Food. This is one of my absolute favourite genres to shoot. As somebody who is highly motivated by great food, when I’m asked to photograph cuisine I feel compelled to make every meal look as tantalising as it tastes. It’s as though I owe it to the dishes to give such mouth-watering meals the appreciation that they deserve. It’s obviously also a given that every dish gets sampled, after all how can I know what to accent if I don’t know every flavour and secret it has to offer?!
When it comes to food and drink, the key things to consider for me are location and lighting. You aren’t just photographing a MEAL, you’re setting a scene. Putting an idea into potential customers’ heads. It’s almost a seduction of the mind. Tease with the peripherals – fuzzy backdrops of the beautiful venue you’re in. Draw in with the lighting – key light the meal with just enough ambience to give an experience of what it’s like to sit at that very table. Then you have the perfectly lit food taking centre stage. Colours; textures; carefully arranged so that you can almost taste how good it is just by looking.
As with any photo shoot, preparation and experience are the most important elements. Almost always, you’re shooting against the clock, as meals only tend to look their absolute best for a few minutes at most. Ju’s dry up, sorbets melt and salads wilt. Therefore, you need to know what you want to achieve with each dish before you go in, have all your lighting set up to reflect this, and be ready for when you see the chef bring out the meal.
I always have several strobes to hand. Currently I’m using the latest offerings from Elinchrom, their D-lite 4 range is excellent, reliable and comes with their own radio trigger, allowing you to control output directly on the camera rather than having to move back and forth to the strobes, should you not have an assistant on hand.
I usually set up two, one with a large square softbox on for soft scene lighting and the other with a smaller octagonal softbox, or even a beauty dish, for stronger directional light.
Then I may also use any from a wide array of props such as white sheets, white and black painted foam boards etc, to use as reflectors or light dampeners in order to control and manipulate any spill with the light.
In terms of shooting itself, if all of the above is set up and tested, shooting is when everything comes together. You may have a dish on the table and someone leaning over you pouring a sauce/syrup so that it’s super fresh (and looks amazing!). I’m often found flicking between various lenses and positions to get every good angle the dish has to offer, whether that’s directly overhead, from the side, close up using a macro lens or any one of a number of other weird and wonderful positions, all before anything on the plate has time to spoil.
This is when it’s important to have really studied the item you’re shooting beforehand to see what’s unique and eye catching.
If it’s a crazy stacked burger, then definitely shoot from the side to show height. However if it’s low but impressively topped then a ninety degree angle from above shooting straight down can give a great perspective.
Once the images have been taken (and the entire food menu demolished!) it’s then a case for post processing, to get the images ready for delivery to the client.
Naturally, getting things as close to perfect in-camera is ideal, but there are usually some tweaks around colour and highlight/shadows that can be made, along with the customary sharpening so that subject really stands out in the shot.
Next bit? Wake up again tomorrow and do it all again!
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