How to shoot food and beverage photography
Right now, all around the world, it feels like life has come to a halt. With the coronavirus sweeping the world, many of us are locked down at home, deprived of our regular work, and obligated to live in the moment rather than to guess when things are going to change. We’ve collected some info from our photo experts and our ambassadors who gave us their insights on how to improve photography from inside the house, and today we are sharing in more detail, our advice for how to take stunning food and beverage photography. While we can’t go take photos of restaurants right now, at least we can work on our skills for after. So without further ado, here is our guide to food photography.
We’ve all been there. We’re out at that new restaurant we’ve been wanting to try for months, and we sneak a quick 90° food porn photo for our Instagram. Maybe we post it, maybe we just hoard it away on our phones. Professional photographers and amateur foodies alike, we all love beautiful food.
But cell phone photography isn’t going to make the cut when it comes to images for a delivery app, a restaurant website, or an online menu. With high-resolution screens and an ever-increasing demand for quality, you’re going to need to practice the right techniques in order to make an impact.
Today, we are going to go over the steps you can take to improve your food photography, whether to add to your photographer bag of tricks or for your own restaurant.
We’re going to cover the technical settings that we recommend, how to choose and set up the best location and lighting, and finally how to stage the photo with or without props. At the end of this article, you should be able to frame and compose your shots to make your photos as aesthetically pleasing as possible
1) Technical settings
The first thing to master when taking food photography? Well, quite simply it’s your tools. What exactly do we recommend? We suggest using:
The camera body of your choice
A good tripod
Optional: a reflector, an external flash, and a lightbox (We’ll talk about lighting down below. To skip to that part click here.)
Settings: M or AV-A mode, ISO no higher than 800, white balance on auto mode, minimum shutter speed 1/125, shoot in RAW format. Here are some of our takeaways:
1 - Do you really need the tripod? The tripod becomes essential especially in low lighting situations in order to create consistency. This is key when you are shooting an entire menu or several dishes. If the angle changes between dishes, the overall look will be unprofessional.
2 - We suggest shooting in priority aperture mode because it allows you to shoot multiple images at a set aperture without having to worry about readjusting all the settings (aperture and shutter speed) and will still produce a properly exposed image.
The camera will adjust the remaining settings based on the lighting conditions and what aperture value the photographer has selected.
3 - As for the white balance, the auto white balance should be fine, but to be sure, use a grey card for your first shot (which you’ll not use in the final product). if you check your histogram and the colors aren’t true, you may have to adjust it in manual. You can learn more about that here.
4 - On a more artistic note, we’ve noticed that certain types of food work better with different color tones. For example, a pizza or a pasta plate may look better with a warmer tone. Similarly, a plate of sushi should take on a cool tone.
5 - Consistency is key: don’t change the settings in between dishes.
6 - Finally, in order to save time later, make sure that during the shoot you have double-checked your settings and that you zoom in on your preview in order to check the focus between dishes.
2) How to choose the location and lighting
We’ve done an analysis of the most current photo trends when it comes to food photography, and what we’ve found may not come as a huge surprise, but what works best right now is natural lighting. Why is this? People are looking for authentic photos that are not overly perfect, and natural lighting brings that realistic dimension to dishes, almost as if the person were sitting at the table.
Since lighting is the most important factor, that’s what we use to choose the location! The natural lighting is going to depend on the setup of the restaurant, and on the light coming in through the windows. Here we’re going to go over a few techniques to try in different situations.
How to choose and set up your lighting
There are a few different techniques you can try out depending on the look you want and the equipment available. The most complicated thing in all of these techniques is to be sure to have the right amount of light to not overexpose the highlights and not underexpose the dishes.
Technique 1: The first and simplest option is to go with the natural light from a window. By placing your work station near to the window, you’ll have naturally diffused light (by the same token, don’t be too close to the window or your shadows will be too harsh).
Additionally, make sure you are standing to the side. If you place yourself in front of the window or facing the window, you’ll either cast your own shadow on the dish or you’ll backlight your dishes respectively.
Technique 2: If you want to bring in soft light on both sides of your dish, stay near to a window and bring in a reflector to bounce the natural light off of. (White cardboard can also do in a pinch!) This will diffuse the light nicely.
With these techniques, you should be able to achieve that soft natural light that really brings out the best in food and beverage photography. Keep an eye on the shadows and the light areas to be sure they are not too harsh or blown out, respectively.
3) Composition, staging, and props
Once you get the technique down, what’s really going to take your photography to the next level is the staging (or plating as they say in the kitchen!).
While it may sound obvious, it bears repeating: your main dish should be entirely in focus. You can play around with a shallow depth of field to get secondary artistic shots, but for the classic menu photo, you need the dish to be the star of the show.
When setting up your tripod, use the balancer to fix the angle of your camera at a 45° angle for most dishes, as this is the angle that people would actually see when they sit down at the table, making it the most familiar. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule:
1. Dishes that ‘stack’ should be shot low or straight on at 0°. What does that mean exactly? Burgers, cakes, drinks and smoothies, all things that you want to see the composition of straight on.
2. Salads, soups, bowls, and pizzas can all be shot from a 90° angle, or from up above. It’s the best way to see the entire dish. This is also where you can position yourself for combo photos that have multiple dishes.
No matter what angle you are shooting at, remember to leave enough space around your composition.
Staging and Props
The last aspect of perfecting your food photography is your staging and use of props. While props aren’t necessary for all photos, sometimes adding props at the right spot can really create an aesthetically pleasing composition and ambiance that gives a deeper insight into the business or restaurant.
So, how to choose the right props? The best props are the ones actually included in the dish. Sometimes we are so eager to add some color, that we are tempted to add a tomato or an herb to a dish that does not include those ingredients, making the photo untrustworthy.
When it comes to positioning your props, keep in mind the dish should always be in the middle of the frame. Then, try positioning large props toward the back of the photo, small props such as powders in the front, and next to the plate (but not too close!). Don’t add props to both sides of the plate as it will crowd your image.
Think about props in five categories, table accessories, cutlery, veggies, fruits, and spices. Table accessories like wine glasses, wooden cutting boards, and sauce cups should be used to help establish the mood, but should not be overused. Cutlery like spoons, knives, and forks should only be added if it adds to the image, or if your client requests it. Some restaurants and viewers prefer not to see these at all, so you have to use your best judgment.
The bottom line when it comes to staging is that you want to add to the image without detracting from the plate. Too many props are worse than none, so when you try different combinations really ask yourself if it’s distracting, or helping the overall image.
At the end of the day, these techniques are guidelines that will help you create appealing images, so it’s important to practice them and see which techniques and styles work best for you.
Do you have other tips you want to share? Be sure to join the community on myMeero and connect with other photographers and share your experience!