Friday, July 29, 2016

Improving My Food Photography

Just before I eat, I sometimes take a picture of my food. Just before my family, guests or fellow diners in a restaurant start eating, they sometimes have to wait for me to make a few quick shots. Eating, however, is always more important than taking pictures, which means I depend on luck more than patience a lot of the time.

Most of the bloggers I read include photos of their creations. Some include step-by-step photos of the cooking process with their recipes. Some are quick snapshots of a dish that's going to be eaten while others are styled the way that glossy magazines do -- for looks not necessarily for taste. Some are much better than others, naturally.

Curious if I could improve my skills, at least improve my skills at quick pre-eating photos, I looked at a few tutorials and articles online. Here's the key: eating and photographing often have conflicting goals, especially when it comes to timing. Real professionals spend hours moving food around on a plate, brushing it with oil or sugar syrup to make it shine, trimming it with scissors, tweezing bits of herbs onto the surface, adjusting the lighting -- well, isn't this obvious? Want a really great photo of your beautiful plum tart? Better not expect to eat it while it's at its best!

Here are three sites whose food photography ideas I would use if I wanted to be more professional:
Screenshot: "The Serious Eats Guide to Food Photography"--
examples of camera angles.
  • The Serious Eats Guide to Food Photography -- a detailed guide to the subject: how to "compose an appealing image and the confidence to execute your vision." You want to make your photos "evoke the food's best traits and its inherent deliciousness."

    The article includes suggestions for effective lighting, camera angles and composition, and reviews a number of technical photography concepts and how to use them in taking food photos.

    I think the ideas for lighting could be applied to the just-before-dinner photo shoots that I do. Also, even though I take the pics in a hurry sometimes, there are good tips for arranging food and isolating the subject from too much background!

    Screenshot: "Food-Styling 101": backgrounds for a plum tart!
  • Food-Styling 101: Pro-Tips to Step Up Your Game -- a follow-up to the guide described above. Working with just one example, a plum tart, an accomplished photographer takes you through a number of possible steps to creating a beautiful and well-composed image.

    "... there's more to food photography than just, well, photography: professional stylists play an integral role in making magazine-quality shots look as viscerally appealing as possible. That can range from doing the actual cooking and plating to selecting cutlery and arranging an entire table spread."
Screenshot: "We Shot... with iPhones."
  • We Shot Our March Magazine Issue with iPhones: this article appeared in Bon App├ętit last winter. The photographers who were hired to shoot the stories in the March issue were instructed to stick to iPhones.

    First, they said how surprised and possibly disconcerted they were when they got this extension to their assignments. Then they described what accessories they bought to accomplish the task such as:
  • "I went to Best Buy to get a selfie stick and an attachment that would fit the iPhone to my tripod, so it would be still and straight like a DSLR." 
  • "In the car on the way over, we were joking that we should take the portrait with a selfie stick. And somehow the prop stylist had a selfie stick that she bought at a drug store to us within 10 minutes of that idea…at 8:30 a.m." 
    The greatest difficulties these professional photographers experienced with iPhones were problems with lighting, depth-of-field, overall control of the iPhone camera, and distractions because the iPhone not only was taking photos but was trying to give them messages and notifications!
I'm hoping that I can remember some of these ideas when I next take pictures of what I'm about to eat or serve to guests. I have no plan to start baking or cooking just in order to take pictures, so much of this advice will not help me much, but I think I have some new ideas. Since my husband and I own a variety of DSLR cameras with many lenses and options, and we also have iPhones, I should be able to take advantage of this advice if I apply myself!


Debra Eliotseats said...

There are many times, especially during the holidays, that I kind of snap whatever and however I can. I have been the victim of many eye rolls as I victimize my dining partners with snapping photos while at restaurants. I appreciate the links, Mae.

Johanna GGG said...

I really need to read these - though I think part of my problem lately is using a camera that doesn't give good depth of field (compared to my macro lens) - but I do love to eat with the family when I can so my opportunities for setting up photos is limited and when I do I often see stuff I would go back and change if I had time so I can understand professionals must take a long time. Good luck with your photography

Jeanie said...

Well, first off, I think your food photography is fine. For the blog it says it all and you do better than most. I guess it all comes to if you want to be a food photographer/stylist or a blogger who writes about food -- well. But I think any steps to any improvement are always a good thing and I, too, need to take a good look at all of these. And like you, for me, it's all about the dining, not the shooting!