Food photography is an easy genre to overlook, but it’s a field that offers a huge amount of creative possibilities, with no shortage of attractive, varied and colorful subject matter.
It also offers the possibility of capturing images of food professionally, as cooking and baking are hugely popular pastimes, and there’s a steady demand for images for magazines, books and websites.
However, to make a success of food photography you’ll need a good understanding of the theory and techniques involved, and you’ll have to be prepared to put in the practice – as, with other kinds of photography, it’s often more complicated than it looks.
Professional food photographer Ewen Bell explores the equipment and key techniques you need in order to shoot successful culinary images, as well as sharing a few tricks of the trade.
1. Work in good light
The most common mistake is trying to shoot beautiful food in bad light. Cameras see light, not subjects, even when that subject is delicious!
Food photography always begins with the light. The perfect light is soft, abundant and angled. You want lots of light to play with, but you definitely don’t want direct sunlight streaming onto the scene; it’s too harsh and too contrasty. The best table in the restaurant has the window seat, with bright daylight outside and only filtered light coming through.
This scenario turns the window into a large softbox, filling the table with useful light that offers a range of shooting angles. The starting point is to shoot at an angle across the light source. That angle gives sufficient contrast to reveal detail in the scene, and brings up the colors. You don’t have to fill in the opposite side of the scene with a bounce board, or fill-in flash, because you can brighten underexposed areas of the raw images when you process the files – it’s often quicker and more precise to fine-tune the raw files than trying to get it perfect in-camera.
As you change your angle, you create a different quality of light for the scene. The more you shoot into the light the more contrast and drama you build. Color richness gets reduced, blacks are hardened and some areas might even blow out, and that’s acceptable for the purpose of style, if drama is what you’re looking for.