Good photography sells and good food photography should make you hungry. How to take fabulous food photos is a popular topic nowadays, as almost everyone wants to share a picture of their Sunday dinner or a masterpiece birthday cake. If you think that a professional result requires professional gear, a food stylist and hours of post-processing, you might be surprised at how easily you can improve the quality of your photos just by following a few easy steps. Take the journey of showing food at its best with this short guide for beginners!
Good photography takes time
We all know the feeling: the meal is finally in front of you and you can't wait to taste it. In order to get a great shot, you must do more than take an impulsive first photo of it. Think about what you see: how does your plate look? Is there enough light? Is there anything disturbing in the background? What is the best angle? These are just some of the many questions you have to ask yourself during the photo shoot.
No, you really don't need a professional camera to take good food photos. You can start even with a basic point-and-shoot camera if you use it well, not to mention any entry level DSLR (a digital single-lens reflex camera) like the Nikon D3300, currently about $460, or a Canon EOS T5, currently about $550. Professional photographers use lenses that allow them to highlight the subject of the photo, but the result can be pleasing with any basic lens, too. However, if you want to step your photos up, it's good to invest in one of the fixed lenses—the most popular choice of food photographers. "Fixed" means that you don't zoom in or out; you must move closer or farther away in order to change the composition. This all sounds good but not practical, right? But the result will actually be a nicer image with less distortion and the light conditions don't have to be perfect as these lenses can pass through more light than zoom ones. That's why both a 50 mm f/1.8 and 35 mm f/1.8 lens are a great choice even for beginners; they are inexpensive, lightweight, easy to use and small. Also, consider buying a good tripod as details and sharpness are very important in food photography.
Light is the first step in the difference between shooting an unappetizing photo and one that looks like it's from a classy magazine. The most important rule is to always move around and find the best light source. Natural light works great as it gives depth and an authentic look to the image. To get a great food photo, never use your built-in flash and don't place your food directly in the sun; shoot right next to the window and turn off all of the other lights around, just as many professionals do! Think about how the light affects the look of the dish and learn to white-balance your shots. You can do it either while shooting or in the post-processing to avoid the simple mistake of colour distortions, an effect that results when the colours of your image (the so-called "tonality") looks different than the reality (usually with a blue or yellow tinge).
A good food photo is well-composed and precise. Some dishes look better from above while others need to be shot from a lower angle, so the key is to always try a few angles. Playing with the textures and colours by varying the backgrounds, plates and other items of the composition helps a lot as well. Get everything as close to perfect as you can while shooting—even the smallest misplaced detail can be disturbing for the viewer and even if it could be removed during the post-process, keeping everything clean and organized during the photo shoot saves you a lot of time. On the other hand, a bit of mess sometimes adds charm. A few crumbs or a cut steak can make the composition authentic in some cases, so feel free to break the rules as long as the result feels good.
You might not always have a chance to decide about the overall look of the dish on your plate (especially in the case of restaurant food) but every time you have the opportunity, prepare the food to look good first and taste good second. Plating is the art of setting food in the way that makes the dish tasty even for a person who doesn't try it. The composition should be eye-catching, so keep all the ingredients fresh and shoot quickly, right after cooking. Keep the portions smaller to create space between the plate and food.
Practice, practice, practice
Always try to think what attracts you to each image. Seek the inspiration! Think about the various ways of shooting the same dish. Search for the strongest angle. Take creative photos of the ingredients and the cooking process to make your photos more original and dynamic. Trust your instincts; if the composition doesn't work, don't hesitate to start from scratch and set up a new one. All of this will help you to make your images mouth-watering.