I hope you’re hungry because I’m going to take you with me for a photographic genre I really enjoy, today I give you ten insider tips on food photography! So let’s go for a new creative blog, foodporn version! I’m half Italian, half French. I was born in Lyon, the world capital of gastronomy. So let me tell you that food matters to me! I think if I hadn’t started working in fashion and then move on to portraiture, yeah that’s totally the kind of photography I will have specialized in. A few weeks ago some French/ Italian friends of mine and who live in Melbourne too, open a pizza on Chapel St, and Nico asked me if I could come over and take some pictures for their Instagram.
Food photography whether in a studio
Food photography whether in a studio or in situ, in the end, it’s a genre that has existed since the beginnings of art, what we call still life. And still life, as you know, requires reflection, organization, time to think about what we are going to do and the intentions we want to give. Absolutely everything we don’t have today! We are only going to have a little more than one hour to organize a setup, have the cook send us a few dishes, shoot them and finalize everything before the restaurant opens its doors to customers, and then we have to pack up our stuff. We will see if I can get a correct result despite this challenge, but don’t worry, thanks to the magic of editing I will also tell you what I will have done and what you should do if you don’t have the same time constraints as me today.
Lights in food photography
Okay the first thing to do when we get there is to determine what our light source will be. I always prefer natural lights but working with natural light is always more complex, it depends on the configuration of the place, it can be extremely changing… Of course I couldn’t bring softboxes or other lights with me in the timeframe I had so today we’ll have to make do with the sun. Its the middle of summer at the end of the afternoon, we’re going to have a rather warm and intense light. The first idea was to use this large window at the entrance of the restaurant, which is the main source of light, but in fact the only possible place to shoot is this big wooden table very close to the source. So the light will be quite harsh. Using a backlight can be an interesting idea, but if you have a way to control it. Here it could have been attenuated with a white sheet or the little reflector I had taken with me, but I preferred to try to shoot on the side and use my reflector to soften the shadows. In the end, the location that might have seemed obvious was not the most optimal. In the back of the restaurant, I spotted this corridor leading to the kitchens, but with an open ceiling, which gives us a skylight naturally diffused. A few tries and we have a superb and very homogeneous ambient light. Awesome, we found our spot.
The type of light
The type of light will also affect the type of atmosphere you will give to your image. The images I’m going to show you are from an old shoot I did last year in another restaurant but that just to give you an example. There are basically two main trends: very bright, very clean images or darker images, which give a more “moody” feeling. Nico was more into a brighter, white, purer atmosphere. I did this first test with a marble board but I don’t find a result super conclusive. It’s an easy result to obtain in a studio, but here, the whole environment of the restaurant, with this wood, this brick wall, it has a raw, very rustic aspect; which on the one hand is really beautiful but on top of that it goes extremely well with this kind of image.
The saturation level at the edit
So to counterbalance the darker atmosphere of the place, the solution was to counterbalance the saturation level at the edit. By exploding the color tonality of the food, we’re going to get more luminosity in our images, they’re going to “pop” a little more. Second essential point: the focus. Obviously the depth of field is going to be essential here, since it is thanks to it that we will guide the reading direction where we want it to be. It’s quite tricky since our sharpness zone must be big enough to make the whole dish sharp, but not too big either so that the elements that make up the scene are slightly out of focus. And since these elements are very close to the dish… Look at the problem here: the mozzarella is sharp but not all tomatoes are. You don’t want to be wide open, but my concern in this case is that I was shooting handheld, but keep in mind that it’s still life, nothing moves in the image. So you can do what you want with your shutter speed. In this situation, it should have been better to use a tripod, it would have allowed me to manage the amount of light only with the speed and not with aperture as I did, and therefore to use it only to get the ideal depth of field, maybe by opening at 3.2 or 4, rather than 2.8. But again, for that you need time to test and find the right aperture shutter speed couple. Okay that’s an olive-oil picture. It’s just a product packshot.
This is a photograph, it tells something. We’ve created a scene, and for that you have to accessorize the main subject. So you have to decorate your dish with ingredients, kitchen utensils, etc… and tell the story with it. And about that, there’s a real debate here… For cooks… [Strange bird noise in the tree] What is that thing?… For cooks, it’s not a nonsense to have ingredients that are not part of the composition of the dish illustrated. Which makes total sense… But a photographer my friend, is not a logical person and you start to know that if you look at my blog . We’re going to think more in terms of composition and if you’ve seen my blog about composition, you know that it’s not only the geometrical organization of the elements in the image. When you’re trying to create, to embellish a scene starting from the dish or the basic elements, you have to think about the colors, the size, the shape, the texture of it. You have to understand the region where the dish comes from, the period it is eaten, what are the emotions associated… We could make a whole blog only on this topic. Here is an example.
Look how I try to reproduce the same color range in the scene as the dish. Colors that have meaning, with this green, white and red… Do you see what I’m getting at? The angle of view is also important. In food photography, there are two main angles that we will use most of the time. First, at 90 degrees, Which will give a view from above, a zenith angle. It gives an overall view, a better understanding of the scene, and it also gives a 2D aspect to your image. As you lose the notion of depth, you have to try to make sure that the elements are at a similar height. Then between 30 and 45 degree you have a shooting angle that gives a much more immersive feeling, since it’s the vision that we commonly have when we eat. It’s this angle that I personally prefer to work with. Of course nothing forces you to stay with these two, there are other possibilities, like totally frontal to the food, or others. it’s up to you to test and have fun! Ok, we’ve seen the basic principles that will allow you to take your first food pictures. Now we are going to see how, with a few quick tips, we can spice things up a little bit. You got it? Spice it up? Damn, I should have made a comedy YouTube channel… This picture is nice but has less impact that this one. Don’t hesitate to add a human element, that’s what will hollow connecting more easily to the image. For example by eating the food, or preparing it. Close-ups are very interesting in food photography.
It’s extremely immersive and it allows you to really focus on the food. It can even be interesting to do the opposite and take a secondary element as a subject, by sending the dish into the blur as in this picture. So yes, of course, you need a focal lens that is big enough to be able to compose scenes with all the elements, but adding a longer focal length like a100 millimetres to your tool box can be a very interesting investment in food photography. And why not do the complete opposite? Leave the close-ups and move back even further to integrate a set into our scene, add more material. Here we have a wider composition, but we can go further and integrate the dressing room of a table for example. Here I found it interesting to integrate the very rustic environment, this brick wall, this blackboard. Do you have the possibility to change the environment? At the end of the photoshoot, when I took enough pictures in the place where I was sure of the lighting and so my photo session was secured, well I walk around with my pizza to test different environments and create different stories. Don’t hesitate to break the rules I gave you here. Food photography can also quickly become a bit boring.
I love to try techniques used in other photography genres and apply them to something totally different; here for example by shooting through the bottom of a glass. I’m not telling you to shoot entirely like that, but two or three original images to break the monotony, it can be a real plus. Finally, and I’m not talking about the case where you shoot in a studio, but if you shoot directly in a restaurant: food photography is still life. A restaurant is a place of “moving life” and you have to take that into account. Photographing it, representing the atmosphere, the people, the positive emotions and the communion that food represents is as important as photographing the food itself. Okay I hope this blog gave you ideas for your pictures or even made you want to get into food photography.
It’s really something to do if you live in a big city like Melbourne, with restaurants around every corner. You have a huge pool of potential clients and it’s really easy to get in touch with them, just with Instagram for example. With a good portfolio, you could skyrocket your photo business in no time. I will definitely do some more blog on food photography because… because mate, is you can eat everything you shoot!!! By the way, little shout-out, if you came to the Windsor district in Melbourne, Pizza Farro is where you should go. Quick question, tell me in the comments for a next blog on food photography what will you prefer to see: something focused on business, how to contact restaurants to work with them, or something like “studio shooting”, to see the difference with what we did today. Or maybe how to compose a scene, how to accessorize it? Like I told you, there is a million thing to say about that! Don’t hesitate to tell me what you are most interested in.