The number one rule in food photography is the food must look fresh and inviting. Generally if it can’t look fresh, it means it isn’t fresh and is very difficult to make it look otherwise. Food only stays suitable for photography for a few minutes after being prepared, so you need to be ready in advance to photograph it.
There are very few tricks involved. For consumer law reasons, you have to be able to eat what is photographed. The most common technique is to spray water or oil on to the food to keep it looking moist, but even this is not often used. Food can be manipulated with tweezers and arranged to make it more camera friendly and don’t hesitate to do this if you think it means a better picture.
Equipment and technique.
Professional food photographers generally use expensive medium format digital camera equipment to produce photography. It gives a very high quality result for books and magazines.
Other cameras can also be used. The more common SLR camera can also be used and with care a good quality point and shoot type camera or even an iphone camera can be used, but in all instances care with the presentation of the food is necessary.
Using an SLR camera, generally speaking a lens of around 100mm or more is desirable. This gives a reasonable working distance away from the subject matter so to be able to work around the food, leaves space to add reflectors and other light, also to flatten the perspective so the food is not optically spread out as it would be with a wider focal length. This gives the image more impact and immediacy when presented on a website or in print.
A close up lens or attachment is also useful as this gives the ability to pick out interesting details in the food. Of course a wider or closer lens may be used but composition needs to be adjusted accordingly.
A point and shoot camera or SLR might have a zoom lens and this can be used generally at the longer end but be careful not to use any digital zoom setting as this can significantly degrade the image quality.
Lighting falls into a number of categories, natural window light is the easiest to work with as it softly envelops the food and renders colours with no harsh shadow. Direct sunlight can be very harsh but with some supplementary reflectors can be made to look natural. Our brains adjust for shadows and highlights but film and digital technology doesn’t.
Artificial light falls under a number of categories. Studio flash is daylight balanced and renders colour as it naturally occurs. Tungsten light is artificial and reproduces as yellow on in photographs (can be useful if you need an evening mood style of picture) fluorescent light comes in many different shades of colour, but mostly greenish and is not really desirable. In many situations you might find yourself with a mixture of these lights and daylight as well, so it is best to be able to control the light or the situation as much as possible.
Most digital cameras have an auto white balance or settings for tungsten and fluorescent light, but they aren’t always accurate and professional photographers will often shoot a mid grey reference card and later balance the colour temperature on the computer.
Simple lighting modifiers can be extremely useful, white boards or paper and silver aluminium foil can be used to bounce light in to shadow to create a more even style of lighting, and mirrors can be used to create specular highlights and give a sparkle to some food indicating moistness and freshness. tracing paper can be used to put across windows and to soften direct light, this also can even out big differences in light quality if for instance the sun is continually moving in and out of clouds . But its up the photographer to determine which style of lighting is suitable for the style of food and the style of photography they want to present it in .
When photographing food, it is necessary to disassociate yourself from the aroma and tastes and look at the subject objectively.A sauce or soup with a delicious flavour might taste good but visually might look like vomit and needs care and creativity to be presented in the best possible way. Be aware of these issues as it is very easy to produce food photography that can look unappetizing without the aromas and smells normally associated with the food in the photograph. Photographs can’t show smell or taste, so have to use other elements like colour and texture to convey the possible flavours of the food.
Professional food photography teams can have a large number of people involved as every step needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible to create the best possible end product. Team members might include – chef and assistant, art director, food stylist, photographer and assistant, client or editor.
On larger shoots even more people can be required for lighting and computer operation. This also helps look at the subject matter with more than one set of eyes so every step can be considered carefully. A major advertising campaign might be very embarrassing if some aspect in the photography was not picked up at the time of production.
An interesting site dealing with the problems of reflections on food photography is http://www.professionalphotography101.com/photography/shine.html