If you are on Instagram, chances are you have been inundated with a deluge of photographs depicting numerous meals of various qualities and styles. Oftentimes, these are simply amateurs, taking pictures with their smartphones to show the world what they are eating. However, in the world of professional photography, taking pictures of food is a far more thoughtful and in-depth project. More specifically, the purpose of the photograph serves to do more than tell the world what you are consuming.
Art of Photography – Presentation of Food
The purpose of pictures of food in a professional context seek to either highlight the food at its pinnacle or deconstruct the food to its basics. Which mode you use will be determined by the client, but it will also be heavily determined by the food itself.
Food in Preparation: setup, props and dekoration
This setup will most commonly be required for editorial shooting. Cookbooks need not apply. Cookbooks are often not interested in showing the food in mid-preparation unless there is a specific visual cue that is necessary for determining when the next step occurs. Of course, in most instances, the visual cue can simply be expressed through words—a far more effective medium for directive purposes. Moreover, photographs of food in preparation do nothing to present the item as a perfect, finished product, which is ultimately the selling point of a cook book.
Instead, photographs of food in preparation generally serve to simply produce a high quality, engaging picture. If someone needs a photograph about chocolate truffles, you can take a shot of the prepared truffles laid out in neat little rows with sprinkles of powdered sugar. This can be a perfectly acceptable picture of exceptional quality.
However, for the same purpose, you can also take a photograph of the melted chocolate that will eventually become the truffles of which the story is written. While this does not perfectly embody the subject of the story itself, it does make for a more compelling photograph. First, the liquid quality of the chocolate is far more likely to generate a captivating image. The way light may play with the liquefied chocolate, casting shadows in some areas while gleaming in others, inherently generate a more active composition.
Moreover, liquid chocolate will also carry with it a sense of action, of movement. It is more or less understood that the liquid state of chocolate is temperature dependent, and if you shoot the chocolate in mid-pour, you also include the movement caused by gravity. Now, while the audience may not consider all of these facts as they gaze upon the image, they will still form a gestalt of understanding in their minds which ultimately coalesce into a better photograph which stirs within them a reaction that could simply not be achieved with images of static food already prepared.
Food Post-Production inspired by restaurants, cookbooks
There can actually be a variety of reasons that you may be required to photograph food after it has been prepared, but advertising is arguably the most common. In this instance, the photographs are not really meant to tell much of a story. Instead, the photographs are simply intended to drive the audience’s desire to eat the food, turning them into consumers. Here, food in mid-preparation will work at cross purposes. Nobody wants to eat an uncooked chicken breast. However, a brazed chicken with lightly browned skin and a side of thick, scalloped potatoes may generate a desire to purchase a product that will allow them to enjoy the experience and sate their anticipation the photograph produces.
Likewise, prepared food may be required for restaurants, cookbooks, or some other outlet that is serving the food on-site. In this instance, again, the food needs to look as appetizing as possible to drive the consumer to order the dish. In this regard, the success of your photograph can somewhat be quantified by the sales of the food itself—though that is hardly an ultimate determining factor as numerous variables are involved in sales analytics. Still, an excellent shot of a steak tartare can help drive sales of a dish that otherwise may be undersold due to a higher cost.
Tips and Tricks for your Insta Foodporn Pic
Shooting food may seem a bit easier than some other subjects, but it still requires a careful understanding of the proper techniques to produce a quality shot. Lighting will be one of the more important factors for which you must account. While this may be true regardless your niche, for food it may arguably be more so. Unless you are shooting lots of different colors, it can be difficult to make the neutrals that much food comes in stand out.
Accoutrements are another important factor that must be heavily weighed. Would a fork and knife add to the composition or detract from it? What about a glass of wine? This can further be muddled by the zoom as some food will be difficult to display effectively without being close up. The dark browns of steak may only pop if shot close up with a deep pink of the rare flesh within. Keep in mind, food has a relatively short shelf life and food photography doubly so.