Here's a statement I can totally relate to and swear by... "Be a photographer before you become a food photographer"!!
I have clicked everything from crawling spiders to gorgeous peacocks..stray dogs and stealthy cats to docile little deer and hiding langurs..a few random birds sitting on wires to the gorgeous Ibis...Trampled crumpled flowers to fresh buds...I have clicked babies..and neighbourhood kids in curious weird poses...a feet here, an ankle there...a chin cupped in a palm here..to some weird show of bum there... I have clicked old doors...and beautiful majestic skies.... I have even clicked simply some Ice cubes...an empty glass..broken bangles....the odd trinket...a bottle of gloss and what not!!
Trust me, I didn't jump into food photography.
I love photography.. the essence of capturing the beauty of the world ...through my eyes.... its my take on the world...a little curious...a little different...sometimes pretty...sometimes showing my lifelong battle with authority... but at the heart of it, lies my love for photography.
There are soo many good food photographs out there..need less to say, they didn't just happen!!
Au contraire to portraits, still lifes or food photographs, don't just happen by being in the right time at the right place..Nope, its a much more exact science/art than that....
Its science coz you have to have a basic understanding of the camera..the aperture, shutter speeds..the quality of light..etc etc...
Art coz composition, framing, styling are all relatively qualitative aspects of food photography that are really individualistic in style.. and differ from person to person.
Let me give you a little 101 on DSLRs first before we dive in to the fun stuff...
I am assuming you are serious about this and have a DSLR..
If you are looking to improve your photography, no matter what camera you’re using, turn it to manual. I kept my camera in Av [aperture priority] for the first year and when I decided to make the switch to manual, is when I really learned how to use my camera. If you’re using a DSLR and keeping it in “auto” mode, you basically just paid Rs.30000 for a really fancy point n’ shoot.
Get that thing out of auto!!! I say that as kindly as possible.If not the Manual mode, use the AV/TV mode...Just get started with it. Here's what I did to practice with my camera when I had started.
Once you put your camera into manual mode, I suggest staging a little set, with food, objects, or whatever you want. Once you have your props set up, try to stand in the same spot for each photo. If you have a tripod, grab it. Frame the photo and start snapping away. Change the settings and write down what you’re doing, and what is happening with each photo. You will quickly start to pick up on what each setting does.
Try this again with AV mode, and then with TV mode...
See which one works for you the most.. To start off with AV/TV is probably the best till you get the hang of things..you can then switch to manual mode.
I am assuming you know the basic about aperture, shutter speed and ISO... if not, then go back to the basics..read up on your camera manual and practice!!!
Now for the actual Food photography!!
1.Get the right kit :
It's a myth that you need a super-wow camera to take nice food photographs. Entry-level DSLRs are quite reasonably priced these days and if you're shooting for a blog, the picture quality will be more than adequate. It's worth investing in a nice lens if you're feeling flush, but I honestly think it's how you apply the technology you have that really matters.I use an old Canon Eos 1000d...and a basic 50mm for almost all my pics..I keep my zoom lenses for wild life!! And yes, there is no need to invest in a separate macro lens for food...not unless you are really into showing super close up of seeds or grainy things in your food.a basic prime lens works fine. Remember, prime lens don't zoom out,so you have to act like the zoom out lens and move forward or backward depending on the shot.
2. Say NO to flash:
Camera-mounted flashes are pretty much off-limits for food photographers; pouring in light front-on will flatten your dish and dispel any delicate natural shadows that were present beforehand. Your best bet for light is the Sunlight. You will be surprised what a little bit of sunshine can do for your food pics..Try placing your food near a window which gets plenty of sun. Almost all my pics are shot by a large window which gets ample sunshine...and when its too much light, don't forget to use a diffuser!!
You will see many amateur photographers with a horrible yellow/orange tinge to their pics. This happens primarily because of the use of flash, or coz their white balance is not set correctly.It can also happen coz of the color of your dress.
Diffuser?? Whats that you think?? Simply any piece of translucent white cloth that will filter some of the direct hard rays...I use my white curtains!! Cheap and easy..and its right there!! No fancy gadget required!!
Bouncers and Reflectors : I use a plain old white foam board as a bouncer..and a board covered with some aluminium foil as a reflector.You can also use mirrors...These take care of any untoward shadows on the pic and also help with some light on a cloudy day!
3. Choose props carefully :
While your viewer may only acknowledge them on a subconscious level, the choice of tablecloth/surface, plate and cutlery all subtly contribute to the mood and success of your shot.
i. Compliment food with props of similar colors and interesting textures:
Food photography is often about telling a story. Who made this? What’s the occasion? What season it is? The right props can help you share this story – just beware of going overboard.
Try picking one standout color from the dish – say the rose icing in this pic – and adding a small element that incorporates that color. It could be the paper that your dish sits on, dusted powdered sugar on the table, orange slices, a wooden cutting board, or a cup of coffee.In this case, I chose a ribbon of similar shade.
ii. Good tips for matching colors:
Cool colors and deep, rich blues can make brown and beige foods really pop and come to life. Warm, vibrant colors can liven up salad greens. You want to enhance the texture, color or contour of your food.
4. Make minimal adjustments in post to remove distractions :
Professional food photographers prize themselves on little-to-no post-production. That being said, if a few crumbs or blemishes on the surface material are distracting, by all means remove them in Photoshop. You can also make some minimal adjustments to levels and curves, and color balance in Lightroom to get the exposure where you want it.Some photographers also like to play around with the contrast, highlights, shadows and blacks. Certain fine-tuning can help further enhance your images, but strive to do 95% of the work should in camera.
5.Find the best angle:
Certain recipes have a strong graphic identity and will look striking when photographed from directly above, while other subjects (tiered cakes being a good example) often need to be shot from a lower angle. Try to get your composition in place in advance so that you can concentrate on the food when it's ready to photograph; you don't really want to be worrying about glassware, cutlery and napkin placement when the dish is ready.
i. Bring your focal point forward :
The focal point of any great food image is the dish itself. Props and garnishes can help tell the food’s story, but they should never distract from the main event. I suggest focusing near the front edge of the food. This naturally draws the viewer in to the rest of the frame. You also typically want to shoot with the aperture wide open to deliver shallow depth of field and isolate the food in your frame.
6. Trust your instincts when a composition isn't working :
i. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Break the set down and start again; you'll probably bring in a few elements from your previous composition, but often it's good to re-approach an idea from a different angle.
ii.When in doubt, shoot overhead : Many amateur photographers fall into the trap of shooting food from an angle that makes it look like it’s about to slide off the plate. Shooting overhead not only eliminates that possibility, but it also gives you more flexibility to add props to the frame. Keep in mind to straighten pics.. pls!
But generally speaking, don’t limit yourself to one angle. There are the three basic angles to shoot food: from above, from the side, and from an angle. Most food looks good shot at an angle because it’s usually prepared to be seen that way. But dishes like salads, charcuterie, and pizza look great from above because they are flat.
iii. Tall dishes (sandwiches, ice cream, beverages) look best from the side because you want to see the height and layers.And if that fails, food shot straight down – including a table setting and serving dishes – makes a great photo.
iv.Build Height: Food photographers look to build height in dishes like this, most often by adding garnishes – fresh herbs, a dollop of sour cream, and lemon or lime wedges are all great additions to have on hand. Or if possible, literally stack your food.
7. Don't let the food sit around for too long:
Many herbs and salad leaves (coriander being a perennial offender) whither at the mere sight of a camera; the longer your dish hangs around, the more it starts to look tired and un-appetizing. Food like meat begins to dry out quickly on set and will benefit from a light brush of oil, but be careful not to overdo it otherwise it'll start to look greasy.
8.Honour the accident:
If you're taking a slice from a cake and a few crumbs fall onto the tabletop, have a quick look through the lens - it might be worth leaving them there. A bit of mess adds charm and can make a recipe more approachable to the viewer; sometimes rigid perfection makes the prospect of re-creating a dish oneself feel like a daunting one.
Also, Check out this fantastic piece on food photography from some who actually knows what it is...and does an amazing job inspiring thousands, me included.
A must must dekko post for anyone interested in the art that is food photography!!
Hope I was of some help!!
All I want to say is, choose your own style..let your inherent style guide you rather than just aping others pics..Find your own voice..and lead with it..
You never know when the next gorgeous image on a magazine might be yours!!