My Food Photography Process at a Food Photo Shoot

Crackers Triscuits-19The process of taking a food photo of a subject is always evolving. At times I sketch few ideas in advance, at other times the final image appears organically without preparing for it in advance.

Often we get questions from readers for food photography interviews asking “how many photos do you take for one good one” or “how do you plan for your food photos” or something in these lines. In this post, I share experience from my recent photo shoot and specifically the thought process once creative juices start flowing. 

How I Started

This photo shoot was not preplanned. At a night on one weekend, I felt inspired and thought of taking some photos. Late at night, all I had was a box full of crackers and some cheese… so that became the subject for this photo shoot.

Before I even started shooting and even picked up the camera, I had some vision of how the final image should look like. The image was in my mind but did not sketch it on the paper.

Depending on the time or subject, I may decide to sketch it or may just try to take photos more organically. This approach, as you will notice, was more organic and I went with the flow.

Taking “Sketch Shots”

Before I started shooting, my camera was set up on a tripod and tethered to the laptop. The  first few shots were test shots or “sketch shots” taken with the purpose of trying to understand how the frame looks like and how to adjust/place subjects.

Below is one of the first sketch shot.

Crackers TriscuitsThe purpose here was not to create a perfect image, but to understand and get comfortable with the setup. As you can see in this shot there is lot of distraction in the background… the green and yellow and red it really not required.

At this point though, I am not worried about the background but rather trying to get a feel of visually what’s going on in the whole frame. I then change few things and add some elements, trying to see how this changes the frame. Here’s the next image..

Crackers Triscuits-3Now I put some cream cheese on a cracker and grind some black pepper on it.  So this changes things, immediately. This is a bit more interesting that just plain cracker on a cutting board. Again, the purpose here is to experiment and understand what subjects should be added/changed to get a strong image.

I now add more crackers to the scene including the hero of the image. Crackers Triscuits-6As you will notice, the cracker with cream cheese is now moved back (on the right side in the frame). We also have a new cracker in focus. Image is still very weak. Nothing interesting about it. Again, trying to experiment and take some images at the same time.

So as the next change, I bring those crackers at the back more in the frame and try to experiment with changing the focus as well.

Crackers Triscuits-9 Do you see where is the photo above focused? It’s not on the first cracker anymore. Just changing the focal point of this image, gives me more ideas and we get closer to a final image.

Getting the Final Image

After the shot above, my creative juices start flowing with more power. That’s when I decide that really that cracker on the left side is not really working. I need to add some height. So I pick up that cracker and put it on the top of the cracker with cheese slice.

Crackers Triscuits-10

Now I start feeling a bit better. I feel I am going somewhere, things are starting to happen. This photograph is better than the previous photos but still is missing something. So what next? Well I decide to do the dance.

Crackers Triscuits-16

I move and trying to find the best camera angle. I dance around and find the above angle.  By changing the angle, I feel the image is a bit stronger. However, still something is missing.

Finding the Missing Ingredient

Part of this creative process has been understanding that something is missing and knowing that “feeling”. Often you may take a picture but just not feel that the photograph is complete.

This feeling of incompleteness and knowing that something is missing but not being able to put your finger on that one thing is often frustrating. As David duChemin has said in his books and ebooks, frustration is part of this creative process.

What I have found is that if you can’t put your finger on one thing, you just need to try more things than you planned for. That’s what I did in the next photo.

Crackers Triscuits-17 So at this point, I changed one thing. Without scrolling back up, can you tell what that one thing is? Well, the background. I switched the background from wooden cutting board to a jute bag. Do you see how background is important in a food photo?

I immediately felt that this image was even more stronger after the background was changed. However, in this process, I made one mistake again. The crackers on the right side are out of the frame.

Crackers Triscuits-19

So I move these crackers back in the frame. This looks much better and a nice strong image. At this point, I am satisfied with it and feel like this is it. So that’s it? You ask. No.

Even Stronger Image

My curious mind wants to see what else can I change here. Is there a possibility of creating an even stronger image? May be. 

Crackers Triscuits-20So I decide to change focus point from the cracker to the one with cream cheese in the right. As you can see from the photo above, it doesn’t work very well.

So I change something else. Crackers Triscuits-21

I change the focal point back to the original cracker and zoom out a little bit to include other stacks as well. Not a good idea. Too many things creating distraction here. 

So I remove the cracker from the bottom of the frame and move towards left a bit. And here’s photo below..

Crackers Triscuits-22

The photo above is okay but not as strong as we had before. So, what else can I change? That’s the question in my mind as I go through this. I move the cracker stack to see how that may change things.

As you can see below, the reddish brown edge on the first stack in the photo below are a bit distracting in my mind.

Crackers Triscuits-23So finally after turning the crackers, we finally have an image that is compositionally strong. See the image below.

Crackers Triscuits-25

So what are some lesson learned from this photo shoot? Well here they are very briefly:

  1. Keep experimenting and keep trying.
  2. Don’t stop taking photos if you have an image good enough. As you can see here, had we stopped taking the photo few photos ago, we would have had an okay image. Since we kept going and trying new ideas, we were able to get this image above.


What’s Your Photography Process

Photography process is different for almost every person. In my case, it differs from time to time and subject to subject. Is your photography process more organic or do you plan for it and have a structured process?

Do you sketch your photos on paper? Share your thoughts below.

  • I would have tired and eaten the crackers before the final shot…that’s why I read your blog and appreciate posts like this that are so informative. Thanks!

    • Thank you for your comment Joan. It was a bit hard to resist not eating that cracker… specially this was around 3am on a weekend… Once the photo was taken, these crackers were gone in no time 🙂

  • Thanks for this inspirational post! Usually after a few shots I stop because I want to eat… I think it’s important to prepare 2 dishes: 1 for the photo and 1 for eating! 😀

    • haha Nico, I agree on preparing two dishes 🙂 In fact in this case, I had a whole packet full of crackers.. and I was indeed, gulping cracker with lot of cheese on it 😀

  • Interesting to see the process you followed. For me it varies greatly. Having a customer looking over your shoulder will change the way I work in that I plan more beforehand rather then on set. But when by myself I follow pretty much your process.

    • Hi Simone,

      Thank you for your comment. Totally agree with your comment that it varies and in my case as well, depends whether this is for a client or doing this at home.

      Also, depending on what type of food I am shooting I do some planning vs going impromptu… Foods that are cold/hot and need to be shot as soon as they come out of stove/freezer… I do a lot of planning before hand.

  • Thx ,,,for the Link !

    My 2 cents ,,,as a Hobby Foodie ,,,i look for similar/complementary Colors in the Pictures ,,,depends on the angle. Besides ,,,the only planning i do ,,,is the Recipe i choose ,the rest follows when i do a walk thru the house ! When the backgound disturbs ,i change the angle !

  • Rob Stathem

    Your arrangement/placement of the crackers is really good! I like the visual movement they create!

    A couple things that I think would help make this photo even better are some green colored herbs or even some tomato/salsa topped on one of the crackers! That would help make the crackers stand out even more!

    I actually liked the wood counter-top that you initially used…I think it helped offset the crackers and table top surface much more. I think the triscuits blend too much with the current background you’re using. The texture with the current background matches too closely with the texture of the crackers!

    Lastly, what lighting did you use? The lighting seems flat and could use some lighting enhancement!

    Overall, you’ve got a good start !

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