Food-tography: The Digital Capture Of Edible Things

Mmm... pizzaFood Photography is a whole discipline unto itself.  There are sites devoted to it, Flickr pools for it, and a whole lot more.  As much as I like taking pictures, I only got interested in food photography by visiting cooking websites who employed it well.  Having an idea about how beautifully a recipe can turn out before I start really helps me know what I’m going for and I feel a lot more interest in trying things out.   Unlike taking pictures of most things, food-tography seems to have it’s own set of rules.  If you’re interested, keep reading, and I’ll pretend to know what I’m talking about.

The first thing you might want to think about is what you should take a picture of.  Usually it will probably be of the finished product, but you might want to consider pictures of the preparation or ingredients as you cook.  One of my favorite sites, the Homesick Texan, does this with great effect.

Another thing to remember is that you’re probably not going to do this the same way the pros do.  Creating steam by microwaving cotton balls soaked in water to put behind the food, brushing everything with glycerin to make it shiny, and using stand in materials when the real ingredients wouldn’t hold up (melted ice cream, anyone?) are all part of the act.  This is fun, right?  If I wanted a job, I’d attempt to get one…

Lighting and staging are also a lot of fun.  For the most part, natural light is going to be the easiest and best way to do this.  Nothing ruins a picture quicker than being washed out with a flash.  If you have to use it, try bouncing it off the ceiling.  If all you have is a point and shoot, wait for daylight.  If you have inside lights on, especially different kinds, you are in for a world of problems.  Remember that flourescent lights turn things greenish and tungsten (“regular”) lights turn things orange.  Both together turn things unfixable, so be careful.  Natural light solves all of these problems.  It is the best way to accurately reproduce color, unless you’re shooting in the blaring mid-day sun, it probably won’t wash things out like your flash (and you can always diffuse it through your curtains or a sheet), and everyone has it, unlike expensive lighting gear.

Trying to make things look attractive is part of the fun.  I needed something for this post, so I shot some pizza I made yesterday.  Yes it’s cold, but I ate it that way, so it’s fair.  I added some ingrediants in the background to put it in context, but each shot is different this way.  Some of my favorites pictures are near the end of the cooking process – in the pan, on the cookie sheet, or wherever they might be.

One last thing that comes to mind is your lens choice.  For almost everything else, I love my 24-105, but since it only goes down to f/4, it really won’t blur a background too well.  This shot was with my 50mm 1.8.  It’s a dirt-cheap lens and anyone who has a Canon SLR should have one.  It isn’t perfect though.   If it was a macro lens that could focus closer than a foot or two away, it would have given me even more options.  Someday I’ll upgrade, but for now it will do.  Remember – you probably want to focus on the food or some part of it and blur the background.  Set your camera to it’s widest aperture setting and play around.

8 Comments

  1. I heard the food photos on lifesambrosia.com are pretty amazing. 😉

    All of the food photos I take are of the actual items I’m about to devour and being that 98% of the these meals are for dinner there is a serious lack of natural light. The way I’ve been lighting food is by turning off all lights in the kitchen and bringing the lamp from the living room over to the kitchen table, prop the shade horizontally so light from the CFL bulb is directed at the top left portion of the food and adjust the white balance in-camera as needed.

    The most recent addition to my ghetto lighting rig is a large piece of matboard covered in aluminum foil (dull side out) that I use to reflect light back into areas where dark shadows may appear.

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  2. Thanks for the ideas and the plug has earned you prominent side-bar placement 😉 Like you said, I think the key is getting one kind of light and sticking with it, so you’re just balancing one type. Have you thought of picking up a daylight-balanced lightbulb to throw (temporarily) in your lamp? The other upside of doing that would be that you could fill with your flash (maybe backed off a few stops) and they would match in color temperature.

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  3. I want tips on how to take pictures of curries and soups that don’t look like *blech*. This would be totally great for use with the cookbook Shoshi and I have been writing for the last decade.

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  4. I agree that liquid slurry food (curry and soup) is really hard to make look good. Here’s some thoughts:

    1. Assuming the food has color to it, keep the bowl neutral or white.
    2. Stage a bunch of stuff around it – bread, drinks, ingredients, and garnish.
    3. Might be a good time to take pictures of the preparation and ingredients instead of the final product.
    4. Pile a bunch of shit on it! (Like Ryan does: http://www.lifesambrosia.com/category/recipes/course/soup-and-salads/)

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  5. The clam chowder shot is the only shot with my “real” camrea, the rest were all done prior to owning a DSLR with a standard point-and-shoot so I was kind of limited. I think staging the shot and pulling out a little helps with soups. Also, having only a single light source coming in at an angle will help add texture to the food which gives it more depth and less “blech-ness”.

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