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The Art of Food Photography [a Painters Approach]

A Guest post by Will Kemp.

Ever wanted to create more drama in your food photography?


Want to break away from the whimsical cupcake shot?

Sometimes the inspiration isn’t from instagram but in your local museum.

To be exact Classical paintings.

I teach aspiring artists how to understand the importance of colour, contrast and composition when learning how to paint. I’m also a keen photographer and there are many similarities between the two.

Painting, as with photography, is more about keen observation than having the latest shiny sable brush. As a painter, you know you will be studying the same image for maybe 10-20 hours so you want to make sure it is exactly right.

Below are my 5 top tips to recreating that Old Master look.

1. Use a Single Light Source


This is very effective when you’re painting because it really helps to give the illusion of depth and that is one of the trickiest things to achieve when your trying to convince the viewer of your subject.

When you use one light source you produce lovely shapes of what are called cast shadows, as in the shadow cast by an object. I often study the shadows more than the subject. You don’t need an expensive light, the photo above was lit using a $5 torch.

You can use this technique when composing your photograph to try and keep it really simple, that way it looks more dramatic .

2. Contrast is King

No, not content, contrast. Beginner painters often don’t paint shadows dark enough in their painting, thus not giving a illusion of depth.

You can’t adjust the HDR for the painting so you have to create it in front of you rather than after the event. Try to limit Photoshop to under 5 minutes.

3. Use your Eye as the Zoom

In can be very tempting to constantly zoom in and out of a subject, to move the angle high and low.

With paintings you have physical limitations with your eyes. Roughly a 50mm equivalent crop factor, so experiment sticking with one prime lens and move your legs, not your zoom.

4.Create Harmony with Complementary Colours

To mute down a orange in painting you add its complementary colour, blue.

This helps to create harmony and balance in your piece.

If you look at the local colour of the onions, a warm orange juxtaposed with a more muted cool blue of the bowl it helps to make the onions ‘pop.

One strong colour, orange balanced with muted versions of its complementary colour, blue helps to balance and this formula was used again and again in Old masters paintings.

5. Find interest in the Ordinary

As a painter you learn to find interest in anything you see, the way light just hits an object, and the power of negative space, in this case the handle of the bowl and the cast shadow of the onion on the table top. Both are really helpful for you to be able to draw objects more accurately.

So don’t wait to have the perfect object, the perfect lighting or the perfect equipment.

You don’t need it. Just start simply, and enjoy it!

Will Kemp is a professional artist currently teachingClassical painting techniques on his blog and has just released the Art of Acrylics online course.

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