What are the Secrets of Food Photography?

Margo Upson
Margo Upson

A career in food photography is a fantastic way to combine a love of food with a love of photography. The career allows photographers to spend their days in top-of-the-line restaurants, test kitchens, and other places where fine food is prepared. Their work is shown in cookbooks, magazines, advertisements, amongst others. It is an exciting and often challenging career.

An appealing photo of a kiwi tart.
An appealing photo of a kiwi tart.

The secret to being a successful food photographer is to know how to take great pictures. Food, with its many textures and colors, can be very difficult to photograph well. There are several secrets to photographing food. One of the most important is to know how to best use lighting.

Green grapes offer contrasting color with other fruits when photographing food.
Green grapes offer contrasting color with other fruits when photographing food.

Light makes all the difference in food photography. Food needs to be lit in a way that highlights the texture and color, but not so brightly that the food looks washed-out or harsh. Using soft lighting, reflective materials, and making sure there is a light source from all sides is the best way to light most foods. Don't use the flash from the camera.

The food needs to be set up in an appetizing way, with plenty of contrast. When shooting a meat and potatoes meal, for example, there should be enough color to contrast the white in the potatoes. Green beans or corn will be more visually appealing than cauliflower. A bowl of fresh fruit should contain lots of different colors: red berries, oranges, plums, bananas, kiwi, and grapes. Contrast is also important when setting up the shot itself. If you are shooting a round object, like an orange, place it on a square plate.

Most food photography is done with undercooked food. By undercooking the food, it has more texture. Vegetables, for example, have more color when they haven't been cooked for very long. Steaming vegetables is another way to make sure they have peak amounts of color for the photographs. Brushing food with oil gives it more of a shine, improving how light plays off the food. Misting produce with water also provides shine, and may give the photographer some beads of water to play with in the shots.

Food photographers need a tripod to get their shots to turn out right. Because pictures of food turn out best using a longer exposure time, any movement can cause blurring and ruin the shot. Take a lot of pictures, from many different perspectives. Get up close, come in from different angles, and experiment with different settings. It takes dozens of so-so shots to get one amazing photograph. Many foods look best up close, and zooming in can give the viewer a unique look at a food they see every day.

In food photography, timing is everything. A photographer may only have a few minutes with a display before it starts to melt, wilt, or congeal. Set up the shot, using an empty plate, beforehand. The hot lights add to this problem. Get the lighting right, and then slip the food onto the plate at the last minute. Having an idea of what shots you need before you begin will make the shoot go faster and easier.

Using a high-quality digital camera gives a photographer a chance to get immediate feedback on how his or her shot turned out. This allows him or her to adjust the shot accordingly. Having several different settings and shooting modes to play with is also beneficial in food photography. The most important tip for food photography is to be creative and to have fun. Try something new each time you arrive at a shoot, and this innovative spirit will give your photos a fresh and intriguing appeal.

Food can be difficult to light correctly.
Food can be difficult to light correctly.
Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Margo has a varied academic background, which has involved everything from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education. These wide-ranging interests make her an ideal wiseGEEK writer, as she always enjoys becoming an expert on new and unfamiliar topics.

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