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Food photography may be more popular now than ever before. The blogosphere is exploding with pictures of food, and social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram are flooding you with never-ending streams of food photos 24/7. Creating food images that stand out in this massive sea of content is a difficult task. Here are five tips to help you get your food photos noticed.
Shadows make a scene look realistic, give your food texture, and create mood, so don’t hesitate to make them part of your food photo. To create nice, dark shadows let your light fall onto your food either from the back or the side at a fairly low angle, from just a little bit above the surface of your set. Use reflectors sparingly, or not at all. Reflectors bounce light back into the areas of your photo that your light source doesn’t reach, in other words, into the shadows. So to keep the shadows dark, don’t reflect the light.
In the salted caramel candy photo above my light was falling onto the set from the back at a low angle and I didn’t use any reflectors.
Action makes your viewers feel as if they are part of your scene; that kind of engagement is always a good thing. Action can be literal, such as a hand holding a hamburger or pouring syrup over a stack of pancakes, but there are other (and actually easier) ways for you to suggest that something is happening in your photo. One example is a glass of freshly poured beer. Your viewers likely know that the lifespan of the foam top on a beer is only a minute, so seeing a fresh beer tells them that someone must have just been at the scene to pour it.
Shooting up from slightly below the food is an unusual angle for food photography; but it can create really compelling images of tall items such as cakes, and things that are stacked, like burgers or, as in the example below, shards of toffee. The food will be towering above the viewer which makes it look big and impressive. Needless to say this angle doesn’t work for flat food, so don’t shoot a pizza with this method.
Contrast comes in many varieties and helps make your food photo look interesting. You can create contrast by incorporating different shapes into your photo, such as round and rectangular (or square). You can also create contrast by including colors in your photo that are on opposite sides of the color wheel (complementary), like red and green, or blue and orange. The lettuce cup photo below illustrates both of these concepts, the square dish contrasts the round lettuce cups and the red sauce provides contrast to the green lettuce.
Don’t feel that you have to fill every square inch of the frame with food or props. A little negative (empty) space gives the food room to breathe, and will keep your viewers from getting overwhelmed and feeling claustrophobic. There are no hard and fast rules that dictate where to leave negative space in a food photo but the rule of thirds is always a good place to start. Imagine your photo dissected into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, and place your subject on or near one of the four points where those lines intersect. Leave the rest of your photo empty and take a test shot. Does the scene look good to you or is it too barren? If it looks like it’s missing something, add more elements to the frame, one by one and along the imaginary lines that dissect your frame, until you have a composition that looks pleasing to you. That’s how I went about composing the Thai curry ingredients shot below.
I hope these tips give you some new ideas for your food photography. If you have any others please share them in the comments below.