Tips for photographing food

Photography can be a very tricky art, especially when your subject is outside the norm. You can adjust the lighting to capture the subtle nuances of a face or the right shade of green in the leaves of a tree, but how do you really capture the essence of a plate of spaghetti? Fortunately, there are a number of ways to make your food photos look like they belong in a catalog.

1. Know what kind of picture you want, then get your lighting right

The dish you are photographing may have come from a five-star restaurant, but if you don’t get the lighting right, it will look like a poor mishmash of your grandmother’s leftovers. If you are going for more of a luxurious or artsy feel, then natural lighting is most likely your best bet. Be sure to choose a place-setting that suits the setting and mood of the dish– choose colors that complement the tones of the meal and offer plenty of contrast. The same applies to the background. Opt for plain dishes, as flashy dishes detract from the beauty of the food.

If you intend to take a picture that looks like a stock photo or something that belongs in a catalog, then you will need more focused lighting, and you will need to do your best to erase the dish’s surroundings– a white tablecloth works best. The plate that the meal is on is also important; if you want to put more emphasis on the food, then a plain white plate without any designs will be sure to draw the eye to the dish itself. You can even put parchment paper between the food and the plate to give the whiteness of the plate a little texture. You can achieve the right lighting by hanging a white sheet around the plate and placing exposed-bulb lamps behind the sheets. This will diffuse the light, but provide a nice warm glow that captures the details. Be sure not to place the lamps too close to the sheets or keep them on for too long, as it is a potential fire hazard.

2. Less is more

Useless food on the plate than you would normally eat. A mountain of spaghetti is a lot less appetizing and appealing than meatballs carefully nestled in a small bed of noodles and sauce.

3. Keep it natural

The little dribbles of soup over the side of a bowl, for instance, create movement instead of making the dish seem sterile and overly still. Of course, you don’t want large chunks of food messily lying next to the plate, but a little mess is okay and seems more genuine.

4. Be mindful of angles and symmetry

Try shooting the food from different angles. Perhaps that sushi looks more appealing from the left, or that lasagna might need to be shot from an angle, rather than a boring from-above shot.

5. Remember what makes the food appealing

Be sure to capture what many refer to as the “yum factor”. If you’re shooting popsicles in the summer, for example, you might include the drops of melted popsicle that land on the plate below. If you’re taking a picture of a slice of pie, fresh out of the oven, then capture the steam rising from the crust as the filling falls out. It’s all about the experience.
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