One of the most important things to understand in food photography is that the camera sees food differently to how our eyes do, so when styling food you are correcting for what the camera can't do. We have two eyes but the camera only has one, it does not have any peripheral vision. When styling you need to help the camera see texture and depth. Whilst digital technology has made things easier and you can play with the food to try different compositions, this can make the photoshoot very time consuming and if you are photographing a fragile food the dish may have past its best before you have found the ideal shot. Here are ten tips that will help you get things right.
R Gill, Food Photographer, Ham Hock TerrineHam Hock Terrine with a melba toast
- Find the Hero Angle. There is usually one angle that makes a dish look at its best. For example if you are shooting a beef burger in a bun, a 45 degree angle shot will work well and so will a straight on shot depending on how you style it (see point 2 below). Overhead shots work great for plates the have an artistic design and where the food is flat (e.g an open sandwich or omelette) or for liquid dishes like soups. Straight on at plate level works well for foods that have layers like cakes.
- Always arrange the food looking at it from the angle you are going to photograph from. So if you have a dish that you think will look great from overhead then make sure you arrange it looking overhead and that the photographer takes an overhead shot.
- Choose the colour of your props carefully. The right colour will enhance the food, the wrong one will pull colour away. Complimentary colours are the safest bet, for example if you have a dish containing lots of red tomatoes a green plate or cloth beneath the plate will help. It is usually best to avoid bold prints as they detract from the food. If you are using white be aware that there are many shades of white. A warm white (yellowish) will usually look better than a cold white (blueish).
- Choose the right plate size and shape. Small plates make food look larger and allow the photographer to shoot the food close-up. So if your goal is to show that you provide abundant portions this is the right choice for you. Flat plates are important for items like cakes where you will want to show a slice removed. Cakes have a flat bottom and will cave inward if they are placed on a plate with a rim. Plates with tall sides and rims are difficult to photograph well at low angles.
- The bowl in a bowl trick. If you are photographing soup with a garnish on top the garnish will tend to sink after a few minutes. To avoid this put a small inverted bowl inside the main serving dish and and then cover this with your soup. The garnish will now sit nicely on top of the invisible bowl which is hidden in the soup.
- Refrigerate a pie before slicing. A delicious hot pie will definitely smell and taste great but may not look great. The filling will ooze out over the plate leaving a gaping hole in the pastry. If you refrigerate the pie beforehand the filling and pastry will remain in place making the pie full and satisfying and if you want to create that oozed out look just have some additional filling or sauce available to pour on to the plate.
- Use layers to make your dish more interesting. As a guide use a minimum of three layers in addition to the food. A typical example is to use a cloth, napkin or table mat, dish and then garnish. The important thing is to use items that are appropriate. Use items that help tell the story of the dish, a slice of raw apple to go with an apple pie and don't use garnishes you wouldn't eat.
R Gill, Food Photographer, Orange and whiskey Ginger cake top viewOrange and whiskey Ginger cake top view
- Undercook your vegetables. Overcooked vegetable look bland and limp whereas undercooked ones look vibrant and firm and much more appealing.
- Brush or spray with oil or water to create a moist or chilled look. A clear vegetable oil lightly brushed on to a piece of fresh grilled fish can give it that extra sparkle to make the photograph pop. Similarly spraying the outside of a glass with fine droplets of water will make a drink look chilled. If you really want the drip to stay there carefully coat the outside of the glass with a clear water repellent substance like vaseline. Only coat the glass as high as the liquid contents so that it will look natural.
R Gill, Food Photographer, Apple juice on iceAn ice cube falling into a glass of apple juice
- Melt butter or Ice cream with a hair dryer. Cold food is much easier to work with as it will maintain its shape. But if you are looking for that melted look - a knob of butter on freshly toasted artisan bread, put your cold butter on the toast then using a gentle setting on your hairdryer melt the butter a little just before you take the shot.
As it's Christmas and many of you will be sharing pictures of your Christmas dinner or party food online here is a bonus tip for photographing roast turkey. Pour boiling water over the bird before roasting, this tightens the skin and keeps it from wrinkling as it cools after roasting.
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