Before I start off , I want you to know , that I am by no means considering myself a pro when it comes to food photography or styling. Without exaggerating I can say, that my first approaches at food photography were horrendous, to tell you the least. Seriously. My pictures were so bad , that I would pay a good amount of money for them to not appear on any social platform ever again. Nevertheless I still like to keep them hidden , somewhere in an unknown little folder in the depths of my notebook, to remind myself from time to time how far I have come over the past two years. What started out as a casual food diary on Instagram turned out to be one of my biggest hobbies and greatest passions and day by day, I keep learning more about photography and feel more confident about my pictures.
I won´t lie to you , I am a completely self taught photographer , so the tipps and advices that I put together for you in this article are neither professional nor professionaly approved. Yet,these were the things that helped me (and in fact, they are still helping me) to develop my own style and to improve my pictures.
I have started with zero knowledge of photography and my path to getting to my current level was more than anything else , one of trial and error. I tried many different styles, angles ,approaches and I failed almost all of them at some point . But I did not let it encourage me. I got around it and tried again, and again and again. And slowly but steadily my efforts started paying off.
Believe me when I say, that nobody was born with the natural ability to handle a DLSR camera or to edit in Adobe Lightroom. These are all things that you can learn. They require time ,devotion, revision and often even a good amount of frustration. But just like with everything else in life , getting a better photographer is a process. And seriously, if I can do it , anybody else can do it just as well.
Here are some of the things that helped me the most along the way
1.Using Natural Light
Looking back on my very first food images , I just shot whenever I cooked my dishes. Daytime , nighttime , I didn’t really care , as long as I had a picture to post on Instagram. But pretty soon I noticed , that although the quality of my pictures where still far from perfect , the use of natural light made a striking difference.
Regardless if you are taking your pictures with a professional camera or simply with your smartphone , natural light is an essential , if not THE quintessential factor in getting a good picture.
One of the best places to photograph food is next to a window, where there is plenty of natural light. I usually want my pictures to have a slightly dark and cozy tone to them , so personally I prefer early morning and late afternoon light for shooting.
Yet , no matter at what time you are shooting throughout the day, make sure too avoid direct sunlight to prevent shadows, hard lines and overexposure ruining your image.
However , you can help yourself in softening light , by simply hanging a thin white bedsheet up your window as a diffusor.
2.Choosing The Right Backdrop
One of the best and easiest ways to improve your food pictures is the use of backdrops. No matter if you prefer a clean ,white , linen background, a dark chalk board or a rustic wooden board , using a backdrop for your images will make a huge difference, trust me.
There are many ways to get your hands on backdrops, an old door , a marble foil , some painted floorboards or wooden boxes are great alternatives, but you can also do some outside shootings and make use of concrete or green grass for a change.
Since you most likely want your food to be the star of the picture , I recommend using backgrounds ,plates and fabrics that will not steal the show, if you know what I mean. Bold colours and large patterns can be distracting , so if you want the focus of your photography to be on your food , it´s always good to go with rather unflashy colours and natural hues.
3.Making Use Of Props
Over the past years I have become a passionate prop hunter . I get my props at flea markets, goodwill shops , antique stores and many of them also over internet.*
Just like with backdrops , if you take a good look around , props will start appearing all over the place. They do not always have to be expensive and sometimes they are completely free. Plates, trays, silverware, linen cloths, cutting boards , wooden spoons , napkins , enamel pots , cups , candle holders, oh dear, the list of props you can use is basically never ending and I haven´t even talked about natural props like herbs, fruits , flowers , leaves, twigs etc. yet
Using props is a key element to the composition of a picture. No matter if it is just a beautiful ceramic plate, a linen napkin and some flower petals scattered all over your set up , or some burning candles and a pair of vintage cutlery , it´s the little details, that will make your images come to life and give them a special and personal touch.
*(I am currently working on an extended article about my favorite props , where I got them from, and how to use them best so check back soon for details.)
Usually, before shooting a dish, I already have a certain atmosphere in mind of how I want my final picture to look like and what emotions I want to evoke with it. Story Telling is a really prominent element in food photography and it is definetly one that shouldn´t be underestimated.
In the best case , foodstyling is able to create the perfect balance of reality and art . Every little element in a food picture is a decision. The way you place your cutlery , the structure of your backdrop, the colour of your plates, the flowers or elements you use. All of those food pictures out there, that look like nothing but a short glimpse into a random breakfast or dinner scene, are more often than not the outcome of different elements, carefully placed in order to create a certain atmosphere.
When creating a set up for a food picture , my decisions are often spontaneously made in an instant, but othertimes I am finding myself rearranging a stupid fork for a good ten minutes, just to realize that I still don´t like it´s position. Nevertheless , it is incredible how a good set up can influence the effect of your picture , it can take you places and evoke the most different emotions . So when somebody points out the coziness of a picture of mine or comments how much he or she would like to sit down at my table to share a piece of that cake and a cup of that tea, displayed in my image, then I know that my food styling was succesful.
Of course it doesn´t have to be this complicated. This is my very own way of setting up a picture but simplicity can be just as appealing. As always, I recommend you to experiment to find out what matches your own personality best. Nothing beats authenticity.
Delicious does not always mean pretty. A comforting bowl of soup may not provide the bursts of colour a fruit platter or a fresh and crunchy salad does. But that doesn´t mean it can´t be made into something appealing. The most delectable and flavourful dishes like chillies , curries or stews are often not the most attractive ones, with their brown or greenish hues. By adding some contrast through colour and different structeres , you can easily make them shine a bit brighter.
A sprinkle of bright green ciliantro , a splash of coconut milk, some beautiful edible flower petals , ruby red pomegranate jewels or the simple adding of a couple of colourful veggies can turn a rather plain and unappetizing dish into a real feast for the eye.
You can also achieve great effects by scattering some of the most essential ingredients included in the dish , over your backdrop . A bundle of herbs, a knob of ginger , some chilli shots,a jar with spices, or a tiny plate with a dollop of the curry paste you used . Not only do fresh and natural ingredients make the best food props , but they also get your reader to visualize all the incredible aromas hidden underneath the surface of a rather dull or unappealing dish.
No matter how good the quality of your picture is , there is always a little something that can be adjusted , like enhancing colours, reducing shades or changing up the temperature for a different mood. Once you have gotten a little insight into the topic of editing , you will see that the possibilities are endless. Regardless if you are using your phone or shooting with a professional camera , there are many, many great tools out there , that can help you in bringing out the best in your pictures.
I usually edit my pictures in Adobe Lightroom and I am constantly fascinated how easy it is to handle. There is both a mobile and a computer version for Lightroom available , but while the App is free , you will have to pay a certain amount for the the computer version. Yet , if you are aiming for more professionality in your pictures I think that it is really well invested money .
If you want to stick to Smartphone photography , I recommend you to stay away from the use of standard filters and rather try changing things up with the different editing tools Instagram or other programs like VSCO have to offer.
Play around with light , saturation , temperature or structure and see how it will go with your pictures. Personally, when editing my pictures I always stick to the rule that less is more , but that is just me.
7.And Last But Not Least: Get Inspired But Don´t Forget To Stay Authentic !
I admit that sometimes it can get hard to keep yourself from comparing your pictures with the work of all of those great and often professional food phtographers and stylists out there. And I understand how tempting it can be, to simply copy someone else´s style while you haven´t figured out your own yet. I won´t judge you. Every (good) photographer had to start at some point, I truly believe , that inspiration and imitation go hand in hand in the process of finding your very own unique style.
Finding your individual approach to photography is not something that will happen over night, so I want to encourage you to collect as much inspiration as you can,. The internet is full of amazing pictures of food, recipes and blogs; especially Instagram with it´s millions of beautiful images and artists, can serve as an incredible source of inspiration. Analyze some of your favorite pictures, it will help you to find out what you like and in what direction you want to go. But whatever you do, always remember that authenticity is the key to success. Instead of creating an exact copy , try to rather use those inspirations as a guideline to help you find your own, perfect way to photography.
Although this sure isn´t the most detailed or perfect guide to food photography I hope that you found some of these advices helpful !
Please do not hesitate to contact me or leave a comment , if you have any questions or other experiences on food photography that you would like to share!
Lot´s of love,