Food Photography

With so many beautiful and delicious dishes to savour, that we keep seeing at different places and different times of the day, it is therefore natural for the photographers in us to capture some of these creations. Food photography is flooding the instant messengers and from a professional point of view also, the demand is increasing.

 

(Morning Tea and Cookies – A high key image of morning tea. f/16, 1/60 sec, +0.7 EV compensation, diffused flash fired from left of the composition)

 

 

The Philosophy

Food photography has a very basic philosophy behind it. Make the photograph convey the taste of the food. The photograph has to be like a painting. The food itself is the main element of that painting and everything else has to fall in line with it. Nothing should be there that distracts itself from the food.

The colors have to be such that appetite is caressed and increased. Warm colors in general give a boost to the appetite. Browns provide an earthy feel which looks good on roasted products. Greens add a touch of freshness. Even a simple home cooked dish when decorated with fresh parsley or coriander looks delicious.

Neutral background is the best way to make the food stand-out. Few days back, when I was photographing some home-made cookies, a simple white plate with blue design became overpowering. We then switched to plain white plates. Wooden desks work well for most products, followed by white to pale table cloths or mats. The purpose is to make the food stand out. Anything that overpowers the main element ends up reducing the impact.

There is another line of thought where photographers also capture the cooking process, with the fallen bread-crumbs, spills and the resulting confusion. Such compositions can be quite powerful but also disturbing at the same time. If you want to capture the process, do keep the overall cleanliness of the place in mind.

The way photograph is further developed adds more to the substance of the composition. In the example above, the impact of early morning is further enhanced by the mild over exposure and high-key post-processing. Similarly the cake image below has a warm hue to the photograph which was added while post-processing to make it look even more appetizing.

 

Cake Slices

(Cake Slices – Photographed at f/11, 1/60 sec at ISO 100. Flash from left side with a white reflector on the front right)

 

The Set-Up

For food photography, many people recommend natural light photography but I am all for indoor photography, using strobes. This lets me control the light which is the single most important factor for beautiful photographs.

My preferred way to light up food is from one side using mildly diffused light. Directional light from one side brings out the textures (Photographing Texture) and adds realism to the food.

Camera is set to manual mode with a small aperture to give required depth of field. Shutter speed is as per the flash sync speed. For ease of movement, I use Nikon CLS functionality using a Nikon SU-800 unit (Nikon CLS and SU-800) which fires the speedlights wirelessly. A normal to wideangle lens lets me work close to the food. For good food photography, close focusing ability is also very important. This is not exactly macro work but still close focusing helps.

 

(Fresh Cut Vegetables / Salad – photographed at a friend’s house when I was invited for dinner. The light was from the lamp hanging on the top and towards the side of the table. Nikon D200 at 1/125, f/10 with 18-35mm lens set at 35mm)

 

Fresh, fresh, fresh

These photographs gets enlarged and viewers tend to spend a good amount of time looking at the image. So every minute detail matters. The easiest to notice flaw is when the food is not fresh. Just a bit of dryness on the upper part of a cake, green leaves which are ready to wilt, ice-cream which seems to be melting, cut fruits which are no longer oozing juice… all these get highlighted in the photographs and spoil the magic. For food photography it is essential that each and every ingredient is as fresh as possible. I remember clicking photographs of a salad some years back, where we had procured a couple of flower pots with coriander growing, ready to be plucked as and when required.

 

When food is not food

Though most of the time, I use real food for photography, there are times when I use some other materials as well. For ease in photography, these are a few tricks that I use to make the food look more appetizing –

  • Shaving Foam works better than whipped cream for topping the deserts.
  • Silicon Spray works wonders on baked products to add that extra shine. Sometimes, it the food item has a smooth surface, wood sealer/polish (I use Touchwood natural) can also be painted using a brush. Turpentine oil is another good alternative to add that shiny coat.
  • For photographing barbecued meat items, it is better to photograph them raw, after painting them with spray paints, turpentine oil and coal. They look juicier this way. Now you know why the barbecued items never turn out as beautiful as in the cook books.
  • For the grill lines, once again coal rubbed across the meat gives that burnt look from the grill. Pressing down an actual grill on meat, before coloring, adds further reality to the grill lines
  • For ice-creams, the easiest substitute is mashed potatoes with some amount of color added to it. For icecreams which are white/cream in color even addition of color is not required. Just a scoop of mashed potatoes with some nuts on top, served in an ice-cream bowl does the job. That’s your favorite butterscotch, almond, kulfi or vanilla ice-cream!
  • Instead of milk (like in cornflakes, or some milk spills as a secondary element in the composition), drops of white adhesive work wonders. I use Fevicol, a brand of white adhesive easily found in my country.
  • Melted Crayons – these work wonders as thick tomato ketchup, peanut butter, ice-cream toppings (actually mashed potato toppings, now that you know).
  • Smoke from incense to provide that smoke rising from fresh barbecued or baked products.
  • Plastic props to raise the food from the plate. Sometimes, I even use these plastic pads to increase the heights where it is required. Thick burgers are made thick using such pads.

Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t use these materials very frequently. These are the options that I use in drastic conditions. The last time I had to use mashed-potatoes for icecream was when I did a photo-shoot for a cafe, almost a decade back. It was summers in the tropics and the icecream took seconds to start melting, even in an airconditioned room. The last time I had polished puffs/patties with turpentine was about 15 years back.  So, photographing food, for me, is actually about photographing food most of the time. All the photographs in this article are of the actual food items.

One of the conditions under which I do food photography is that the client has to leave the food behind. Initially this was to prevent any accidents arising out of various tricks I had used on the food. Now a days, the reason is to savor the delicacies.

 

(Dates Cake – photographed while the table was still being set up.)

 

Cookies and Cakes in this article were provided by ‘Juice Valley’, Kathgodam. This places serves home made delicious cakes and cookies apart from fresh cold-pressed fruit juices. Do visit the place if you happen to be in the region, to savour these healthy and super tasty items.

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