Complete Guide to Mouth-Watering Food Photography – Part 4: Set Up the Food Photography Stage

Complete Guide #4

It is almost the time to pick up your camera and start shooting. But before you do that, there is one last thing remaining. Arranging and assembling the food, props and background.

Set Up the Stage

After knowing that food photography is complex, understanding your subject and planning to make great photograph, we are ready to make the next move. The next move is to set the food on the table, style it and if you choose, you can use shoot tethered.

By now you have set up the table (or the surface where food will be placed and photographed), selected the plates and silverware to complement the food, thought about and inspired yourself to do some great food styling. You may  have also started taming the light and becoming a better master of light. And once all that is done, you have probably decided what kind of props will go better with the dish you are shooting. Now, lets take next step. Let’s set up our stage to perform our show and that brings us to the next 4 steps:

  • Step 10 – Set up for Shooting Tethered
  • Step 11 – Position the Dish
  • Step 12 – Prop It Up
  • Step 13 – Styling the Dish

Let’s look at each one of these in more detail.As you set up your table (or the surface where you will place the dish) in step 5, you must have cleaned the surface and should be ready for these steps in setting the stage.

Step 10 – Set up for Shooting Tethering

Tethering is an advanced technique in shooting food photography, where photographers hook up their camera with a computer so that when a photo is taken, the photo is sent  to the computer and is displayed on computer screen. While 3 inch screen at the back of your camera can do the job, shooting tethered gives you instant result on a big screen, for you to make sure that the photo looks good. However, this is a bit advanced technique (and we will talk about it in future), and some of you may choose not to go through the pain and may want to use the screen on camera and that is good too. Tethering is an optional step, and mostly used only by professional photographer.

Step 11 – Position the Dish

In this step we start putting the food on the table, assemble the core dish and move on to food styling. To start with, we place the plate we selected in step ###@@@. Now when you place the plate, place it in such a way that you can use natural light whenever possible. In general, the thumb rule is to have light source behind you when you are taking a photograph. However, position of light source can be changed to get creative effects. So, for now, lets just talk about when the light source is behind you. After placing the plate on the table, take a shot or two. Yes! just the plate and surface, nothing else. Why? After taking a photo or so, review the photo and see if anything looks odd. Things like reflection, light source reflected in the dish or the surface. Check the white balance too. Once you are satisfied with this arrangement, assemble the core dish, we are ready to style it.

Step 12 – Prop It Up

Props can bring a lot of life to a photograph. A glass of milk in the background when shooting a stack of cookies, or raw ingredients of the recipe bring a lot of meaning to the picture. In step 9 you brainstormed some possibilities of props that can be used in the photograph. Use them. Experiment with other props. Now I cannot end this without tell you that – props are not always required, look at the photograph at the top.

Step 13 – Style it – Get Creative

Let me start with this – in some cases, you may have to start food styling before you place food in the plate. So depending on the type of food, and type of styling, you will have to decide what to start first. In most cases though, placing the food and styling it go hand in hand. Food styling is a huge subject and this too deserves a series of dedicated posts. Get some inspiration, try to study what great food stylist are doing. Search on flickr. Here’s one suggestion: Don’t over-style the food. There is difference between food art and food styling.

There you go. You are almost there, almost ready to pick up the camera and start shooting. What’s next? Shooting.

Rest of the Guide

Complete Guide to Mouth-Watering Food Photography is 5 part series on improving food photography. Here are all of the parts of this guide:

Don’t miss the remaining posts. Stay tuned. Get rest of this series by subscribing to the RSS feed or by subscribing to email updates. Yes! Its all FREE!!

How Do You Set Up

What do you do? How do you plan your shoot? How in depth planning do you usually do? Are there any tricks that you use? What planning secrets you share with us?

Photo Credit: Original photo Food Photography – Japanese Udon by

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