Maria’s Food Photography Tips: Introduction

You’d better not be hungry for this one. Although this is only an introduction to the art of food photography, I assure you things will get juicy as we get into more detail. But, truth be told, food photography is more than an impressive collection of Instagram pictures of your homecooked meals. 

Food photography is a type of still photography that focuses (obviously) on the commercial aspect of food: advertising, packaging shots, menus and cookbooks, online recipes and so on. Basically, all the mouth watering photographs in magazines, restaurants and on the internet that convince you to spend the big bucks on food.

Photo courtesy of Mye Chung

A Rough Business

Well, of course, at first sight food photography seems like a delicious job. Unfortunately, though, food is one of the most difficult subjects you’ll ever work with. It will not stand as you wish, it will cool before you’ve taken all your shots, it’ll melt under your hot lights and it’ll change color. Vegetables won’t stay fresh very long and moist deserts will dry out just as you’re getting a brilliant idea.

If you’re serious about food photography, you’ll definitely need to go shopping first for props and little aids: paper towels, cotton balls, toothpicks, motor oil and many more. Food won’t just look good in pictures because you wish it did. Very often you’ll discover that the food you’re photographing hasn’t been cooked completely, so it doesn’t brown.  Other times, you’ll have to spray food with water or a mix of corn syrup and water in order to make it look juicier and fresh. There are little tricks that will help you enhance the food and we will discuss them later on.

Photo courtesy of bygbaby

A change of perspective

If you look back, you’ll remember how for a really long time food used to be photographed a lot different from today. Photographers would do their best to capture the food in a plate, from an angle close to a viewer’s angle in real life. The pictures weren’t necessarily appetizing, but you definitely saw what you got. Today, however, we’re looking at food a lot differently. Macro shots, minimal compositions, props, selective focus and, very often, dynamic shots that capture  food in motion, especially when working with salads and drinks.

When it comes to food photography, the edible part of food often comes second. It's quite obvious, though: as a photographer, you're more interested in the visual aspect of food, rather than the taste or even the recipe. You'll often find yourself arranging all sorts of foods that don't really go together, but look great on camera. Ideally, you won't have to do this yourself, but work with a food stylist, a visual artist with culinary training that knows best how to arrange elements so they translate the taste and smell of the dish. 

Photo courtesy of Cihan Pocan

Types of food photography

Well, there are three main types of food photography: advertising, editorial and packaging. Of course, the separation is purely theoretical. 

Advertising is a board category that includes food ads, billboards, but also menus and product brochures. It’s quite restrictive because you have to fit your work in a layout and you’re always coordinated by an Art Director from the agency who will think they know better than you.

Photo courtesy of Tima Sergeev

Editorial work is more fun. It requires a lot of creativity and doesn’t have any restrictions, such as conveying a certain message or following someone else’s vision. It’s the artsiest version of food photography and you can literally go nuts, obviously while still having some basic photographic rules in mind. Your goal will be to create the best looking mouth watering photo you can, with less concern to the larger picture.  

Photo courtesy of Rodion Kovenkin

When working for packaging, however, you have to be more realistic. Clients request more natural, let’s say “fair” pictures of the product. You’ll have to leave the special effects aside and try to get the best out of what you’ve got, showing maximum detail.

Photo courtesy of Claudia Ficca

As a food photographer, you'll work with all three types discussed above and you'll discover they're not that different in the end. However, you'll need to know when your creativity is needed and when you've been hired for your technical skills. In the end, that's what makes you a professional.

Until our next article on tips and tricks, enjoy your meals!