Tips that will give your food photos extra spice
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For me, food photography is arguably one of the most challenging types of this specialised craft out there.
What I have learned is that it is more than just snapping the contents on my plate, but rather there are certain rules that one should follow which make it all very difficult.
Founder and owner of Flatlay Studio Wendy Huggins shares her tips to spice up foodie photos.
Huggins says that while not everyone has the resources to replicate big-budget commercial food ads, making a few simple changes to the way one photographs food can dramatically improve food photos.
“Our customers tell us that simply using our photography styling boards as backgrounds for their food photos is a game-changer,” she says.
Huggins says it is not always necessary to stick to the same “look and feel” to build your brand across all your social media food photos.
Your aesthetic should change with the season, or according to the visual story you want to convey.
For example, if you’re shooting a summer cocktail, you need to add brighter, more cheerful colours that draw the viewer in, to make them feel like they’re poolside on vacation, she adds.
Quick styling improvements
Huggins says a few easy changes can dramatically improve the impact of your food photos.
Less can be more in food photos – put less food than you normally would on a simple plate, don’t zoom in too close on the food, and let the space (the background) draw the viewer’s eye to the main feature – the food. Watch those reflections. Highly reflective surfaces like glassware, tiles, and cutlery can ruin the effect you’re going for – revealing you and your background and distracting viewers from the food.
Lighting is one of the most important factors in successful photos. “Photograph the food in natural light wherever possible,” Huggins advises. But don’t set food out in direct sunlight if you’re a beginner – an ideal spot would be near a south-facing window or on a shaded patio, where diffused light highlights the food and casts slight shadows to emphasise its texture.
Boards and banners
Kitchens are not always the ideal locations for taking great food photos: they are often badly lit, have a lot of reflective surfaces (making a photo or video difficult to capture) and they may not support the look you want to create for a food story.
Matte, non-reflective, and spill-proof photography styling boards make it quick and easy to set the scene, and because they are portable, you can move them to a natural light source – the best lighting for food (and just about anything else).
Prop two boards together to create a mini studio, or create an infinity curve with a photography styling banner, so you can add interest to your blog or feed by alternating between eye-level and overhead flat lay shots of your dishes.
To make food colours pop, use a pale neutral background, such as shabby chic white wood, subtle cement, simple plaster wall finish, or glossy white. To highlight the cosiness of comfort food, use darker-toned backgrounds of warm brown wood, farmhouse grain wood, or moody rust.
And to emphasize the luxe factor of special dishes, desserts, and pastries, go for timeless marble.
Size matters when choosing a background – because the video is increasingly popular for food blogs and posts. Consider getting the largest size available so it can double as a background for both photos and demo videos.
Details make all the difference with food photography. Raw ingredients in proximity to the finished dish tell you a little about what’s in it and are the cheapest and easiest props to include in your food photo.
But the cookware and tableware you include tell part of the story too. Convey the rustic, cosy, or luxe feel with a carefully chosen pot, goblet, knife, or serving spoon, and use a neutral, lightweight styling cloth to add subtle texture and interest to the shot.
Huggins says: “Plan your aesthetic in advance and use cookware, tableware, props that emphasise the visual story you wish to convey. For a winter stew, for example, you could use a dark cement/rusted look background, a deep red bowl, a neutral beige or brown styling cloth, and a beautiful dishcloth and some of the raw ingredients as props.
“For a country-style apple pie, you could use a white wood or dark wooden styling board for a rustic feel, sprinkle some flour on the board and arrange Granny Smith apples, a gingham cloth, and an antique cake-lifter as props. Exquisite patisserie can be showcased with a gold-flecked marble styling board, with gold cutlery as a prop.”
While you’ll be aiming to achieve the best possible photo on the first try, you will have more success if you take masses of photos from all angles, and then edit the best ones to enhance them. Subtly edit the brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, and sharpness, and possibly even add a vignette to really make the dish pop.