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Food for (Photo) Thought

by Vincent De Angelis 

There's something deliciously primal about food photography. Whether it's pouring over a mouth-watering new recipe book or choosing a restaurant online, the portrayal of food is an image that invites an indulgence of the senses. Bon Appetit however is not the only message available in the foodie image – some shots can be highly politicised, and others content on playfulness. Food as a 'portrait' is certainly an emerging theme.

So here are some foodie portrait tips that work well. Like cooking though, the best recipes often benefit from some carefree experimentation so remember to break the rules and have fun along the way.


Go Fresh. Go Raw.

Cook with the freshest and finest of produce. If that Roma tomato is looking dull and bruised, there is no post production work that can save it. Same for the greens - are they brimming with life, or tired and sad?

Also advise the Chef to undercook the food. Yes, I know you were hoping to eat that eye fillet afterwards, but unless you like your steak blue I would suggest writing off any meat and fish you shoot. Slightly undercooked food shows up more deliciously in the final image. If you're photographing baked goods - shoot them hot out of the oven. No limp biscuits allowed.

Plan a shot list

Are you shooting entrées first and desserts last? Will you try shooting that Miso soup from above? The more prepared you are the quicker you can work. If you're with a client, don't let dishes come out when you're not ready. Food can't smile for long. Simply ask for the food when you're ready or near ready. Ahh, if only life were that simple.

Now the food’s on the table, it's time to work your own special sauce. Here's how:

Shoot like you're paparazzi

That means shoot quickly and try lots of angles. You can even go off road - or off tripod - for a few shots, just be sure to bump up that ISO. This will help you grab a variety of perspectives before the food begins to tire. I've found that an unexpected bird's eye view may work better with certain dishes. If you're unsure, begin with 30-45 degrees above the food perspective. 

Extra Tip: Sometimes extremes are good. For instance, flat dishes with interesting shapes, colours or symmetry can look fantastic from directly above. Conversely, a militant side-on shot of tall or 'stacked' dishes works great - think burgers or club sandwiches.

Take a window seat

Everything you know about flash photography for food is a lie - mostly. I've found window light is often the best and easiest to work with on a food shoot. You often don't have enough time to mess with lights and strobe power anyway, so unless you're a speedlite-slinging strobist die-hard - or planning to throw pies on set and need the action stopping power - you could leave that strobe in the camera bag. 

Extra Tip: I love using reflectors to fill in the subtle shadows, or even black cardboard or GOBOs (go between) to block of light and deepen shadows where I want more drama or texture. Some food looks good in low key, others with airy light freshness. Often though it can work both ways and purely depends on your style or what feeling you or your client is after.

Play with your food

Throw cracked pepper on the dish, or dip that shiny dessert spoon into the Crème Brulee. Bring in the human touch. Have fun and don't be afraid to play with angles and props. I couldn't figure out why my Spanish Eggs dish wasn't working until I pierced the yolk with a fork and shot that. Yummo!

Extra tip: Make sure every additional element has its place or don't include it. Sometimes having a friend on board is great as you cannot only bounce off each other’s ideas but also get assistance with things like holding reflectors in place and sourcing props. It also means you can focus more on the photography.

Here's a list of useful equipment to pack: 

·      A wide or standard zoom
-            A lens with Macro or near macro capability is great
-            Shooting at smaller apertures will also help maximise depth of field and hence sharpness across the food
·      Tripod
·      Light stand - to hold reflectors
·      A remote shutter release
·      Various Diffusers and GOBOS
·      Spare batteries and memory cards
·      A tablet or laptop to view your images - If your camera doesn't tether or have wifi, an Eye-Fi card or similar can help.

Shooting food is no more or less technical than other product photography. Careful preparation, a few techniques and a dash of impromptu playfulness can help your sirloin rise above the deluge of smartphone-lit $5 pub meal memoriesthe ones hiding behind an array of instagram filters. That's because unlike any other 'product', the love (or lack thereof) that has gone into preparing the food for its prime time is clearly present in the final image.

So love your cake, and shoot it too.


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