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Hi, my name is James and I am not a food photographer. However, I love food and could be considered a foodie to some extent. I also wouldn’t mind perusing food photography in the future and incorporating it into my business here and there. I think because of these facts, I fall right into one of the key target markets for Nicole Young’s brand new book Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots. In this review I’ll go over this book and let you know the pros and cons if you’re looking to explore food photography (whether for fun or as a business). Be sure to stick around till the end though because Nicole was kind enough to send me two copies of the book, which means that I can give one away here at DPS!
Nicole is a photographer and also a friend of mine thanks to the incredible new Google+ community. You can follow both of us on Google+ by going to either Nicole’s profile or mine. If you need an invite to Google+ (still an invite only community) then follow this link. At the time of writing this article that link is still good for 99 more invites so act quick!
I met Nicole through my good buddy Brian Matiash of onOne Software and we all hangout from time to time over at G+. I won’t get into how incredible the hangout feature on G+ is, but you can probably tell by Nicole’s photo there on the right.
Nicole is primarily a stock photographer and is one of the few that actually makes a living doing it. She has written several books for Peachpit Publishing, as well as several more for David DeChumin’s ebook company Craft and Vision. Her food photography is absolutely top notch and the images she posts to her Google+ stream often cause me to leave the computer and head out for lunch or dinner. Now that you a bit about Nicole, let’s start digging into this book.
When I got the copy of this book at my front door I was pretty excited, and so was my wife. She is absolutely a certified food nut and she sat down and read most of it right away. In fact, during my trip to California last week she was sending me pictures of the food she was making (and I was missing out on) and telling me all about how she was using tips from the book to make her pictures better.
The book just makes you happy reading it. I don’t know what it is, but I think good looking food just has that effect on people. Food brings people together from all cultures, families, backgrounds and more. We eat food every day of our life so it’s certainly near and dear to us. But I think the reason this book is so attractive is that it makes you feel and believe that these shots are within reach because the book seriously goes through every detail of creating these shots.
In the opening pages of the book, Nicole dedicates the book to: “…foodies, food bloggers, home cooks, and chefs…and to anyone who craves a delicious meal, chases beauty, and wants to make people hungry with their photographs.” I think that’s a pretty accurate representation of who will enjoy this book. I say that because I think that description covers just about everyone. Even if you have no plans of making money with food photography, it’s still quite fun to take professional level images of your food creations. Cooking is an art in and of itself, and photographing something you’ve worked so hard to create is a great way to top off the experience (well, besides eating it!).
People who hate food and hate photography will not enjoy this book. If you fall into either of those categories we probably won’t get along very well
Each chapter of the book covers different aspects of learning food photography. Like any good photography book, the first couple of chapters cover photography fundamentals like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, file types and more. Chapter 2 goes over all the equipment you will need to start taking these pictures. She makes the point that at the very least you will need a camera, a lens and a light. You can start at this point and take great food pictures, but if you really want to step it up she goes over the essential gear as well. The book touches on lens selection, tripods and accessories, cable releases, reflectors, lights and more. If you’re looking for a food photography gear list, then look no further.
After the fundamentals are covered, the meat of this book starts to unfold (pun intended). Chapter 3 is all about light and is full of even more incredible, mouth watering images. Light in food photography is incredibly important, and any photographer venturing into this genre needs to learn to read light and also know how to manipulate it to get the best results. This section of book covers all of this, with real world tips that you can put into practice right away. The images in the book are also split in half for the most part, with half being shot with natural sunlight and the other half being shot under studio conditions. This is important because it shows that you don’t have to have a studio to get incredible shots, but if you have one you can really start to take control of the way the image looks.
Each section usually beings with a few pages called “Poring Over The Picture.” These are usually full, two page spread images where Nicole breaks the image down and goes over what went in to creating the shot. It’s really interesting to see just how much goes in to making a shot that looks so simple and elegant. It becomes apparent that every aspect of the images are done with purpose and for clear reasons. From the color of the table top, to the garnishes on the food, to the details in the background. These parts of the book are my favorite, and they really make me hungry!
Chapter 4 is all about styling your food photography and what props to use for certain effects. Presentation is everything in food photography. So once you have you camera settings down, once you’ve created the optimal lighting environment, now it’s time make the food look it’s best. This was a really interesting section to read through because I’m always interested in what parts of food photography are real and what is fake. I never know whether I’m looking at edible food, or food that has been ruined for the sake of making it look good in a photograph. This book is appealing to me because it seems like Nicole prefers food that still edible whenever possible, because she usually likes to eat it when the photo is done! The tips and tricks in this section are so cool too. From using decorative rocks in the bottom of a bowl to push the contents up to the top, to adding a sheet of cardboard in-between layers of a sandwich, to using fake ice for background cups, to using a charcoal starter to burn grill marks into meat, and more. There really are so many cools tricks in this section that you can put into practice right away.
Chapter 5 goes into framing and composition of your food. This is an incredibly important step towards creating an inviting photograph of food. You can use the best equipment, spend hours creating the perfect lighting conditions, and even hire a food stylist, but if your composition is boring the image is ruined. This chapter covers the rule of thirds, the use of triangles, background and foreground elements, vertical and horizontal considerations, shooting angles, depth of field and lens compression, and so much more. Everything in this section is useful and important.
I was really impressed when I saw that Nicole included a post production section in the book. Most authors tend to shy away from these sections because they take so much time to write and prepare. Post production is the icing on the cake (another intended pun). It’s how you take a great photo and make it perfect. It’s where you take that tiny little blown highlight and recover the detail before sharing the image with the world. Post is where the image comes to life.
This section is chalk full of screen shots from Adobe Camera Raw, Bridge and Photoshop. Each screenshot is completely dissected and shows what each tool does and which ones to use for completing the task at hand. From editing RAW images, adjusting white balance, using clipping warnings to ensure proper exposure, reading a histogram, adding fill light, boosting clarity, masking in photoshop, changing blending modes, cloning and more, Nicole seriously covers it all in this section. If you have these programs, you can literally just take this book and follow it step by step with your own images to get the same results.
Don’t you love these sections? The Behind the Scenes chapter of this book shows more of what goes into creating these photos. It includes full shots of lighting setups, graphic diagrams for planning out shots, little gadgets to use for different situations, more tips and ticks, and complete start to finish guides for several photos.
This book is incredible. It really is. While I am friends with Nicole, I tried to be as objective and unbiased as possible when I read through this book, but I honestly couldn’t find anything bad to say about it. My only complaint is that the book didn’t come with samples of food somehow :).
Food photography is for everyone. It’s just a fun thing to do and a great way to show off the dishes you are most proud of. Food is a universal language that everyone can understand. Cook up a dish, use the tips from this book to create a beautiful shot, share it with the world, and watch the love pour in.
If you remember from the beginning of this review, I have one extra copy of this book that I’m willing to give away to a lucky reader. I’ll make it as easy as possible to enter too: Just leave a comment below either about the article, the book or why you think you’d benefit from receiving this book. After 48 hours I’ll pick a random winner and shoot that person an email with further instructions on how to receive the book. Have at it!