If you’ve ever had the urge to snap a quick photo to capture a recent culinary success or savor an important meal a little longer, then you know the challenges that good food photography poses. Do you need fancy DSLR tripods and fisheye lenses? Are there piles of lighting gear you have to have or should you be making fake photo-food recipes so it turns out better? With just a decent DSLR camera and perhaps one lens upgrade, you can begin taking better food photos without worrying about any of these questions.
You probably have some sense of what is and isn’t working with your food photos. Before digging into gear changes and techniques, a few tips can offer dramatic improvement.
- Use natural light – Your flash is your enemy when it comes to food, but so are halogen and other common household light bulbs. Move the plate by the window before it gets dark for the best, most natural colors and hues.
- Clean it up – Most of the time, your photo should just be of the food on your plate, and you should try shots where the food itself fills the frame fully and shots where the plate helps as the frame. But either way, eliminate clutter and gross mess.
- Work on composition and framing – This is similar to the last point, but if you want to include more than just a close up of the food, such as the pan you cooked it in or some floral napkins, learn more about photo composition and natural table setting. Sometimes all it takes is moving the cup a few inches to the left or rotating the plate to infuse the shot with energy.
- Control the color – Food shots are all about the color of the ingredients popping so they look delicious. Use your camera’s manual white balance setting to be sure the true colors are showing through, and maybe even cheat a bit and use the white balance to change the colors to create an interesting effect.
When you’ve maxed out what you can do with those tips, it’s time to move in to explicit camera settings and gear. Either a macro lens or a prime lens is perfect. While the latter is less specialized and more affordable, the former will let you get really close while still focusing perfectly. Many pros also suggest a tripod so you can take multiple shots from the same spot once you find a framing you like, giving you the ability to layer the photo and work on composition without the added variable of reframing every time.
The ISO, shutter speed, and aperture settings you use also matter a great deal. Obviously they impact how much light you get in the shot, but they also determine how much of the shot is in focus and how sharp or blurry it is. Macro photography in general, of which food photography is a branch, usually involves detail shots with a shallower depth of field. So you want a wider aperture, and on a kit lens you will want the widest. You should manually set the ISO as low as you can handle while still getting enough light.
These tips and techniques represent the vast majority of what the best food photographers rely on to take their shots. They might have nicer DSLR tripods and connect their camera to a computer for the bigger review screen, but they work with the same elements to achieve the colors, lighting, focus, and composition necessary for stunning food photography. It’s just a matter of practicing and applying these techniques.