When I was a teenager, my Nan would always take photos of what she was eating. I thought it was the weirdest thing to do… Then I got to 30-something and started taking photos of my own food (call me ‘odd’ if you want, but I prefer ‘quirky.’) I have to say I find great satisfaction in taking a decent shot of my dinner. A bit of food porn never hurt anyone, right?
When I attended Food Bloggers Connect last September, the workshop I was looking forward to the most was the one lead by photographer William Reavell and food stylist Tara Sura. Lucy, the incredibly talented photographer and food blogger behind Supergolden Bakes, had recommended their courses. I learnt so much from them in the short space of an hour that I decided to book a full day class.
I have been on a few photography courses but this was my first one dedicated solely to food. I was really looking forward to it and a little bit apprehensive, too. I was hoping I would not be out of my depth in the level 2 course where there would be no technical information about my camera. It would all be about styling and improving the way my food photos look, not get more confident using my camera.
The studio in South London was perfect for the six attendees and 3 experts on hand (photographer William, food stylist Tara and helper/photographer Amy). The fact they kept classes to a maximum of 6 was a big selling point for me. I am at that stage in my photography where I want to really see a difference when I go on a course, and the ratio attendant-expert was spot-on.
I had (wrongly) assumed that all attendees would be food bloggers but only two of us were. The other attendees were all working in the media, either professional photographers or film directors eager to learn more about food photography too widen the scope of their expertise. Jo, who blogs at Paleo Crust, has recently launched her food blog. Ten years ago, Jo was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and pain was crippling her. Things got better when she completely changed her diet to heal her gut. Her recipes are healthy and look delicious. Go on, give her a wave, she is lovely!
So, how can you take better photos of food? I am in no way an expert, but here are some tips I gathered along the way, quite a few of them from yesterday’s course:
1) Know Your Camera
You can have the best equipment in the world but if you have no idea how to use it, your photos are probably not going to be the best they could be. I have had my camera over six years and I know it pretty well, although I still need to read the manual. Once you know what your camera can do, get off automatic mode and turn off that flash, then practise, practise, practise!
2) Take Your Time
I know, I know, it can be tempting to take a quick shot of your dinner with your phone as you are dishing it out so you can eat it warm… Think again. If you want to take a decent shot, you need decent light, some thought given to compositions so your food looks appealing rather than being an ugly mount of mush. Try several angles, cut that tart, change the plate, add some icing sugar. Take photos along the way.
I have written about it before: I use free wallpaper samples, cheap tiles, planks, slate samples (hello B&Q!) and wrapping paper (Paperchase) as my background. I get white and black foam boards from Hobbycraft (much much cheaper than eBay or Amazon).
4) Old Cutlery
Use old cutlery rather than the new shiny set you just got for Christmas. It will look more authentic and you will not get your reflection in the spoon.
eBay is good if you have a specific item in mind. Otherwise, visit your local charity shops regularly, check your Nan’s loft, swap props with fellow food bloggers. Other good places Tara suggested for nice crockery and plates: car boot sales, Tiger or HomeSense. You will also come across unique pieces at antique shops and markets like Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane, Sunbury Antiques Market (Kempton Park), North London Vintage Market (Muswell Hill) or Alexandra Palace Antiques & Collectors Fair if you are around London.
6) Natural Light is Your Friend
You will get the best results using natural daylight. Avoid bright, direct sunlight (conservatories are a ‘no, no!’) and favour but a side light from a window.
7) Think About Focus
Most of the time, food looks better with shallow depth of field (one thing in focus, the rest blurry), but when taking an overhead shot, make sure everything Is in focus.
8) Food Looking Fresh
Try to take your photos when the food has just been plated.
If your food starts to lose its freshness, a use a water spray (sparingly) to get a few more minutes of shooting time. I have just ordered this spritzer from Amazon (affiliate link).
Use sparkling water rather than still water.
Dilute red wine to make it look redder.
Add a bit of icing sugar to beer or sparkling wine to create more fizz.
When shooting, link your camera to a laptop (tethering) so you can see exactly what your photos look like. All you need is a cable and software to display the photos on your computer (comes free with every Canon camera, or use Capture One / Lightroom).
… and an extra one: Tell a story and find a friend with pretty hands for photo shoots!