Sure, any time of year you are probably taking photos of food, but what better time to talk about it than THANKSGIVING!!!
So, I’ve pulled a few food shots I’ve done professionally, on BSA assignments and just for fun. All of us have taken photos with our phone of tasty tidbits that hit the table in front of us, perhaps a little too much. But with a little effort maybe those posts will get more “yums” than groans.
Best Lighting? Easy Lighting!
I’ve found that keeping lighting simple to be the best. I often use window light or if stuck in a studio I’ll try to recreate window light with a single light source. Often, the most complicated I might get would be using a white card or piece of paper to reflect or “bounce” some of that light into the shadows so it doesn’t look too dark.
Notice the direction of the light and use that to the food’s advantage. I was shooting some desserts for a hotel, and as they came out of the kitchen, I placed them on whatever table had terrific sunlight coming through the windows.
A Sea Scout ship brought an amazing breakfast on deck during one assignment for Boys’ Life and Scouting magazines. Those pancakes looked great no matter how you looked at them. And yet, by taking an angle so the sun wasn’t coming over my shoulder but raking across the peaks and valleys of fresh whipped cream, strawberries, chocolate and fluffy pancake the texture and deliciousness comes through in the picture. No additional lighting needed!
Being aware of how light and subject combine is important in all photography, from people to landscapes to action to food. During an assignment paddling 50 miles on the Delaware River the troop made campfire pizzas one night.
I got some okay shots using a little bit of flash, but by watching how the sun was setting and waiting a few minutes for the light to come streaking across the firepit I was able to snag some Instagram-worthy entrees.
Keep It Fresh
Food always looks best freshly prepared. There are stories of what commercial outfits will do to make food appear “heroic” for a photo, and the results might look tasty but actually be quite toxic.
Fortunately, there has been a move to keep it real, and it’s not that difficult. Just don’t wait around to take the shot. Have a plan in place before the prize soufflé emerges from the oven.
Of course, having backups is a good and delicious plan. I was shooting a dessert for a friend’s restaurant one day, and we went through a few of them. I promise I didn’t initially “miss the shot” a few times knowing who would be eating the “extras!”
Keeping it fresh can also mean trying more than one view. At the same restaurant, I was able to try a couple of different shots of a salmon potato pancake all using simple window light and not moving around too much. The photos are different enough that I’m not sure which one I prefer, but I do know I’m now hungry for a salmon potato pancake!
Don’t Be Shy
A famous war photographer said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” The same can apply to food and not nearly as dangerous. Maybe.
A fresh-baked rhubarb pie looks awesome, but to almost taste the buttery flakiness of the crust it might be best to get right on top of it.
I practically became “one with the batter” for this simple shot of morning pancakes during a Boys’ Life assignment hiking the Point Reyes National Seashore in California.
Showing just a part of the dish can be more attention-grabbing like the salmon pancake photos or the pie photo. Channeling my inner Bugs Bunny, I used only part of the finished shake with some ingredients in the background to visually scream “CARROTS!”
Play With Your Food
Photographically, a lot can be learned shooting food. For centuries artists have sharpened their skills sketching, sculpting, painting and photographing their meals. Vegetables make great subjects for working with color and light.
Doing some closeups of breads and vegetables for a friend’s grocery story I felt like I was shooting landscapes rather than edibles.
So, go ahead and play with your food to learn more about lighting, composition and magic.
I even made a few friends when I did!