I have a full time job as a Photographer/Videographer for an international health food company. Each week and month comes with new assignments and challenges. This week’s assignment: Food photography in natural light. Specifically, we’ve been working on creating some shots that show off some of the main ingredients in our blueberry based flagship product. The shots will be used on an update to our website that my co-worker is designing. When we started this project I didn’t have a ton of experience photographing food, (except for this chocolate cake) but the call of a new challenge is what keeps photography fun and interesting. Below I’ve outlined some things I learned about food photography during this assignment.
Do Your Homework
One thing the internet has proven is that there is almost always someone out there that has done what you want to do. When we first started talking about his project, we started collecting images we came across on the internet that had the same look and feel of what we wanted to accomplish. After a few weeks we had a large reference collection to glean inspiration and ideas from. From there we picked out out top favorites and spent some time really studying them.
- What light source did they use?
- What materials and containers supported the food?
- What surfaces and backgrounds did we like?
- How were the food items arranged to make the most pleasing composition?
- What shapes and colors are most appealing?
When you study an image long enough you can deconstruct all the details that went into making it. In some of our favorite shots, it was obvious that the photographer or food stylist had put extra time and thought into the tiniest details. You average viewer doesn’t notice things like the placement of each element in the shot, but it’s these details that make a food shot appealing and nice to look at.
Collect Textures and Containers
We could tell from our research that surfaces, containers, and utensils were going to be essential to our success in creating great food photography for our website. We set out to find some aged wood first off but this proved to be more difficult than we thought it would be. We went to a local antique shop and found an awesome bench built out of reclaimed wood. It was rustic and had some unique textures to it but they wanted $180.00 for it! Hard to justify for our purposes.
We left the antique shop empty handed and decided to try a cabinet shop. We thought we might be able to get some solid wood scraps and stain them and then scuff them up a bit to make them looked old and used. The worker at the cabinet shop was friendly but indicated that they really didn’t have any scraps that were the size we were looking for. The owner would have to sign off on us taking anything anyway and he wasn’t working that day.
On the way back to the office we saw a tile supply shop and decided to check it out. This turned out to be the jackpot! They had a nice selection of a variety of great textures, including tile pieces that look almost identical to aged wood! The pieces are each small, easy to handle, and inexpensive. We ended up with four different surfaces to experiment with for $35.00. Another stop at a thrift store netted us some nice looking wooden bowls.
If you are photographing fresh produce like we were, I think it’s a good idea to buy the items fresh the same day of your photoshoot.
- Ask a worker when the fresh produce is stocked. It can be worth it to plan your photoshoot around the time when you know you can get the best looking produce.
- Consider shopping at local farmers’ markets because local varieties are usually fresher.
- Handle fresh produce carefully. Bruised and damaged fruits and vegetables decay more quickly.
- Refrain from washing the produce unless it will make it more photogenic. In most cases washing encourages spoilage and the more you handle it the less photogenic it will be.
- Pick up a spray bottle that you can use to spritz the items. Water droplets can look really nice when photographed up close and make the food look fresher.
Setting up the Shot(s)
The trick here is just to get started. We printed some contact sheets with our favorite reference images from our collection, but really the best way to get a good shot is to just start experimenting with what you have. We knew we liked the look of natural window light so we set up our tile surfaces next near a large window in our office. The first few shots were terrible. As you work with the food, lighting, surfaces, and containers, you start to figure out what looks good and what doesn’t. Here are some tips:
- Work in odd numbers. Compositions where there are an odd number of objects are more appealing to the human eye. Try grouping 3 of something instead of 2 or 4. Experimenting with odd numbers of groups containing odd numbers of objects.
- Play with variation in size. The human eye is drawn to order. Try arranging food from the smallest version of that item to the largest. Or maybe the most interesting composition is a line of the same item with random variations in the size.
- Work to achieve Balance. Does one part of the image feel heavy because there are too many objects on that side? What can you place on the other side give a sense of balance. Play with symmetry and asymmetry. Both can work in a photograph and be pleasing to the eye.
- Use containers and props. Containers, bowls, and spoons all offer an opportunity to introduce contrast in material, shape, and size. A metal measuring cup provides a nice reflective surface and compliments a wood texture and the organic nature of food. Bowls can provide a strong circle shape that can ground your composition and provide separation from other ingredients.
Photographing food has a much different pace than other types of photography. It can be downright therapeutic and relaxing if you take your time, make small adjustments, experiment and have fun. We really enjoyed putting this photoshoot together and I’m excited to try photographing other types of food.
Have you downloaded my 100 free preset pack yet? Some of these are great for styling food photography shots.