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How to photograph: Food

My love for food photography began when I chose to specialise in it at university. As a chef’s daughter, food was always a big part of my life. I had always enjoyed cooking and being in the kitchen, but I’d never tried photographing it.

My years at University involved lots of learning, from the basics of how to photograph a bowl of eggs beautifully to assisting some great food photographers in London. Food photography is more difficult than it looks as there are a lot of thought processes to go through and things to consider before getting your shots.

Here are some tips and tricks that I have learnt along the way that will help you produce great food photography.

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Plan and prepare

This is probably the most important stage of photographing food, and the funny thing is, it involves no food at all. If you aren’t on a commissioned shoot you will have the luxury of time on your side so it’s crucial you use it.

It’s very annoying when you have a plate of spaghetti ready, and then you have to spend 15 minutes sorting the lighting. Before you know it, the spaghetti is feeling sorry for itself and you have to start again.

So, spend time planning your angles, compositions and lighting. There is nothing old school about sketching out your set up. Draw it out and you will save those precious minutes.

If you’re on a commission then try to get a good grasp on the brief. Ask for the mood board and speak to the prop stylist beforehand so you know what they’ve ordered for the shoot. Go prepared with visual in your head and have ideas ready.

Niccolo Bertoldi / Alamy Stock Photo

Have a wardrobe of props

The key here is to always keep an eye out when shopping for anything you may use. Charity shops are great, and you can find some lovely vintage cutlery – when I came home from university my parents weren’t very impressed with the number of props I’d accumulated from various charity shops.

It’s also worth asking around as local builders and kitchen companies will have cut offs that make perfect backgrounds. They often give them away for free, which is great if you’re on a budget.

You can also get your hands on floor tiles and boards. I once brought two sheets of wooden flooring and made a nice backdrop. You’ll also be surprised what you have in your own kitchen, so have a rummage.

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Befriend a chef or food stylist

There’s a difference between enjoying cooking and being able to make a dish look delicious. There’s also a difference between dishing up dinner and plating up a dish.

If you’re lucky enough to know a food stylist then make them your best friend. It’s very valuable to have someone else prepare the food so you can spend time taking great photos. If you aren’t acquainted with a chef or food stylist, then I would recommend attending some classes. There are some very credible courses out there where you can learn how to plate up food for the camera.

Leithan Partnership t/a The Picture Pantry / Alamy Stock Photo

Spend money on the freshest ingredients

Nobody wants to see a photo of a sad salad. Make sure you’re using the freshest ingredients so that the dish looks fresher for longer. If you’re on a budget, then farmers markets can be great for buying cheap, fresh produce.

Dmitriy Shironosov / Alamy Stock Photo

Have an eye for detail

It’s really important to have a good eye for detail so that you spot slips you may have to edit out later. Things such a tweezers, cotton buds and tissues are always great to put in your kit bag as they’re handy for moving tiny things on a plate without having to get your hands messy or risk moving more than you wanted to.

What to have in your kit bag:

  • A strong tripod – make sure you shoot with a tripod as crisp sharp images are really important. If you can purchase a tripod with an extendable arm it will benefit you greatly for shooting overhead shots. Make sure you have a weighted bag for the other end of the tripod if you do shoot overhead.
  • Tweezers and cotton buds for those messy slips.
  • A day light panel – you may prefer to shoot with flash which is perfectly fine, but if you shoot in daylight you may find you struggle with natural light. Daylight panels can be really cheap and come in different sizes so you can purchase a small one if you don’t have much space.
  • A piece of white cardboard – if you want a little less shadows, you can use a piece of white cardboard as a cheap alternative to a reflector to help create softer lighting.

I hope some of these tips help you. Have fun, but be warned, your camera will get messy.

Shannon Dudley

Shannon graduated with a photography degree in 2017 and has since surrounded herself with all things creative. With a penchant for strong visuals and a powerful story, she aims to discover and talk to creative people in the community.

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