How I Photographed Chicken


Chicken is pretty dull. Brown and boring. So how would photograph it?

How would you tell your story? Have you thought about it?

In this post Beatrix Horváth-Gallai shares how the above photo of chicken was shot. As you learn from Beatrix, keep this photo in mind and ask questions if they don’t answered in the post below.

Let’s get started. 

About  the Photographer

Originally, I graduated as an architect at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics and I simply adored the endless creative potentials of my job. But in the meantime, my son and my daughter were born, and nothing better or more beautiful could have happened to me.

But some years after their birth, I started to miss the feeling of creating something.

Since the job of an architect would have been too much for a mother of two small children, and because I always cooked something for them at home, somehow my food blog was born unperceived and in some months’ time I could saw the garage almost full of plates, chairs etc. gathered from different places.

This was the point when I realized that I had become mad about photography. A bit more than a year ago I bought my first DSLR camera and then my love for photography became evident. Now clearly food photography has the priority in my food blog over the recipes. So I met the art of photography accidentally and I have never learnt it formally.

Food Photography Camera, Lenses and Other Gear

Now I work with a Nikon D800 camera. I usually use my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm, but sometimes I shoot with my 50mm f/1.4 lens when I need larger aperture for some reason. I also have some close-up lenses and a Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod with a 391RC2 head, which is theoretically also ideal for shooting vertically downwards.

I have two reflectors, as well. I always use the larger one, while I only use the smaller one together with the larger one, when for example a point of the scene created is too dark, and I need to reflect some light to that point with white reflector.

I have also gathered lots of props now filling the whole garage (plates, chairs, cutty-stools, joint stools, cutlery, textiles and several other props) from different places (from our countryside property, from flea markets, from antiquaries, from the internet etc.). There are old and new, vintage and modern pieces, as well.

Her Food Photography Process

Well, it depends on several factors. On the one hand, when I take photos for a book or a magazine, then it has its own predefined style which I have to observe first and foremost. In this case, the size of the final printed images is also very important.

If the photos are to be printed in smaller size, then I shoot close-ups, but if the photos are to be printed on whole pages, I have more possibilities and I can also shoot the dishes in their wider context.

Several different factors affect my choice of colors and textures: the season (e.g. in spring I prefer white surfaces, boards, colorful plates, floral props, and in autumn I rather choose brown, wooden or metal props etc.), the character and color of the food (e.g. I prefer shooting bread and other related pastry on natural wooden boards) and of course my mood.

The most important factor is, however, light. I think it is the light used that determines the mood of the photo in the first place. I only work with natural light. Using back light diffused with a white reflector, we can achieve a lighter, more cheerful effect, whereas using side light diffused with a black reflector we can achieve a more dramatic effect.

I regularly use these two methods, but there are transitions, too, sometimes. When I take photos for my food blog, I can really express myself. I often find myself inventing a recipe for an image I have already imagined in my mind.

As for the technical details, I sometimes use a tripod, sometimes not. The great advantage of using a tripod is that you can use lower ISO settings, because you can work with slower shutter speeds. The advantage of shooting hand-held is that I am more flexible and I can find the ideal position and angle easier.

However, the best way is to find the best angle shooting hand-held first and then setting the tripod.

It is also important to shoot the food as soon as it is ready. If the food is not fresh, it is always visible on the photo, no matter how much effort we have made with food styling and camera settings.

Photography Styling and Lighting Decisions for the Chicken Photograph

I shot this picture in autumn, thus, the brown shades were given. This idea was further confirmed by the fact that the food contained grape which is – at least for me – a symbol of autumn. The golden brown, natural color of the chicken also required brownish and grayish shades.

To break the dullness of the brown and gray colors, I used a plate with white and blue pattern. Here I could freely use a plate with pattern, because both the surface on which the plate was and the background were neutral.

For me, creating the scene is extremely important. I usually set my photos gradually. I try to organize the objects following the principle of the golden ratio.

The plate with the chicken is in the center attracting our attention. The other plate is also placed on the same wooden board to create unity with the plate having the chicken – otherwise the second plate would have distracted our attention.

Thus, our eyes practically see the two plates as a unity. The grips of the two forks are organized so that they could lead our attention towards the bottle of wine, and then towards the textile hanging on the chair.

For pictures shot from this angle it is very important to place a higher object in the scene, as well, otherwise the upper half of the picture would be disturbingly empty. In this case, the bottle of wine takes this function.

For this photo, I only used natural light (as I always do). I only used side light; to the other side of the scene I placed a black reflector to enhance the dramatic contrast in the image.

Advice to New Photographers

For those who have just started food photography: go on!I also started it a bit more than a year ago.

I encourage them to read a lot about food photography, and – it is even more important – to watch lots of food photos they like and try to figure out what the source of light is, if it is natural or artificial, what kind of bouncing was used, why they like the scene set for the shooting and the colors used (why the colors match, in what proportions different colors are used).

But the most important thing I can advise is to take as many photos as they can, because this is the only way they can find their own style and improve the quality of their photos month by month.

It is good when you are not satisfied with yourself, because that is the best motivation to improve yourself – for me, as well! My food blog is called Somewhere over the Kitchen, and you can find my photos here:

One Question for Readers

I hope you learned about how to create a photo of chicken/dull boring meat from this post. In the comments below, in one line (or more), tell us what was the inspiring thing that you learned from the post.

  • Francisco

    I love the colors, textures, lighting, and focus. That all comes together very nicely for me. My biggest gripes about this photo are functional. Everything looks set up for a sit-down dinner, but apparently not *my* sit-down dinner, since the forks are turned away from me. This is someone else’s food, and that’s sad because it looks tasty. Also whoever’s food this is, when they sit down across from me, the wine will be in their way. And finally, without a wine glass I can’t be certain that that’s wine instead of olive oil.

    This photograph paints a pretty picture, but tells a confusing story.

    • Kulsum Kunwa

      Interesting point. I agree that the bottle with wine would have looked better in a wine glass but like she mentioned, it required height. I don’t agree that all food should be photographed to look like you can pick up the fork. It could be like ‘hey guys come for dinner, table is set!’ It makes you want to be there and have dinner. I’m assuming that’s the intention here.

  • Amanda

    I am reading lots and trying to learn and this was great, I too love photography (learning as I go) and love cooking so only natural to put the two together. Lighting is the hardest to get right.. I have a fairly dark house so trying to find natural light is hard.. I’ve also started to fake it (ie dye the water red for a red wine) if I have no intention of drinking the wine that goes with the meal.. I need to get more props, hard to know where to start and what to buy first without going crazy! thank you!

  • Comment 1

    Although aimed at you Neel, this is a handy
    article for the emerging or mature writer as well, as it is a great
    resource to refresh one’s mind on every aspect of the writing process.

  • Ramona

    This is a beautiful shot. The lighting and props really tell a story. However this is not food photography. The food is over powered by the environment. One can not even be sure this is chicken but it doesn’t matter this is not about the food. Food photography requires that food be the hero of the story but here the food is just a minor prop

  • Rob

    The low-key mood is very appealing, great work! It’s nice to see a range of lighting styles in photography because seeing all photographs brightly lit is boring to me! This is very interesting and engaging!

    There are some “problematic” reflections cast in the bottle of the wine which could be fixed (with some tweaking during production) but, this is minor!

    Overall, great textures, great sub-dued lighting, and excellent composition. You’ve created a story around food that is very successful. Great job Beatrix!