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Food Photography: Picture Perfect!

“Looks good enough to eat”


Although I have always had an interest in photography, getting my head around the tricks and techniques essential to good food photography has been a challenging one.  

It is undeniable that we all eat with our eyes, especially in the online world and therefore learning to take photos that draw people into the recipe is probably the most essential element of my blog.  Although at the heart of it all is a great tasting recipe, it is paramount the images evokes an emotional response in the viewer – predominantly mouth-watering hunger! 

I have by no means mastered this area of photography, but have made some progress in the last couple of years thanks to hands-on experience with food photographers and stylists in the industry.  The following tips are ones I have learnt ‘on set’ and have taken back to my own make-shift studio!  

Take a read and have a go – even if its using a phone and popping on instagram!  Feel free to join me @helenupshall!  *Note: all photograph on this blog are taken using a Nikon D3100 but all these techniques are transferable to any photographic device.

Use seasonal ingredients that are vibrant, fresh and perky

By using in-season ingredients that are bought and photographed fresh will instantly give your photographs vibrancy and sing with colour.  Use herbs to garnish but ensure they are perky – if needs be, pop them in a glass of water for half hour to revitalise. 

Careful not to overcook your ingredients

Although you want to capture an authentic photograph, do not over cook your dish – if anything undercook, photograph, then return to the heat once you are done.  This will ensure your ingredients do not loose their vibrancy or texture.  

If cooking green vegetable add plenty of salt to the blanching water to keep their vibrant colour before plunging in cold water to stop the cooking process.

Love your muse

Although steam can be a tricky element to photography (and I choose to avoid it), it is best to photograph whilst you dish is still hot – this will avoid sauces from skimming over or separating as well as ensuring the ingredients look moist.

If needs be, brush with your ingredients with a little water or oil to bring them back to life – but not too much as you don’t want it to appear greasy.

Also take your time to dish up – never pour you dish into its bowl, always spoon it in.  This will help to avoid a messy, splashed dish where the ingredients sink to the bottom and the sauce is swimming at the top!  

Use you hands to lightly layer the ingredients to give much need height to your dishes – this is particularly the case for salads and leaf-based dishes.  As long as your hands are clean, you can still enjoy your dish afterwards!

Think carefully about what you want your light to do

I currently photograph just in natural light with no equipment as aid.  This can at times be tricky, and you are at the perils of the sun and cloud, but overcast is perfect in my conservatory.  

It is best to backlight your dish to help emphasise the detail and texture; so push a table up to a well lit window.  Careful the light doesn’t ‘blast’ when you take your images – not being technical at all(!), this is when the light hits white or shiny surfaces and ‘blasts’ out all the detail with white light.  Just a sprinkling of black pepper is great on white ingredients to avoid this problem.

Manipulate the light with a reflector – I use a collapsable reflector which can be used to completely block out the light or bounce the light to highlight dark areas.  Black and white pieces of card too are very useful to manipulate light around the composition – have a try looking carefully at the subtle difference of shadowing.

Set the scene

Photography is about telling a story, especially when it comes to food.  Using relevant ingredients around the composition adds content, texture and helps to support the all important recipe (if this is applicable).  

Adding props such as cutlery and crockery also helps to tell a story as well as creating depth and interest.  Boards and particularly material can also help with this.  

Crumbs, seasoning and chopped herbs are great for offering a textural element to the image – scattering over the composition with ‘controlled complacency’ gives life to the photograph.  Add these last though, once the rest of the composition is set up.  

Find a rustic surface that aesthetically complements your composition 

The more rustic the better – go on the hunt for really gnarly surfaces that are interesting to look at just on their own.  

Wood is a particular favourite of mine – from basic wooden chopping boards, to fence panels and pallets, you can use anything as long as its a relatively flat surface.  

Think about the tones in your composition and choose a surface that complements. If you have vibrant ingredients, go bold, but for a more subtle look simply use light wood or white washed boards.

Use post-production programmes to establish a style

I have developed quite a vibrant, colourful style in my photography.  This is not to everyones taste, but when using seasonal ingredients, its hard not to!  

Use post-production programmes to have a play with your images and establish you own personal style.  

Remember when shooting, don’t worry too much about filling the whole frame but look at the getting the best composition first.  You can edit and crop once you have captured the images but there is no changing the composition once its on your computer and everything packed away!  Ensure everything is level, in focus and complementing one another. 

If you are inspired to take your own food photographs using this article I would love to see them – tag me on Facebook, twitter or instagram with your creations!

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