgrounds will also play an important role to tell the story and create the right mood. If you find yourself in a uniquely designed restaurant, whether it has a lot of color to it or is decorated in, say, a rustic style, use your surroundings to your advantage and create unique backgrounds to give even more character to your photos.
Lastly, use secondary items such as the cutlery, napkins, candles, smaller plates and spice containers to decorate your photo and give it a more lively look. Make it feel like something is happening rather than strictly focusing on the food itself.
Photo editing advice for getting the most appealing food photos
Before shooting any photos, make sure that the RAW option is enabled in your camera or otherwise, you won’t have that much room to manipulate the images after you load them up on your computer or a tablet.
First, make sure that you adjust the white balance and the color saturation. Always aim for a realistic look when it comes to food, but sometimes it won’t be a bad idea to bump up the color intensity to make things pop a little more. This is an especially good idea for photos of desserts, since they tend to feature a lot of colorful decorations.
Other adjustments include adding more contrast and sharpness, playing around with highlights and shadows and applying any noise reduction. As always. you will have to rely on your own judgment and feel when it comes to utilizing these tools.
Now that you’ve read our guide you have all the necessary knowledge to start experimenting with your own food photos. Grab a nice mirrorless camera or a DSLR and pair it with a bright prime lens, use a tripod when necessary, play around with different compositions and angles, take advantage of interesting backgrounds and be aware of white balance.
But most importantly, embrace that natural sunlight and let it help you take the best possible food photos. Just make sure to diffuse it for those occasions when it gets too intense. You don’t need a lot of it, just enough to let all the colors reveal themselves and paint the picture that will awaken the viewer’s taste buds and spark their imagination.