Food Photography 101 ~ Part 2: The Technical
By Jackie Connelly www.jackieconnelly.com/blog
Written as Guest Blog Post for Bakergirl Creations
Since breaking into the world of food photography, I’ve met a lot of people (both in the real world and the virtual one) who want to get better at shooting food. I’ve compiled this beginner’s list based on some of the questions I’ve been asked and what I consider helpful tips to growing as a food & beverage photographer. In Part 1 I focused on the creative side of food photography, here Part 2 is based on the technical side, and Part 3 coming up next will be valuable resources.
1. Get a tripod! It’s incredibly difficult to get good shots of food, or any table top/still life object, without a tripod. Having a tripod allows you to arrange your set-up, take that first shot, and then tweak your food and props to your hearts content without adjusting your composition, unless of course you want to.
2. Know your camera…and it’s manual functions. I’m a professional photographer, so I own a DSLR. To be honest those little point and shoots confuse me; all the bizarre symbols for zoom in and out, and they’re so small I’d surely sit on it at some point. But whatever type of camera you have (or want to purchase) remember: it’s not the amount of money you spend or kind of camera you’re using that will make the photos better. Ok, when we start talking about $40,000 large format digital camera backs then yes, one could easily argue my point here, but if you’re just starting out, buy only what you can afford and learn how to use it and it’s manual functions well. A camera that focuses, chooses shutter speeds and apertures automatically will not allow you to have any creative control over your shots, so pay special attention to the manual options chapter in your cameras handbook.
3. Try different light sources. Daylight, strobe, continuous – there are options depending on what effect you are wanting to achieve and what your visual style is (more on this in Part 2). Lights are available for rent from the local photography equipment rental supplier in your area (rent something over the weekend and you usually get 2 days for the price of 1, as most places aren’t open on Sunday). Whether you dedicate yourself to working with one kind of light source for all your work, or not, the lighting has one purpose: to make the food look as appetizing as it does to the naked eye, if not more so. I shoot with daylight ~ natural light from the two 16’ tall windows in my studio, and from two daylight-balanced continous lights that I’ll often use as a fill light to the main natural light, and as the colour temperature is nearly the same they are ideal to use together. Reflectors are also a huge part of what I use – giant pieces of white foam core are inexpensive and last forever, plus you can cut them into whatever abstract shape you might need. Also try black for blocking light. And small mirrors can work like magic to direct light into a dark pocket of the dish.
4. Part food photographer, part food stylist. I work with a food stylist, whose job is to grocery shop, cook, plate and tweak the food once it’s on set. However, when you’re first starting out you may not have the opportunity to work with a food stylist, so you must learn some basics yourself. A brush of olive oil goes a long way to making seafood and meat look deliciously moist; Kitchen Bouquet or soy sauce mixed with a drop of dish soap becomes a browning agent to chicken or fish, and alone KB makes a great looking cup of coffee, without the colourful luminescence (similar to the colors that occur when oil and water mix) regular coffee can have. You’ll learn to always have a “hero” product that is used for the final shot, while a stand-in is what you use while you’re tweaking things on the set.