Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Do you know what’s better than sitting down to an amazing meal? Taking pictures of it, of course.
We’re all guilty of it. You go out to dinner, and after scouring the menu for what feels like hours, you eventually come across something that is utterly mouth-moisteningly tantalizing. When it gets brought to you, you just have to take a food photo to share with your Facebook friends, just to brag about the amazing feast you’re about to devour.
With that said, some food photos… Well, they just plain suck.
Between sloppy lighting and even sloppier presentation, there are myriad ways in which your food photos can fall short. Thankfully, if you follow these tips, your food photos will have everyone drooling like they’ve been lobotomized. Bon appétit!
1. (Do) Play With Your Food
Arranging your meal to make it more physically endearing isn’t really a science. It’s more of an art form, and there isn’t really a set way to do it, although there are a few rules I tend to obey when arranging my food.
If you’re working with grains and pulses, such as rice, quinoa and tabbouleh, try shoving your food into a pudding cup. Then, quickly upturn it onto your plate and lift the cup up. This should ensure that it retains a solid form, and doesn’t look haphazard on the plate.
2. Size Matters: Consider The Height Of Food
I also consider the height of each food item on my plate. If you’ve got a juicy piece of sirloin that is being obscured by a mountain of quinoa, your photo won’t work. The centerpiece of the meal has been hidden.
Likewise, if a shadow is being cast by a large mound of rice over an enticing piece of meat, your photo won’t work. Consider how you compose your plate in regards to your lighting.
Just experiment. If you feel as though the way you’ve composed your photo isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to change things around.
3. Get A Tripod And Use It
I don’t always obey this rule. Indeed, a sizable proportion of the food photography I do is taken with my trusty Blackberry Q10 smartphone. And, y’know what? they’re usually pretty decent photos.
However, if you’re using a heavy, bulky DSLR, you’re going to want to get a tripod. They’re not too expensive, and if you find yourself having to adjust the composition of your plates, you won’t have to spend time re-framing your photo with each take.
Furthermore, you’ve got a bit more precision when using a tripod. Shaky hands rarely make for good photos.
If you’re taking pictures with your cell-phone, consider buying a small tripod. Or, even better, make a tripod yourself.
4. Avoid Flash Like The Plague
Food isn’t usually a single, continuous shape. No. Food is a mess of non-uniform shapes clashing on the small canvas of a plate. As a result, when you use flash, all the natural shadows created by those contours, curves and bumps are flattened out. Gross.
Think about lighting. Ideally, try to take your photos in natural sunlight. Perhaps near a window, or outside on a garden table.
If you want to add a bit more of a shine to your photo, you don’t need to use flash. Just grab a bit of olive oil and dab it onto your food with a pastry brush. Although, if you’re planning on eating the food later on, make sure you think about how this will impact the taste of the dish.
5. Be Quick And Shoot Whilst Hot
Have you ever gone to a really good Japanese restaurant and ordered steak?
More often than not, they tend to come on a searingly hot slab of slate, with each strip of meat sizzling and popping, with steam rising and dissipating into the atmosphere, and with little bubbles of oil rising and then popping.
Now, tell me. Do you think that steak would look better photographed in thirty minutes time, when it had gone cold? Of course not.
Hot food is chemically and physically different from cold food. Embrace that, and use it to take beautiful shots.
6. Get In Close
If you can’t smell your food, and feel the heat of the dish on your face, you’re doing it wrong.
No, seriously. If you want to take great shots, you’re going to have to choose the correct angle to use. For the most part, I tend to get close to my plate and shoot downwards. However, sometimes you can take great shots directly facing the plate, with the lens of the camera slightly above the rim of the plate.
How Do You Appreciate Food?
For me, food isn’t just about eating it. It’s a visceral, personal thing, and something I enjoy with all of my senses. Whilst some see food photography as inherently narcissistic and obnoxious, I see it as appreciating my meal.
The MakeUseOf team are quite fond of food. Do you know that we have a food blog where the staff writers share their recipes? No? Well, we do.
Do you have any food photography tips? Tell us about them in the comments box below.