Over the past few years — thanks to the emergence of excellent smartphone cameras — food photography has gone from a niche art to an interest that everyone (seemingly) wants to be a part of. However, while everyone can snap a photo of their dinner, there is still a substantial difference between well thought-out, high-quality images and something that was taken in only a few seconds.
Having expensive professional cameras and lenses can seriously up your food photography (as long as you actually know how to utilize them), but there are other pieces of equipment and (more importantly) skills that are far more necessary.
If you want to take your food photography to the next level and produce shots that are both appealing and display your vision, then keep reading to learn the four basic skills and equipment for taking attention-grabbing food photos.
1. Skill: An understanding of light
Understanding light is the most important skill for any photographer. Light is the basis of photography, no matter what style of shots you are pursuing. When it comes to understanding light, there are four aspects you need to get your head around:
Intensity – How bright is the light source?
You want to ensure that your photographs do not end up overexposed (too much light) or underexposed (not enough light) by manually adjusting your camera’s aperture, shutter speed and ISO level.
Quality — Is the light “hard” or “soft”?
The quality of light you desire in your photograph is going to be based on your personal style. Generally, hard lighting results in strong, well-defined shadows and a high degree of contrast, which make for a more dramatic photograph. Alternatively, soft light produces virtually no shadows and a low degree of contrast.
Direction — Where is the light coming from?
Direction is especially important in food photography as you want to ensure you are focusing the light source on the specific shapes and textures that you want to highlight. By using diffusers and reflectors, you can guarantee that the particular areas of interest are the ones that are illuminated.
Temperature — What is the mood of the photograph?
The color of your light also affects the way that viewers will react to your photo. You can adjust your camera’s white balance to get the appropriate color temperature that you desire.
That being said, the best light for food photography is indirect daylight as it will provide your food with a radiant, even glow, without any unwanted colors or extra hues.
2. Equipment: A variety of props
One of the main criteria that separates good food photographs from outstanding ones is the ability to create visual contrast in a photo. A favorite way to do this is by including a couple of props that add something more profound to the image.
You never want the props you choose to take away from the food itself, but you can use them to add more understanding or to educate the viewer further on the culture or history of a particular spread. When used correctly, these props should add more layers to the story in the photograph and should only provide more meaning rather than taking away from it.
For example, often, restaurant menus or food magazines will include two additional elements in the shot such as an herb, bowl, or colorful napkin. Next time you set up a restaurant food photography session, place a couple of props in the background of your shot and play around with this technique.
3. Skill – An eye for a story
The story that your food photo tells is what engages viewers with your image. It needs to explain something, describe something, or connect something. In other words, the stories in food photos are what appeal to our emotions. Perhaps you want to demonstrate tradition, evoke nostalgia, or highlight an unexpected texture or distinctive flavor.
This is where food styling and photography connect. A good food stylist knows and understands what each ingredient contributes to a dish, and what kind of culinary experience the whole plate is designed to deliver, allowing these to shine through in the way the dish is set up. Likewise, photographers get to know their subject and present its story in the most attractive way, aiming to stimulate a particular emotion in the person viewing the food photo.
4. Equipment – A sturdy tripod
A must for any food photographer, a sturdy tripod is necessary to help decrease the likelihood of camera shakes. Additionally, if you are shooting in low light (such as in bars or restaurants, or with your own mood lighting), you are going to need a sturdy tripod to assist you in successfully producing a long exposure.
Always Keep in Mind
Despite all these tips, the most essential feature of your food photo is that it presents the food’s best qualities and its natural tastiness. You want your picture to honor and glorify the colors and tastes in the dish and to make the viewer’s mouth water.
And this is the best way you can test that: If you don’t find yourself salivating and craving the food while editing your work, then you need to work a little harder on your food photography.
How are you improving your food photography? What projects are you working on this summer? Let us know in the comments below!
Barry Morgan is the creative force behind BM Photography. His passions are photography, food and family, although not always in that order. He believes you should love what you do, to do exceptional work. Cooking was always a family affair in his home so naturally, once his passion for photography took root, he was drawn to food photography. BM Photography now works with hundreds of clients, turning their tasty dishes into mouthwatering visuals.