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Food photography styling

Posted Jun 11 2009 6:06pm

I sat in front of the computer for a very long time thinking about how to start this post. One question kept my mind distracted. Why are you writing these posts about food photography and why did you start the Food Photographers Club? After some thinking I believe I found the answer.

I’ve loved photography since the first time I took my dad’s camera (a Minolta from the late 70’s) and started shooting landscapes many years ago. In all these years I have learned a little here and there about photography in general. Lately I’ve learned a big deal about digital photography and food photography. I am no expert by any means. But I want to share the few things I know with the food blogging community.

When I started this blog almost 2 years ago my photographs were horrible. I looked up to the food blogs that had amazing food pictures and tried to understand and copy their work. I also did some research and asked questions around. Thankfully, there was always somebody willing to help and share their knowledge. Now that I feel comfortable enough with food photography I want to give some of that back to the community via this blog and the Food Photographers Club.

I understand the frustration of not knowing why my pictures don’t look like the ones in the magazines, books or some food blogs. Or the frustration of having pictures rejected by some of the popular food porn sites. Oh! I was there so many times and whenever somebody talked about it I felt like the food blogging community needed a place to talk about it and learn from our mistakes.I guess those were my main reasons to start these venues to talk about photography.

But that is way too much nonsense talk. Let’s move on to the real reason of this post. We already talked about some of your camera’s features, lighting and white balance. There are several paths we can take from here, but today I want to talk about styling. I am not the most qualified person to talk about styling. I still have a lot of trouble when it comes to making my food look pretty for the shots, but here are some things that have worked for me (and a few others that I’ve seen work very well for other people):

  1. Vibrant and contrasting colors. This is something I still have trouble with. However, I’ve learned to focus on the food. Use a plate that highlights your food and doesn’t take attention from it. If you are serving a dark color dish, use a light color plate and vice versa. Use garnishing to contrast the color of your food, white (cheese, cream, apple slices), red (tomatoes, peppers) and green (herbs, green onions, peppers) always work great.
  2. Fresh produce. This could be part of the last point. There’s nothing more photogenic in food photography than fresh produce. When you add a slice of a vibrant red tomato to a salad or sandwich this will complement the shot beautifully. Same goes with other herbs, vegetables and fruits. Are you shooting a glass of lemonade? Include a slice of fresh lemon somewhere in your shot and see it come alive.
  3. Props. I personally don’t use props much. I like to focus mainly on the food and its colors, but there are a lot of photographers out there that make use of props beautifully to complement their pictures. Just look at Peter’s and Helen’s blogs. Props should complement your shot and not being the main focus. Unless, of course, you want the prop to be the focus.
  4. Backgrounds. As props, backgrounds should complement the shot and not be distracting. There are a lot of things you can use as a background. I like to use white construction paper, placemats  and different colors of fabric. You can take several shots with different backgrounds and chose the one that works well with your dish.
  5. Get close. This isn’t technically part of food styling, but sometimes when you are not happy with how your food looks on the plate the best thing to do is to get close and focus in a small part of the dish (See the second picture below). This will make the viewer focus their attention on the detail and not the plating in general.

I tried to use these pointers with the following salad. This is a very simple but colorful salad, roasted beets and carrots with rosemary. I served it on a white plate over lettuce leaves and garnish it with almonds, queso fresco and rosemary. I am not very happy with the result and I’ll try again. Tell me what you think:

salad3salad2salad1

And now, if you are game, I want you to try something similar. For this Food Photographers Club Assignment I want you to style a salad for a shot. The salad doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should be presented in a beautiful and appetizing way. Please visit the forum and share your pictures, experiences and pointers with the community. We’d also love to hear your opinions about the other participants’ entries. You can enter as many salads as you want. In a couple of weeks I will post here all the entries for this assignment. I hope to see you all over there!

Happy shooting!


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© Ben for What's cooking?, 2009. | Permalink | 3 comments |
Post tags: Food photography, Salad, Styling

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