Saturday, May 30, 2009

Food Photography for the Home Cook

Here I have some curried rice noodles with bok choy tips, soy bean cake, shiitake mushrooms, garnished with sesame seeds. Note the shallow depth of field, sharp detail on the food, color pallette. Don't you want to eat it?

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. If you don't have a light box, food stylist, or a high end digital slr with a macro lens, how do you make your food look good for a blog post? Especially if you actually want to eat the thing before it gets cold? Well.

I like the New York Times food blogs a lot for good food photography, although still a bit profesh for the little guy in the home kitchen. Examples of good food photography can be found anywhere on TasteSpotting. These guys know what they are doing. Their setups aren't too styled and the food looks edible. You know that if you try to reproduce it you will have something that looks similar. It's not intimidating and looks delish.

So here goes:

When you are shooting your food, you want to concentrate on what is important. Take as tight a shot as possible of the food. This will also make for a more professional looking shot if we can't see what else is on your kitchen counter. There is no need either to show too much plate or bowl in the shot.
If your camera doesn't have a good zoom (do NOT use optical zoom), get in as tightly as possible without losing detail or getting blurry and crop afterwards if necessary.

Depth of Field
All this means is that only the stuff closest to your camera lens will be in sharp focus, while everything else is blurry. This way attention will be focused tightly on the food and the contrast between blurry and focus will make the sharp stuff seem sharper and the food look more interesting. Chances are, you are using a fixed aperture camera if you are using the camera in your cell phone, but even most consumer grade point and shoots have some aperture control. You will want to use the widest aperture (smallest number) possible. If you have a close-up or portrait setting, use that (ie. the flower/lady in a hate vs the mountain/guy running).


To me, this is one of the most important factors in good food photography (next to the food obvs). All light has a color. If you shoot under an indoor light, chances are your picture will have a yellowish light to it. If your camera does not have a white balancing feature and you don't have any photo editing software on your computer, you will want to use natural light. This is the most ideal lighting situation. It is brighter than indoor and is closer to plain white light. You will see more detail in the food and have softer shadows. Avoid using a flash at all costs. This is the harshest of lighting and will flatten out the food.
When in doubt, overexpose a little bit. The food should be bright and happy with soft/few shadows.

You will want to plate your food on something simple with not too much ornamentation, unless it is complementary to the food in design. I would suggest something in either a solid color that complements the color of the food or even just a very clean cutting board. Make sure to wipe off any splatters from the plate. I also like to plate up the food so that all of the important ingredients can be identified in the picture. Another nice touch is a contrasting garnish like seeds or herbs.
Shoot the food against a fairly neutral background. Very few home cooks have an infinity background on hand, so go for something that is either a solid color or will look fairly pleasant and blurred out. Again, if you don't have the ability to control your aperture, you might want to consider a context for the food. Something simple like a clean cutting board or butcher block. Nothing is more appealing in a photograph than fresh veggies. If you need to fill up the fram with something, put something fresh and leafy in there. A great example of some well-styled food is KETTLE CORN. I don't even like popcorn and I would eat that.

Camera Angle
This is worth thinking about. If your kitchen is a mess, consider an overhead shot of the food where you can only see the plate or table that it's on. Do something dynamic. The food is just sitting there, so tilting the camera somewhat can make a bowl of soup much more exciting than if it was shot more head-on. A good example of this, I think, is the Bacon Log. Here is something that, photographed in a more conventional way, maybe you would think "Oh man I can't eat that. Not unless I want to die!" But with a jaunty camera angle, bright natural lighting, and tight cropping, maybe instead you'd say "Look at that friendly, harmless, bacon log. I could eat that."

So basically, you want your food to look appealing and makeable. All of your carefully chosen ingredients should be identifiable and not too much should be in the shot besides the food. Think about the difference between the hamburger in the commercial and the sloppy, flattened out mess that you actually get in person. It's like making your food Myspace-Hot.


  1. It's like making your food Myspace-HotIf I walked into a restaurant and saw that bok choy waiting for me at a table I would absolutely not stand it up and defriend it later.

  2. that is EXACTLY what i was thinking. gg ben.