Food Photography / by Harminder Singh

Objectives of Food photography

Food photographs are used for various applications, ranging from recipe books, hoardings for a restaurant, food packing, menu cards and press ads.

The objective of the photographer is to take mouth watering photographs to allure the appetite of the consumer. This is achieved by the efforts of a team of expert chefs, food stylists, art director and an expert photographer who understands the delicate nature of food and knows how to bring them out in his photograph.

Colors and textures of the food rightly presented in a pleasing manner are the key to taking these shots. The photographer should also have a basic knowledge of cookery and many times he needs to chip in his or her knowledge during styling and layout.

Food styling

Food styling is an art mastered by some expert chefs. They understand how the food needs to be laid in a proper way, understanding also how the food will look the best to the camera.

If the food is properly cooked for consumption, it will loose texture and color. Some foods also loose their form rapidly. The food stylist and Chef, work together as an integrated team. Many times the food stylist and chef are rolled into one person.

Food stylists are usually required to carry a vast collection of dishes, bowls, cutlery, backgrounds and props. Many times these need to be hired or bought for the job.

For example:

  • Ice cream scoop starts to melt immediately one it is scooped and presented.
  • Thick soups tend to coagulate on the surface with heat trapped inside and they bloat on the surface.
  •  Certain salads will limp and loose their crunchiness.
  •    Properly cooked rice will not be photographed well as the rice grains loose their form.
  •    Fresh look of greens can be enhanced by different techniques.

Number of techniques and methods need to be understood and applied. This is a very special line of photography. I have just pointed to a few of them.

Lighting techniques

The techniques used in lighting any dish is to bring out the true color and texture of the food. In short, balancing the soft light for over all illumination with decent amount of cross hard light that will skim the surface textures.

Balancing exposure between each light source is very crucial to the final exposure. Highlights tend to kill the lighter areas and soft light on its own cannot bring out the details in the shadow and dark areas. To overcome these technical difficulties in the use of light, many type of fillers and reflectors are used.

If the food is lying on the table for long, it looses its form, texture and start to limp quickly. All the lighting and exposure checks should be finalized on a dummy dish. Once this is finalized, the actual dish has to be placed and shot immediately. The photographer can attempt to shoot more than one angle and composition if the dish permits him to do so.

Basic light shapers like soft box can be used to light the overall shot for a even soft illumination. Honeycombs come in different grid sizes and have different angular spread of light and have a hard character. These can be used to skim the food surface and add highlights. Reflector sheets of thermo Cole, crumpled aluminum foils can be easily placed to reflect shadow areas. One can experiment with these and develop the basic light from here 

The perfect camera

The ideal camera for food photography is a view camera with lenses like 75mm, 100mm and 150mm for use with CCD sensor size of 6x4.5 cm approx.

For close shots or macro shots you should invest in 100 or 120 Apo Macro lens. This lens comes in very handy when photographing close and small objects like spices etc. Their ability to reproduce fine detail and texture is unmatched.

I suggest you should read about view cameras and digitar lenses to understand further.

My personal choice of view camera is ‘Arca Swiss Monolith’ and lenses from Rodenstock and Schneider. Mounting the Arca Swiss on a Arca Swiss Cube head will make life very easy. Many fine adjustments in composing and recomposing are done very easily.

Happy Shooting!