Published November 23, 2004.
Food photography is a challenge. Professionals have expensive cameras and brilliantly lit studios, and they have professional cooks willing to make a dish several times just to make sure it's ready for its close-up. But what about the amateur photographer who wants to capture that intricately decorated Yule log or the puffy, golden Yorkshire puddings sitting alongside that perfectly roasted beef tenderloin?
To help the home photographer show off the home cook's creations in their best light, we asked our staff photographer, Daniel van Ackere, for some tips. Here's what he recommended.
- First, he told us, focus on the lighting. If you have a choice, shoot in a room with beautiful daylight. If that's not an option, check the film that you're using or the setting on your digital camera to make sure that it matches the available light. People often overlook these basic steps.
- If the lighting isn't great, color print film is your best option. It's more forgiving of bad lighting conditions than slide film or digital cameras.
- Position the food against a simple--not cluttered--background. Don't put it on a tablecloth with a complex design or pattern.
- If you want any objects to be in the photo with the food, place them a little farther away from the camera. They'll be a little out of focus, which will highlight the food.
- Put the food in a spot that allows you to walk all the way around it. View the food through the camera from different directions, then choose your shot. Some views will illuminate a greasy spot or hide the decoration you're trying to highlight.
- In most cases, it's best to hold the camera at a 45 degree angle to the dish being photographed, or at least a lower rather than higher angle. Straight overhead shots, more often than not, look weird.
- When lining up your shot, make sure that the camera isn't tilted or cockeyed. The image you're seeing through the lens may look dramatic and impressive, but in the photo the food will likely appear to be falling off the plate or table.
- Most consumer cameras do not focus well when held fewer than 3 feet from the subject. If you want good close-ups, you should have a telephoto lens or a camera that is designed for close-ups.
- Too many home photographers take only one picture. Shoot more than one--at least two or three. Remember, once the dish is eaten, you'll have no opportunity for retakes. And take the photos at different distances from the subject--one as close as your camera will allow, and then another one or two from a few steps farther away. Take one or two from different perspectives.
- Finally, don't overlook more interesting shots, especially those that tell the story behind the food. If you want to document your grandmother's famous cake, take some pictures of her and the grandchildren making it together and of people eating it in addition to getting pictures of the cake itself. This photo story will be much more meaningful to the next generation than a single picture of a frosted cake.