Capturing Action Shots: How To Create Drama in Food Photos

Capturing Action in Food Photo

Capturing Action

How can you make your food photo more powerful? Create drama.

How can you create drama in your next photo? Add motion.

How can you add motion? Read this.

Madhuri Aggarwal is Food Blogger and an Artist and a Lifestyle Accessory Designer by profession. She design lamps and home accessories and writes about food and cooking at MADaboutKitchen… let’s learn how she creates action in her food photos.

About The Photographer

Cooking was always my passion. Cooking, Photographing and Styling are other mediums of expressions for me. Playing with textures, colours, light and shadow is nothing less than art.

Inadvertently, my background as an artist and designer always helps a lot in styling. I always cooked and baked for my family and photographed them just for my reference.

With a push from friends and family, I started my blog MADaboutkitchen a year ago. When I now look back at my photographs a year back I can see how much I have grown as a photographer and as a stylist.

Food Photography Gear

I own a Nikon D90 with a 18-105mm lens and a 50mm-1.8 lens, with a Photoron Steady Pro560 tripod. I use a Nikon camera bag which also contains two batteries, a cleaning kit and hoods for every lens.

Food Photography Process

It all starts with food and props for me. I have a huge list of ‘to cook’ food that I keep going back to. And sometimes i have props that i want to use and cook dishes that would go well with that prop.

Fresh produce, seasonal produce, regional/local produce are also things that inspire me and get me started.

I am a propoholic, crazy about props, especially vintage props. And I have been lucky to have inherited a lot of cookware and serveware which have a lot of character in them.

I am on a constant look out for vintage props and character wooden pieces and planks. Even my vacations are planned based on how good the vintage and flea markets are in that place. I collect props from anywhere and everywhere.

The food inspires me to style them. I style most of my food in rustic style. It comes very naturally to me. Ideas are always in my head and I always visualise when I start preparing the dish.

Depending on the look I want to give my dish, be it rustic, traditional, clean or bright, I choose my backgrounds and props.

Colour combinations of the dish, props and backgrounds play a major role in choosing them as well. I always try out a few options before finalising. And a lot of times it happens that I start with some idea and it ends up completely different.

First Decisions About the Photograph

This photograph was a prop based shoot. I had this rustic, vintage powder tin box that i found at my grand mum’s place which I had to use nevertheless. The first thing that came to my mind was cookies.

Hence, I went ahead with the small sized Danish Butter Cookies that would fit in the box.
‘Freshly baked cookies, generously dusted with icing sugar, stored in the tin box for her grandkids’ was the feel I wanted to give.

As the box was rustic I wanted to stick to a rustic look. Hence I used dark, textured, character wood to give a vintage look to this whole series of pictures. The other pictures in this post are baked cookies freshly out of the oven on parchment paper, cookies dusted with icing sugar and cookies stored in the box.

Action photographs always bring more life into a picture and hence this picture. I did not have a picture in mind before photographing. I never do. It is just a vague idea that I have that helps me start and it kind of flows from there.

I change the arrangement and shoot, from different angles and finally choose the best looking one.

I mostly go for vertical frame as it looks better in any gadget, as well as in the blog page.

Lighting Setup and Tips

I do not own any light setup and hence all my photographs are shot in natural light. My house is well lit and has light coming in all day from all directions.

As I do not have any artificial lights I have no other option but to play with Natural light and Natural light having its own character, makes it more interesting and beautiful.

I love shooting in diffused as well as harsh light. Natural light keeps changing during the day and every kind of light is beautiful.

This picture was shot in the afternoon at 4pm. As I was going with a rustic look I wanted my pictures to be dark and moody with just the cookies being lit. This picture was shot with a huge window on the left.

So I have diffused the light by covering the whole window with curtains with just a small gap to let in light just on the cookies and the dusting.

I love the play of shadows and hence i never try to diffuse them. I keep my photographs as close to the actual scene as possible.

I always use a tripod and this being an action picture it was important that I use a tripod. Taking this picture was no less than a circus, as I was shooting it alone and I did not have a remote then.

I had set the lens to manual mode and fixed the focus on the cookie. I had to dust it with my right hand and had to click with my left. I did few trials to make sure the focus was right and to make sure my hand was in the right position while dusting.

I then started shooting it continuously while dusting. In hindsight I thought I could have used self timer with multiple clicks instead of clicking and dusting. I sure did get the picture I had imagined but may be I could have done it easily.

Food Styling and Prop Styling

I believe that styling and composition are very personal and that there is nothing wrong or right in styling. I follow my heart when it comes to styling.

As I have mentioned earlier, I was looking for a rustic look. So I have used rustic wooden planks for the background and the base and vintage powder tin box. This particular photograph doesn’t have much of props though.

This photograph is one cookie in focus with icing sugar being dusted on it. Dusting was something that I had planned, but the wave in the dusting was I can say just luck.

While styling, I always keep a few things in the series consistent to keep harmony in the story. For e.g. the background or the props or the lighting. It makes all the photographs in the series belong to the same family.

Post Processing Tips

I use Nikon’s Capture NX-D and Photoshop for post production.

There weren’t many adjustments made to this picture. Only cropping and a slight adjustment in the curves and watermark.

Cropping to get a better composition and frame and adjustments in the curves to make the picture a little darker than what it was. I do the settings mostly in the camera while shooting to achieve the desired result and hence I do not do much of post production.

I use Photoshop for re-sizing the picture and for watermark.

7 Quick Tips for Food Bloggers

  1. Enjoy what you do. Follow your heart.
  2. Know your camera well and just experiment till you find your own style.
  3. ‘First you eat with your eyes’ so always make the food look appetising.
  4. Concentrate on the texture of the food.
  5. Style your food and photograph it in a way, that you would want your audience to see it.
  6. Try to tell the story clearly.
  7. Get inspired and learn by joining food photography and styling forums. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration and everyone needs a good inspiration.