Understanding Element of Arts to Improve Food Styling and Photography – Part 2: Color, Space and Texture

Textures in Icecream

In this second part of “Understanding Element of Arts to Improve Food Styling and Photography”, we continue our journey to improving our skills. In this post, we look at the remaining three elements of art – color, space and texture. These elements, when used appropriately, can drastically improve your food presentations and photographs.

Part 2: Color, Space and Texture

We talked about 6 elements of arts for food styling and food photography in the last post. These elements are Line, Shape, Form, Color, Space and Texture. We discussed three elements – line, shape and form and how to use them in food styling and food photography. Lets look at the remaining three elements – color, space and texture one by one.

  1. Color

Color is an important element of art. In food styling, a well balanced colorful presentation brings life and greatly improves food photography. While a landscape or a portrait and even a nature photography can be black and white, food photography only appeals if it is in color. Look at the three Almond Pudding photographs below. Which one do you like better? All the three photographs are colored (black and white are colors too 🙂 ), but have different properties. These properties can be differentiated by three characteristics of color:

Hue:

Definition of hue – the attribute of color that permits them to be classified as red, blue, green or any other color. To keep things simple, hue can be defined as the name of a color. In a photograph, hues can be used either to support the main hue (color) or there can be more than one main hues. In the first photograph, only black and white hues are present and that makes this food photograph lifeless.

Value:

Value of a color is its lightness or darkness in a particular art piece, in this case, food presentation or photograph. Value describes the brightness of a color or how bright a color is in a photograph/art piece. Second photograph below has different value when compared to the third photograph. Second photo is a bit dark and is a little less bright than the original (third) photograph.

Intensity:

The strength of color in a photograph is defined as intensity of a color. This is same as saturation. In the third photograph below, the red color is very intense or saturated. The intensity of red color in the photograph, makes this photograph appealing.

Dessert 3 Almond PuddingPhotograph with Black and White Colors
Dessert 3 Almond PuddingPhotograph with Changed Value – Less Bright
Dessert 3 Almond PuddingOriginal Photograph

As it is clear from the three photographs, adjusting one the three characteristics of color can change the photograph entirely. Photography is the art of perfectly capturing the all the three properties of color in the most optimum amount. In food styling a composition can be made perfect by balancing the hues and adding or removing certain colors. As you may have guessed, this requires a lot of practice.

  1. Space

Space is the area within a frame. This element can dramatically improve the composition if used correctly or can almost destroy a composition if even a little mistake is made. In most cases, space is defined by the use and placement of main subject in the frame. In the photograph below see how wonderfully the photographer has used space. By placing the subject at about one-third from bottom, the impact that this photograph makes is unusually eye-catching for a composition this simple.

Dessert 10 Minimalist Cupcake – Use of Space

Positive space and Negative Space:

While we are on this topic, lets talk about the concept of positive and negative space. When you see the photograph above, the space can be divided in two types: one that is occupied by the subject and the other that is around the subject. The space occupied by the subject is called positive space and the space around the subject is negative space. I use a thumb rule – the direction that the subject is facing is positive space and space behind the subject is negative space. At the end I think this naming convention is just for communicating than anything else. Don’t you think?

Let’s try to recreate the photograph above and try changing the space and see what happens:

Photograph 1 – Less Positive Space: What do you think about this first photograph? In this case, the photographic frame is such that there is lot of space below the plate and too little above it? Positive space here is too less. It’s almost placed at one-third from above. What does this do for you? Do you have some strong thoughts about this usage?

Space in PuddingUse of Positive and Negative Space

Photograph 2 – Equal space: This is a balanced placement. Equal space above and below the plate. How does this make you feel? Is there that Wow effect here? Observe the use of positive and negative space.

Photograph 3 – More Positive Space: This is what the photographer has created. What do you think about this arrangement? This has more positive space and very little negative space. What are you thinking when you look at this third photograph? Would like to hear from you in the comments below.

Most people (you don’t have to agree with this – that’s what makes art interesting) would say that third one is most appealing to eye. I think this is because of the way space is used in this third photograph. Do you agree? No? Tell us what you think, in the comments below.

  1. Texture

Texture is a surface quality. It is how the surface of an object would feel when you would touch it. A photograph can make you feel the surface texture without you ever touching it, and in those cases, texture is what makes a photograph outstanding.

In food styling, texture is important because if texture is used wonderfully while styling a dish, not only does the dish looks appealing, it is also easy to capture the texture in photograph and making it an outstanding element of a photograph.

In my opinion, texture is the most underused element in photography and food styling. However, there are some wonderful food photograph, that make the photos art piece just because the texture is captured so well. Let’s look at this ice cream photograph below.

Textures in IcecreamIce-cream with Texture

The photograph above is a good example of use of texture. Can you feel the softness of that strawberry and chocolate ice-cream?

What is Composition?

Composition is the arrangement of the primary subject and several secondary subjects in a predefined frame or space. If this definition is to complex, composition is how several objects in the art work are arranged in a given space. An art work that appeals the eye is composed thoughtfully by choosing and arranging the elements of art we have discussed in this post and part one.

Just like for any chef, these art ingredients are available for any artist to use, it is the artist that has to choose and pick the ingredients to make a delectable recipe. Of course, just like each cook changes the ingredients to give a certain signature to his/her recipe, an artist uses some or all of these elements to create art. This difference in choice is the very thing that makes art unique.

How to Use Elements of Art

Using these six elements and using them to make a masterpiece requires, as you may have guessed, practice. So, for learning how to use these elements, all you have to do is start experimenting. Pick an element and try to use it when you are styling a dish next time or taking a photograph. Try to use a line or texture in your next art work. Once you start using these elements, you will start seeing them all over the place. Your photography will improve and food styling will improve too. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut for becoming a great food stylist or a jaw-dropping food photographer. If there was a shortcut, everyone would be a food stylist and food photographer.

Upcoming Post:

In one of the next posts, we will look even deeper into art and how keeping in mind certain things can beautify your food presentation or food photograph.

Don’t miss this and if you have not already done this, get this post by subscribing to the RSS feed or by subscribing to email updates. Yes! Its all FREE!!

Photo Credits:

  1. Almond Pudding by zetson
  2. Minimalist cupcake by Chris Blakeley
  3. Ice Cream by Pabo76
  • I can taste the softness of the ice cream. I’m glad I’ve rediscovered your blog – perfect timing. Now, you’re on ICE (in-case-of-emergency), contact Neel 🙂

    • I really appreciate the kind words 🙂 Thank you.

  • Great website! i look forward to using it as a very helpful resource!

    • Thank you for your comment, Bethany!

  • This is really helpful. Thanks for sharing 😉

  • Referring to photo illustrations #1 to #3 above, the negative space should be the area behind the object and not below isn’t? See this link http://photoinf.com/General/Robert_Berdan/Composition_and_the_Elements_of_Visual_Design.htm

    • Mei,

      In the photo you are referring to, the main question is what space is occupied by the subject. In other words, what direction is the subject facing towards? In the example above, the cupcake is facing upwards and hence the positive space.

      In my opinion, these are guidelines more than anything else for what becomes visually appealing. So, in the cupcake example, think about what makes most sense in the three illustrations?

  • I see what you mean. Thanks for your explanation 🙂

  • It’s clearly seen that you are very keen with your work. Impressive indeed! In my opinion, you are no doubt a great photographer.

  • Josh

    It is really amazing how the manipulation of hue, value, and intensity can totally determine the true color of an image. It is as though you are painting with color even though it is digital photograph.

    Thanks for the lesson!

  • These are great principles of photography in general, but it’s great to see how it applies to food. Very informative!

  • Thank you for these tips. I bookmarked this site for future reference. I just bought my first DSLR, and I’m looking forward to taking better shots!

  • [img]http://img41.imageshack.us/img41/1648/lpc0511arnelcorpuz6.jpg[/img]

    this image of mine is shot with Day 8 lesson in mind. There is line, shapes, form, color, space and texture. I want to improve more on the aspect of food styling and the art of food photography. thank you for your effort in giving us the opportunity.

  • Thanks for this lessons, so much information. For me composition and styling is the most difficult part for food photography. This is going to help a lot!

  • Kerry

    thanks for posting this.. it is much more difficult than it looks.. I have tried to photograph food a couple of times for a menu, and to get the right colours is very difficult. Thank you for sharing your tips.. they will help when I have to do this again in the next few weeks

  • Ben

    The part about negative space really hit home with me. I’ve had a look at some of my images from the past and can see where this has crept into my composition. It’s interesting that in the images that this has occurred, they were the images I was least attracted to – now I know why that is.

    Thanks for the interesting article, I’m off to read your other lessons now.

  • Your skills makes the food really look delicious. Impressive work, indeed!

  • I have been reading back on your posts and really glad I found a site that helps explain food photography more. I have some upcoming shoots and really needed some help and explaining how to deal with negative space, props, color etc. It’s definitely harder than it looks!

  • This site is great.. there are so many good tips.. I have to create a menu once a month, and we have thinking about adding some pictures to it.. thanks for the information

  • These images are so vibrant and captivating. It could only imagine what these creations taste like. This is truly a deliciously good post!

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  • Food photogrpahy is an issue I’ve been trying to learn more about. That said, I don’t agree that having a ton of what you are calling “positive” space above the subject looks really appealing. The first thing I thought when I saw that cupcake photo was that they really should have cropped out some of that empty space above! Of the three drawings, the one depicting equal spacing was the most appealing to me.

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