They say we eat with our eyes so that’s probably why I get a bit snacky every time I scroll through Instagram and deliciously decadent donuts and overstuffed burgers pop up on my feed. I know that in real life, these donuts and burgers are probably overkill – so why does my mouth water at just a glimpse of them?
Well, it’s the power of good food styling and photography – especially on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest where you have but a few seconds to grab the attention of a potential diner!
So if you’re a food blogger/café owner/home baker/avid sharer of every single gastronomic goodie, here are a few tips + techniques to up your food photography game.
1 – IT STARTS WITH THE SURFACE
The very first step is to choose your surface – choose your board, your plate, your tablecloth. After all, it is the foundation for your setting! Think about the feel you want to exude. Do you want to celebrate simple and honest home cooking? Go no frills and use a humble, clean sheet of baking paper. Are you going for that wild forager, farm-to-table, country harvest look? A grainy wood tabletop, slate serving board or perfectly imperfect handmade plates and bowls will work wonders. Or do you prefer a clean, fresh and high- end look? A white granite benchtop with well-finished dinnerware in a neutral palette is likely your jam. Have a play with your surfaces and invest the time in carefully choosing them – it can really make or break your photo.
2 – LESS IS MORE!
As Coco Chanel said, “before leaving the house, a lady should look in the mirror and take at least one thing off”. The same rule applies to food photography.
When you plate up, be careful not to overcrowd the photo and deliberately pare it back. Get rid of all unnecessary accessories and garnishes or if you’re unsure where to place them. Think less than a handful of objects such as simply your mug in the centre, or your bowl and spoon side-by-side or two coffee cups and two pastries, each snug in its own corner. This way, the food is always the hero. TIP: photography technique-wise, set your aperture to 2.8 to get that delicious background blur and strongly highlight the food.
3 – (UNLESS) YOU’RE GOING ALL OUT BANQUET STYLE
I know I just said that less is more…but the other road you can take is the over-the-top, lavish banquet, “I have a bottomless pit for a stomach” road. This is where you can pull out all the stops with a table spilling over with a roast lamb of leg and all the trimmings and candles and glasses and hands passing platters around, or a cheesecake adorned with raspberries (maybe one or two even roll off the cake onto the rustic grained tabletop…) and mint leaves and a snowstorm of icing sugar with pastel porcelain plates with dainty dessert forks peeking in from the corner. Crowd up your photo to the max, so that every inch of it is working for you and most definitely have things encroaching in from the sides and corners, as though it’s just such a feast that everything couldn’t possible all fit in the one frame.
4 – INJECT A BIT OF MOVEMENT
Food is so organic and soulful so you want to retain a bit of this energy in your photographs. You’re thinking, “but it’s a still image, how?!” There are a couple of ways you can introduce some movement when photographing food. One way is to have hands in the image – hands sprinkling on a pinch of salt, hands clinking wine glasses over a full- on FEAST, hands hugging that freshly concocted mug of hot chocolate. Another is to capture those moving elements in a dish – steam rising from a casserole just taken off the stove or butterscotch being decadently drizzled onto a sticky-sweet friand. TIP: what can help you with all this is thinking about photographing the process rather than the end- product so get ready to shoot from the get-go instead of sitting back and waiting until everything is set.
(PS. See how the friend is crisp in focus whilst the strawberries are blurred? That’s what I mean by aperture in tip number 2!)
5 – GET THE RIGHT LIGHT
Make your food really pop by getting the lighting for your photographs spot on. Natural light is the best light so chase it around your house and don’t confine yourself to just the kitchen! Take note of where and when light comes streaming through your home. And once you’ve got that spot, take advantage of it and shoot from a whole gamut of angles – bird’s eye view, front on, side on, from a 45-degree angle. This way, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to picking that one photo that will have people licking their screens!
Food photography is one of those things that are harder than they look – but with these five tips + techniques up your sleeve, you can go forth and create scrumptious food snaps…just don’t dilly dally too long with the camera and remember that food’s number one agenda…is to be eaten, actually eaten, not just through the eyes!
Gemma Peanut is a professional shutterbug and storyteller. Armed with her camera, her untamed heart and a boundlessly messy imagination. If you’d like to keep on learning about photography, check out Photography 101 with Gemma Peanut where manual mode photography is broken down into human-speak across several beautifully presented video tutorials + the super-active and exclusive Shutterbug Club.