It’s rather difficult to put all my shooting experience in just 10 tips, since there are much more rules, and every day we open more and more new things, with each new examined and analysed photo we’re becoming more and more involved with a wonderful world of food-photography.
But if to speak about the basics which I needed when I just started shooting food, I can single out the following 10 tips. So, let’s start.
Composition is your best friend
It doesn’t matter, what you are shooting with – mobile phone or the most advanced camera with lenses costing like a small town somewhere in the centre of Cambodia – the most important thing in food photography is composition. By combining your knowledge of Golden Ratio and Fibonacci numbers, setting up light correctly and matching colours properly, you’ll be able to get a really spectacular photo that will make people feel butterflies in their stomach.
In general, all my tips will be related to the composition.
Golden ratio and Fibonacci numbers are your personal harmony
Everything in this world, from macrocosm to microcosm, is ruled by harmony, named Composition. And everything we call beautiful is based on geometrical rules of composition. Use and combine the main ones: Golden Ratio, the Diagonal Rule, Golden Spiral, Rule of Triangles. And after they will stick to your unconscious, start learning more complicated ones.
And remember these numbers: 1 1 2 3 5 8. This is numeral harmony of great mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci. Never forget about it and put objects on a shooting table in these groups: one plate, one spoon, two berries, which get off the plate by mere chance, separate group of two wineglasses and a bottle of chilled champaign (no one has dinner on their own, after all). And then put these groups in triangles. That’s it, and it’s really simple!
Set up the light as if it were coming from a window
Morning sun rays coming up from the window and falling into plashes of sunlight on the table with luncheon and aromatic cup of coffee are the most natural and pleasant light for a viewer. And the best light for a food-photographer is natural one. You’re lucky, if you have a big and bright window. Otherwise, just imitate. Usually, two light sources are enough to shoot a beautiful dish. I use one source for 40% of my shooting.
Side light, as if you were sitting near a window in a stylish French coffee shop, drinking tasty coffee and enjoying aroma of French rolls, or back light, imitating languishing sunset on a romantic beach and stirring only most positive emotions. These are two main lighting types for food photography. Others are just auxiliary.
And don’t forget that the light creates a story. Set the light up in accordance with Golden Ratio (again this boring knowledge of composition), influence viewers’ emotions making them be absorbed with your photo and experience the most pleasant sensations. But I’ll talk about this a bit later.
I’ll remain a bit boring to reveal one more rule of lighting set-up. One more composition rule. If you close your eyes and try to imagine motion of the sun in the sky, than you are more likely to see the sunrise on the left and the sunset on the right. This is our memory of generations and we can use it, while setting up the light. Don’t overload the left part of your picture, give the viewer time to tune with the photo and try to put your main light on the left. This will create morning, easy and tender mood.
Colour emphasis and impact on viewer’s subconscious
Food photographer has a unique talent to influence and provoke viewers. In a good sense, I mean. And colour is one of the tools. Every colour stroke has its own sense. Red attracts attention, yellow makes people happy and blue calms down. And combination of colours stirs certain emotions. Pastel colours supersaturated with white create comfort and tenderness, saturated colours excite. Buy Johannes Itten’s book The Art of Color if you have an opportunity, and examine the magical world of colour control. That would be really great.
Besides, you can build up geometrical composition with colour patches. Let the eyes of your hungry viewer look at savoury roasted pork shanks, then at a drink and garnish and then come back to the shanks.
Additional accessories to help photographer
The easiest way to shoot food is to make a close-up of a dish, using white plate as a natural frame. But it can work only with self-sufficient dishes, when presentation of the dish is a complete composition solution of a skilful chef, and a new detail will only destroy composition.
But what shall we do, when it is better not to shoot close-up of a dish? In this case a common food photographer becomes a true food photographer. He/she is well-known by sellers at flea-markets, he’s an often guest on the forums that sell different crockery, he’s greeted by beggars in ruined buildings, where this enthusiastic food photographer files down eaten by insects and time old beams and parquet for his/her next masterpiece.
You’ll have to buy, still and exchange different interesting accessories, you’ll have to buy minibus, and the whole mobile home eventually to transport all your forks, spoons and antique boards from one restaurant to another, have arguments with customs officers in airports trying to explain why you’re travelling with so much silverware and that you haven’t robbed some château in a forgotten French town… Just get ready, this is life of a real food photographer.
And keeping with the traditions of this article, I’d like to say that using these accessories you can easily make that notorious geometrical composition.
Read part 2.