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Food Photography – Lessons Learned

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures lately at Red Table Cafe in Old Town Fort Collins, trying to improve my food photography technique. Here are 12 tips I’ve learned.

Apple Walnut Salad from Red Table Cafe.

Apple Walnut Salad from Red Table Cafe.

1. Be ready.
Food such as apples and bananas can turn color, or lettuce can wilt, so be ready to start shooting. I typically take a picture or two in the area I’m going to be working in to see what the lighting and scene is like. Then I make adjustments to my camera or my surroundings so when I need to take the real picture, I’m more prepared. I may have to move a chair or lamp out of the background, or adjust my position or angle of the camera.

2. Get down.
I’ve noticed some foods, such as sandwiches, look better when shooting at their level. Some foods, such as coffee or hot chocolate, are better shooting directly above or at a 45 degree angle. Shooting from above has a way of making things look flat. You can see the inside of a sandwich when you shoot on the same plane. If the bread has been cut, you can see the texture of the inside of the bread. Or if it’s chili or salad, you can see the contour and texture. Shooting level with the dish can also make the food look larger than what it really is.

3. Lighting.
Consider placing the dish close to a window or outside to use natural light. I’ve read that digital cameras were built for natural light, therefore, the color is more accurate.

The Hot Gobbler deli sandwich from Red Table Cafe.

The Hot Gobbler deli sandwich from Red Table Cafe.

4. RAW.
If RAW mode is an option for you, and if color is important, use it. jpg is a compressed file format. Meaning, information such as color or detail is removed or left out. With RAW, you get everything. I’ve shot some pictures that looked way too dark or too light, but since I was shooting RAW, I could save the photo.

5. Distractions.
Make sure there’s nothing distracting or unwanted in the shot. For example someone walking behind your shot, or glare off the table or window, or an unwanted piece of furniture in the background. I typically like the food to be on a while or simple plate. This way, there’s less distraction from the food itself and the viewer can focus on the food and not the decorations on the plate.

6. Shutter Speed.
Use a shutter speed of 80 or more if you’re not using a tripod. I’ve noticed pictures can be a little blurry if I’m holding the camera and the shutter speed is less than 80. You may think you’re standing perfectly still, but you’re not. Neither is the camera, if you’re holding.

7. Focus.
Play with different aperture settings, but stay towards the low number range (3.5, 4, 4.5, 5). Smaller numbers like these means you can focus on a small spot on the horizontal plane.

8. Just a piece.
Sometimes you don’t need to see the entire dish. For example, you don’t need the entire pizza in the shot. Half the pizza is plenty.

Cupcake from Red Table Cafe.

Cupcake from Red Table Cafe.

9. Angles.
Try different angles by moving the dish or camera around. Zoom in to get up close and personal with the subject and maybe show less of the plate.

10. Accent.
Sometimes an accent is nice. Consider placing a head of garlic behind your pizza, or a fork on the plate.

11. White Balance.
Once the picture is on the computer, you may need to adjust the white balance. I also like to sharpen the photo a touch with the Unsharp Mask, maybe increase the saturation 10%, and maybe add a bokeh to ensure the eye goes to the right place.

Cocoa Cuvee from Little Bird Bakeshop.

Cocoa Cuvee from Little Bird Bakeshop.

12. Arrangement.
With sandwiches, I like to be between the light source and the sandwich. If something has icing or frosting on it, try shooting at a 45 degree towards the light source. I’ve noticed this helps the icing stand-out if I’m focusing on the dark side of the cupcake. Otherwise, if the light source is behind you, it can drown-out the icing.

You can see more pictures on my Pinterest board. I’m also on Google+

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