Photographing food is lot of work and as some say food is a very difficult subject to photograph. It is one of the most demanding niche in photography that is more than photography. Unlike landscape photography or architectural photography, where all you need, is a good eye and a camera, food photography not only requires a good eye and a decent camera, it demands a beautifully styled food plate. Food Photography is more than just the act of photographing food and for this reason, it is sometimes grueling and complicated. This guide will help you to improve food photography by simplifying the process of photographing food.
Food Photography includes a lot of activities and all of them should be done perfectly to get a great picture. If you’ve had your hands dirty in this field you know – and you know this just after taking those few pictures – that food photography is very complex. The act of taking the picture is just one element in this process. There is the food itself and the ambience around it. Then there is the food styling element and oh! don’t forget selecting the right plate and silverware. Any one of these activities go wrong, and there goes your photograph – in the trash bin.
So, how do you improve your photography skills when your subject is one of the most difficult subject to shoot? Simplify the process by breaking it down. If you understand the process and divide it into small elements, it will be easier to focus on one element at a time and suddenly improving just one element becomes doable and manageable. Once you improve in that one element, you can focus on another element and do the same thing and so on.
Improving by Disintegration
As we talked in previous section, to improve a complex process it should be disintegrated into several elements. This helps in looking at all the essential aspects of the process and improving our focus and speeding up improvement. If you look at process of making great food photographs as a whole, it can seem grueling. Don’t be taken back if food photography seems too complex. Once we simplify the entire process you will feel much better.
Lets step back and look at the entire exercise of making a picture. On a broad level, think about some of the high level things you need to do. Identifying the subject, planning the shoot, setting up and then shooting the photograph. Below are the four phases of food photography briefly:
Understand Your Subject – Before getting all geeked up about the high-tech camera and worrying about all the settings you should use and the filters and the lenses, wait. Wait and know your subject. Photography is less about the camera and more about vision. If the vision is in your head, it is easy to capture it by using a tool. The act of shooting and the camera is the last thing that you should be worried about. So, stop and understand your subject. What is its shape? What are its features? How do you want it to look in the photograph? Make a rough sketch of what you want. Part 2 of this series has more details on understanding your photography subject.
Plan for Making Great Photographs – After making a rough sketch, you have some understanding of how you want the final photograph to look like. Now, it is time to plan for making that photograph and while doing this, refining the vision. So what kind of plate is the food in? How is the lighting? And the food styling? What does that look like? What about the background, is it white or black? Or perhaps some other color? Is there a napkin that you are using? These questions should be answered before setting up the stage and starting to photograph food.
Set Up the Stage – Now you have a plan, you have refined your first thoughts and defined what you want to a greater detail. Keeping those details in mind, it is time to set up the stage, well the table. You need to answer questions like how should the dish be positioned? Is the lighting appropriate? Once you position your plate with or without food, depending on type of food and convenience, you can start beautifying it and styling the food. Place some props that complement dish/food. If you like tethering, set up the computer to shoot tethered. If you don’t like shooting tethered, move on to the next phase.
Start Shooting – Phew!! Finally we can get started with photography. Once you have a refined plan and everything is set up, it is time to make great photographs. Take shots keeping the basic elements that make a great photograph in mind. Once you have taken the photograph, I prefer to analyze the picture before moving to the next type of shot. Since digital cameras make it absolutely easy to analyze, this is very easy. If you are shooting tethered, the photo is shown on the computer screen and helps you to make decision whether you need to do a retake. And after all is done, this is time to do some post processing. How much to post process? This question is an entirely different topic for debate – To Photoshop or NOT? We’ll focus this series on food photography.
Why Do I Need These?
In professional food photography environment, some of the activities mentioned above are done by a team. Depending on what type of food photography you are working on, a photographer may or may not have to go through all these steps. In some cases, photographer may not even be involved in all of these steps. For instance, food styling is done by a Food Stylist and props and background is done by Art Director and in those cases, photographer does only one thing – shoot. However knowledge of the process will only be of a benefit to you and make you a better photographer.
If you are like me, you may want to directly jump in to action and grab the camera and taken bunch of shots as soon as possible. If you too have itch to hold your DSLR as soon as you see a great photo in the making, it is a good idea to stop before you do that. The activities mentioned above are extremely important for great photographs and you may be already doing some of these things unconsciously. Having a list of all activities arranged in a specific sequence in front of you helps to make sure you are taking all the steps needed for a great photograph.
Rest of the Guide
When I started writing the guide I was planning to write one long post in great detail. However, as the post progressed, it was clear that this is going to turn out to be a 5000-6000 word post. That will be a heck of information to digest in one post. So I decided to break this down into five parts (Turns out that this post itself is getting close to 1250 words). In the upcoming days, I will write about these four phases in detail. Each phase is broken down even further to actionable steps. Here’s are the upcoming post in this series:
Feedback is Good
What would you add to this information? Do you have tips for other readers on how to take better food photos?
I plan to update this post and would like to know from you what more information will be helpful to you.
Photo Credit: Food Photography –Japanese Udon by www.hafizismail.net