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Food as Art, Part 2 - Photo Tips
You don’t need to have an expensive Canon or Nikon digital camera to take great photos of food. However, if you advance to the professional level you will certainly be aided by the highest quality lens you can afford. But for most of us we can take some pretty awesome photos with a fairly inexpensive digital camera if we keep some useful photography tips in mind.
Presentation: To take great photos the most important factor is to use good skills in food presentation and display. Just like a model has been dressed and had make-up applied food will look its best in photos if it has been properly arranged, placed in a wonderful setting, it has been appropriately garnished and useful props are added to the scene. This is characterized as “food styling” or “presentation.” In order to best present the food for a photo you need to study it and determine its most dominant features such as color or texture.
If you are attempting to best capture a food’s texture, such as a peach, you would want to focus on its furry skin. For corn bread, focus on the crumbs. Food photos that can capture texture are invariably better than those that don’t. Also, to make foods pop - the background of a food photo should contrast with the color of the food. When photographing a dark food use a white plate, when photographing a light colored food emphasize the contrast with a dark or black plate.
Garnishes and accessories can quickly transform your food photo into a work of art. Garnishes can serve as food-stylists props, especially when you need some contrast. For example if you have a red sauce add a sprig of fresh basil on top of the dish to make it stand out. A prop can be as simple as a dessert fork next to a piece of apple pie with a bite out of it. Spices, herbs, cutlery, fresh flowers can all serve as either props or garnishes. Depending on the food you are photographing, you need to identify some special feature, emphasize it and to make it obvious to the viewer.
Finally, before you start shooting, take a look around and remove any distracting clutter from the scene such as dirty pans or your pet parakeet.
Lighting: Lighting is the hardest thing to get right and one of the most important aspects to taking good food photos. Just remember, unless you want to invest in some pricy photography lights and light boxes, indoor tungsten lighting is your enemy; natural light is your friend. Try to avoid mixing lighting color temperatures in your scene (i.e. tungsten, fluorescent and natural) as all but professional cameras will have a difficult time getting your white balance correct.
To make food look its best try to make it look as three-dimensional as possible. Proper use of light and shadow is a big help. The most flattering light is the natural light coming in through a window, or a skylight. Try to use soft filtered light, like from a window with white gauzy curtains. If you don’t have natural diffused light a great help is a stiff white poster board that can be propped-up and positioned around your food to reflect light and diffuse it.
Unless you have a professional quality flash attachment, avoid using your camera flash as it is normally way too intense for food’s delicate characteristics. It will flatten the shot and often make unappealing bright or shiny spots.
If you don’t have a window in your kitchen or dining room, carry your plate somewhere else, or even outside. Just be sure to adjust your camera’s white balance based on where you are taking the photo and the color temperature of the light. Finally, position your food on a pretty napkin or placement and you will be all set.
Composition: The classic way to shoot food is from the angle of a diner’s fork. This usually translates into about a 45 degree angle. But, if you are using a digital camera, more shots don’t cost anything, so vary your angle and distance, then keep shooting. Try capturing some real close up shots along with your general shots. The lower your angle the taller the food will appear.
When you are viewing your shot either through the lens or on the screen, try to eliminate anything not relevant to the shot. Keep the plate sparse, not full or crowded. Keeping it simple is the best rule of thumb. Avoid brown or dark colored foods, they are much more difficult to make appealing. Also avoid bold stripes and patterns on in the background, they will distract from the texture of the food.
When shooting food on a plate avoid the bird’s eye view of shooting straight down, as it will usually lead to a boring lack of dimension. If you can change the aperture on your camera, use a wide aperture, this shortens the depth of field and makes things in the foreground and background blurry, increasing the attention on your subject. It can also add an ethereal or more evocative impact.
Also, once in a while catch the chef in action preparing the food. Remember, It’s not just about the food.
Be Quick: Sauces congeal, sorbets melt, greens wilt. Food loses its appeal the longer it sits. Get everything set up first. Use a stand-in, such as an empty plate to get your focus, lighting, props and garnishes and angles established before you bring in the star.
Post Processing: Don’t be afraid to use your photo-editing software to enhance your effort. Lighten up dark photos, adjust your color balance, and crop-out the parakeet if he got in the photo. The danger of shooting indoors is that the photos can have an overly yellow hue. A little blue can be added during editing to make the food look more appealing.
At Beechwood Inn we enjoy fresh local foods, so our photos and our meals often reflect the seasons. And because we are proud of our farmers and the effort they expend to bring us such wonderful products we take lots of photos of foods as they come in the back door. Finally, we eat the food in our photos, and we trust you will enjoy your food creations too.
David Darugh, Chef/Innkeeper, Beechwood Inn. To view more of our food photos visit our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/BeechwoodInn