Food is a great subject to practice photographing at home. While you may not get the same results as when shooting in a studio with proper lighting, a stylist and fancy props, you can still take great photos of food at home. It is also good practice for when you are travelling as you will rarely have the luxury of carrying tons of equipment with you. To help you capture great food photos at home, follow these 8 easy tips.
Make it a shoot
The first thing that I would advise is, if possible, avoid photograph something that you intend to eat. There are several reasons why. For one, if you are going to be eating the food, the last thing that you will want is for everything to get cold. So you will probably find yourself rushing to get the photos done. Food photography needs to be done quickly but also you need to be patient. You may have to tweak ingredients on a plate to make the composition work.
The other reason is that sometimes for the best results you have to try some food photography hacks…
Cook to shoot
As mentioned above, sometimes for the best results you have to create the dish specifically for photography rather than taste. You might have heard stories of people using shoe polish to smear on steaks for the seared and charred look. Or using shaving foam when shooting a glass of beer to replicate the foam. These are of course valid and incredibly useful in professional food photography. But when photographing at home you don’t need to go to these lengths.
But for example, you may find that just charing vegetables will make them look more vibrant and appetizing in a photo than when they are fully cooked. Or you may even need to use things like cocktail sticks to make sure certain elements remain in place on a plate when you are taking photos.
Think about the background
It might seem obvious to say that in food photography, your dish should be the hero. So the last thing that you need is for the viewer to be distracted by other elements in the background. This is why you really need to think about where you are placing your plate. The best backgrounds are simple textures or surfaces so avoid really bright or striking colours. If food photography is something that you are interested in, you may find it convenient to purchase a few backdrops that you can use. These are inexpensive and come in a whole array of effects and can be really useful for food photography.
Set up for natural light
The best option for photographing food at home is to use natural light while avoiding direct sunlight. The problem with direct sunlight on a food plate is that it creates harsh shadows which don’t look great in food photography. If you do find that you are getting shadows across your dish use a light (i.e. like an LED light or even a torch with white light) to fill the shadows in. Ideally, look for a shady area either outside or near a window and turn off the lights in the room. This should give you natural light without colour casts from light bulbs.
Use a tripod
You are at home so there should be no excuse for not using a tripod for your food photography. The reason that this is important is that the ideal settings that you are going to have to use will likely mean a fairly slow shutter speed. A tripod will allow you to set the perfect settings and keep your ISO as low as possible to avoid noise in the photo. Another benefit of a tripod is that if you are planning on photographing multiple dishes, once you have your composition sorted you can simply swap plates in and out quickly without having to change your set up.
The natural compositions for food photos are either your camera being at a 45-degree angle to the dish or over the top looking down. But like anything in photography, this will come down to personal taste and also what you are photographing. So don’t be afraid to experiment with different compositions and angles but just be aware of your backgrounds. The last thing you want is for a pile of clothes in the background to show up in your shot when you are shooting at a low angle.
Your composition will also involve how you set your scene up. For example, look to add interesting cutlery, ingredients, spices, napkins and glasses filled with drinks to add context to the photo. Try to set your scene up first and then simply add the plate of food in at the last minute to avoid the dish sitting around. Food will deteriorate really quickly so add your main plate when you are ready to shoot.
Unlike lots of other genres of photography, for this type of food photography, it’s fairly easy to determine your settings (especially so when using a tripod). Set your camera to aperture priority (or manual mode) and use the following settings:
- ISO – you are using a tripod so your ISO can be as low as your camera offers (usually ISO 100). The only time you may need to raise your ISO is if you find that your shutter speed is really long and you want to shorten that slightly.
- Aperture – you can of course experiment with different depth of fields but generally, for food photography you will be looking at f/8 to f/11. The added benefit of this aperture range is that it also usually the sweet spot for most lenses when it comes to sharpness.
- Shutter speed – based on your aperture, ISO and amount of light available, your shutter speed will be determined by the camera. This can be anything as you are using a tripod.
- Manual focus – to be absolutely sure that you are focusing on the right thing, it’s best to manually focus your camera. If you are using the recommended aperture settings above you don’t need to worry too much about where on the plate to focus as all of your dish will be sharp.
- Remote release or timer – whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of touching the camera as the photo is being taken. Food photos need to be pin-sharp and any movement will cause the camera to shake. So either use a remote shutter release or set your camera on a timer.
- Live view or lock up the mirror – another important setting to remember is that you should either “lock up your mirror” using the relevant function in the camera’s menu or set your camera to “live view” mode. The reason for this is that in DSLR cameras when the mirror flips over the vibrations could cause blurry photos at slow shutter speeds.
As always, post-production is incredibly important when it comes to getting a photo to look its best. Food photos shouldn’t need a lot of work but it’s essential to check the colour temperature and adjust if necessary. Beyond this, you may wish to tweak the brightness, contrast, vibrancy and crop the image slightly before saving it in your preferred file format.
Food photography is one of the easiest genres of photography to practice at home. You don’t need any specialist equipment, anyone else and you also get to practice your cooking at the same time. So if you find yourself stuck for photoshoot ideas, try food photography at home.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.