The Basics for Creating Great Food Photography
Pictures of food seem to be everywhere these days. Social media is rife with images of food. Anyone can be a photographer by merely pulling a smartphone and taking pictures of their meal. While you certainly can get some great pictures that way, we'll be discussing some basic things you can do for more professional-looking and powerful food images.
- DSLR camera or any of the camera with interchangeable lens (shooting in raw format)
- Dark background
- Light source
- White foam-core board
- Black foam-core board
- Photography software program, ideally with presets
If possible, use a full frame camera to best capture details especially for shooting in lower light conditions. Note that you will be able to use the camera's built-in meter to check exposure (more on in the next bullet point). This allows you to manipulate the lighting conditions in combination with adjusting your shutter speed and aperture. For example, you can adjust the aperture to allow more light and create a shallow depth of field.
Tip: Keep in mind that while you want to create ideal conditions while you're shooting, you can later use presets in post-production editing to make necessary adjustments to add mood and depth.
The built-in camera's meter lets you set it according to the scene by going to your camera’s settings.
Matrix Metering (Evaluative): is the meter's version of standard/auto mode. It decides the settings.
Spot or Partial Metering: This is for measuring only part of the scene. It usually meters the center unless you select a different spot to be measured.
Center-Weighted Metering: On this setting, the camera automatically measures the center of the scene. Think of it as a combination of the partial metering and the auto.
You could choose any of these above three meter settings for food photography. We suggest trying all three and seeing which images you like best as a result.
RAW or JPEG:
Shooting in RAW allows you to have full control of the camera while JPEG turns it over to the camera. Beginners might want to shoot in JPEG, while a more experienced photographer usually prefers RAW. The advantage with RAW images is a big one: it allows more editing control once you're working with any editing software. It's the way to go as you gain experience as a photographer and you start shooting on manual more often.
Now that we've covered meters let's look at your light source. There are two sources of light in photography: natural and artificial. If you can work with natural lighting, great. However, that often means you're unable to control how much or direction.
Artificial light, on the other hand, allows for much more manipulation. Here's an informative blog post on artificial lighting in food photography if you'd like to read more about it: https://souvlakiforthesoul.com/2011/06/photo-friday-food-photography-with-artificial-lights
Whenever possible, use natural lighting even if you're indoors. That means moving your set-up to a window where you can, at least to some degree, control the light entering the room. Of course, working with light emanating from a window means you're at the mercy of Mother Nature including time and seasons.
The best time to shoot using natural lighting (especially if you're shooting outdoors) is early morning just after sunrise and just as dusk is falling. Light at those hours is the most "moody" and cloaks everything in a beautiful hue. As you shoot more with natural light and get to know its nuances, you'll learn that different hours and seasons affect colors and pictures. As you become experienced, you'll find that you develop a preference for a certain hour of the day. You which time of the day is most appropriate for your needs, especially if you're trying to add a certain mood.
Our suggestion for food photography using natural light is to shoot near a window rather than outside. Use blinds, if at all possible, to direct the light as you want to add depth or create a mood. Lower light adds a certain intrigue or depth to a photograph, so keep that in mind.
You can use inexpensive foam-core boards you purchase at an art supply store or even a dollar store to help you manipulate natural light. We suggest keeping on hand two boards: black and white. If you need to attract more light toward the food, use the whiteboard placed to the side. If you need to reduce the light, use the black one. Learning how to use boards to manipulate light can take some practice, so we suggest playing around with the boards. Tip: Use foam-core boards which are stiff not poster boards which are flimsy and difficult to manipulate for these purposes.
Controlling the background is as important as controlling the natural light to add mood. Usually, a darker background is better. You can use dark curtains or dropcloth, dark board or wood panel. Dark usually means black or dark grey for these purposes. Depending on your settings (and preference), you can also blur out the background to lead the viewer's eye toward the food.
Photography software editing:
As Lightroom and Preset specialists, we recommend using any number of our presets for fine-tuning your images during the editing process. It's an ideal way to capture what you missed while shooting. We have various presets which let you add depth and mood to your images without spending hours in the editing process.
Now that you have some of the basics for food photography grab a dish and get started practicing.