Friday, April 19, 2013

Food Photography

Taking pictures of food, how hard can it be?

Hah! Hard as hell is the right answer. Think back to your Facebook feed and remember the last time someone posted a picture of some sort of homemade meal. Chances are it was something they had put a lot of time and effort into making and had enough pride in their accomplishment to want to share it with the world. Chances are, because food photography is hard, it looked like unappealing slop by the time it was uploaded to the internet. Go ahead, go take a minute to scroll through your news feed and see if you can find any pictures of food taken by one of your friends that makes you want to invite yourself over to dinner. I'll wait here.


So how did it go? Maybe you have more skilled friends than I do, but I'm gonna take a wild stab in the dark and guess that you struck out. Now, I am not here today to rag on people taking pictures of food. Not at all. Because I am one of them. Today, I am going to share with you some of the things we have learned about photographing food.

David and I have been taking a lot of pictures lately two main reasons:

  • I am blogging and using social media to promote my family's various businesses and pictures are the best way to catch the eye of a potential reader; and
  • I am developing an online shopping cart for Gurnet Trading Co. and products don't sell online very well with out photographs. 

So, in an activity that has had a steep learning curve and many failures, here is a list of lessons we have learned thus far.

1. Invest in a large memory card
For every picture that we have deemed to have "potential" for future use, we have taken dozens of throwaways. This is one of the best and worst things about modern digital photography; we have the luxury of taking hundreds of photos to make sure we have plenty to work with, but then we have to painfully sort through the images and discard the garbage.

Unless you are pro, a real artist, or have that magic eye; you're not going to get a worthwhile shot on your first attempt. We took more than two dozen photos of a damn Shrimp Pesto Pizza and even still we weren't pleased with the results.

2. You're not close enough
Get so close that you think you must be too close and then get closer. Unless your subject is the chef, food needs to be shot macro style. You have to be able to see the texture and subtle variations in color to make it interesting and appealing.

Take these Brussels sprouts. Same sprouts. Same cute little piles. Same camera. Same everything. You tell me which one looks more interesting and appealing.

 3. Get low

The angle of approach is critical. We have found that you have to get low, almost even with the food, in order to have a good result. If you take a picture from above, you loose the depth of your subject, making it look flat, even if you have gotten close and maintained the texture.

Notice how the right angle can give even a flat food like pizza depth.

4. Equipment and technique matter

With some things, the quality of what you start with can make up for your own inexperience and equipment. For example, if you start with good fresh seafood you can pretty much slop it on a plate with no skill and a mediocre recipe and it will still taste great. Skills and equipment become more important when you are trying to dress up a product that was less than adequate to begin with.

Or take dogs for an example. When they are fluffy little fuzzballs a bark is cute and jumping is just a way for them to be adorable and get love. As they get older these traits get harder to over look and you have to train them and improve their skills, lest they become a "bad dog."

This is not the case with food photography. It doesn't matter how great your subject is, how much effort was put into it, and how fabulous it is; a bad picture will make it look like crap.

Look at these hand made sweet potato raviolis. I spent all day making them and they were absolutely delicious. They looked amazing and we were so proud of them. I took this photo a couple of years ago with my phone.

Now look at this hamburger. We spent maybe 15 minutes on this meal. You can even see that I didn't even bother to take the time to make sure it was round. Better technique with a DSLR will clearly results in an oddly misshapen hamburger beating out home-cooked love shot with lousy technique and a point and shoot.

These are four lessons that we have learned over the last few weeks. Stay tuned for our continued misadventures in photography.