An Insider's Look At Food Photography
"If You Can Shoot Food, You Can Shoot Anything!" Page 2

Most of the ice cubes you see in drink shots are hand-carved acrylic, and almost all of the splashes in drink shots are free-form acrylic made by a model maker. Yes, the photographer blasts the drink with compressed air or additional liquid to make droplets fly, but the primary splash above the glass is acrylic. Most alcoholic beverage shots have water added to them to make them more transparent so the backlighting will work better. Other drink shots are diluted tea or coffee, or just water with food coloring added.

Shooting Style
If you are shooting for a client, or shooting for your portfolio hoping to get a client someday, you should shoot the "safe, expected" images first, and get them out of your system. Maybe capture the overall shot from above, then standing height, then table height. After you are comfortable that you have captured what the client expects, start exploring. Look at the food arrangement like a landscape and you are a part of the Lewis and Clark team exploring the Pacific Northwest. You are looking for the most beautiful angle and the part of the arrangement that is the most appetizing. Get in tight with a macro lens, then shoot with a wide angle both up close and then from farther back. Shoot with a small aperture and everything tack-sharp, then reduce your lighting power, open up your aperture, and shoot with the background items out of focus. Find an image that you love, that makes you feel something. Make a shot that makes your mouth water and makes you hungry. Shoot what you feel and you are developing a style--people will pay you for your eye. Only shoot what the client asks for and expects and you are a camera operator.

Halibut garnished with sesame seeds, red bell pepper, and cilantro, served with lima beans and painted with glycerin. Lit with large softbox overhead, small softbox on the left, and two silver reflectors.

Ingredients of Asian grill dish, photographed for a cookbook. A few sprinkles of water were added to enhance the feeling of freshness. Photographed on black velvet with a Fujifilm FinePix S2 Pro digital camera with a Nikon 60mm macro lens.

Tools Of The Food Photographer's Trade
· Tweezers are used for moving and placing small food items.
· Cotton-tipped swabs are used for picking up crumbs and small liquid spills on plates.
· Epoxy glue and super glue are used for assembling stubborn food items that won't stay in place.
· Fun tack is a type of sticky modeling clay that is used for placing under small items to keep them from moving.
· Dulling spray is used on chrome or reflective items like silverware to create a soft, even reflection without showing your softboxes or umbrellas in the reflection. It can be found in larger photography stores.
· Sandwiches, pastries, and pies are often held together with toothpicks. The toothpicks may actually be photographed and later removed in Photoshop.

Grilled salmon served on guacamole and salsa with a lemon twist. Food styling by Chris Oliver, known for styling food for TV shows such as "Will & Grace," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Six Feet Under," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Friends," and "King of Queens."

Lighting Tips
Food photography is generally done with studio strobe lighting, rather than tungsten or incandescent. The reasons food photographers use strobes is that they are cool and do not affect the temperature of the food. Some digital food photographers use HMI or daylight-balanced fluorescent lights, but strobe is still the most common light source. I shot about 85 percent of a recent cookbook project with strobe and 10 percent with daylight coming through diffused skylights or windows, and controlled by reflectors or diffused by tracing paper. The final 5 percent was with the tungsten modeling lights built into my strobes. I used tungsten when I wanted to show movement with a long exposure, or when I wanted to match the warmth and color a fire.
Light that is diffused, directionless, and shadowless is flat and lackluster. That's one reason that overcast, cloudy days are not as cheerful as bright, sunny days. Light needs to have direction and cast shadows to be interesting. Many uncreative photographers place one large softbox directly over their subject and shoot. Although this certainly cuts down on hot spots and specular highlights, it is also boring.

Papaya salsa, avocado salsa, and tomato salsa photographed on colorful glass dish. A large aperture was used to create shallow depth of field, putting the background salsas out of focus for effect.

bartleyridgeorg's picture

Great Post. I have not been visiting the site recently. Took a visit again and there were some great comments on the site. Excellent post. Keep up the good work.
Bartley Ridge

prakasharige's picture

I don't know that shooting food is that much difficulty. After reading your Article, I would like to say that "Yes" it is extremely difficult to shoot food. Thanks for the Blog Post. Asia Wok

aglaja's picture

This is a great advice! I actually i take pictures to the food i cook but it didn't cross my mind to take this hobby to another level. I thought that taking photos for my Frozen Yogurt Solutions would be enough for my career but i will try something else too.