Photography: Simple Tips and Tricks for Beautiful Food Photographs

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Photography—One of my loves in life is photography. I hardly go anywhere without toting along my Nikon. Capturing food, people, and places on film and sharing them with family and friends is what I love. I'm living, learning, and challenging myself each and every day with photography.

During the evo Conference, attendees had the opportunity to attend an intimate luncheon that transformed into an educational experience centered around food and photography. A group of food-loving bloggers boarded the Grand Summit shuttle that transported us to the beautiful Waldorf Astoria located just a few minutes down the hill from the conference.

We had the chance to attend food photography sessions with Diance Cu and Todd Porter from White On Rice. If you haven't visited their website, do so now and become inspired. This dynamic duo is incredibly gifted in the art of photography. Through the years, they have learned so much about photography and were full of helpful tips and tricks to help all of us become better food photographers.

During each session, they walked us through their history with photography and then dove into how to take photographs of food using composition and lighting. After they finished sharing their information, they allowed us to practice our photography and enhance our skills through constructive critiques. With cameras at the ready, attendees played with the composition of food and experimented with lighting. Below are helpful pieces of advice that Diane and Todd shared with us during their interactive photography classes.

Food Photography

Composition, according to the talented Diane Cu from @WhiteOnRice:

  • Choose the best possible subjects and objects. Choose pretty ingredients to visualize and encourage.
  • Think like a camera. When you style food, you must understand what the lens will see.
  • Start small. Start on a small scale so that you can see the individual ingredients. When taking photographs of food, you want to focus on the food, not the other objects in the photograph. As Diane asked, "Are you selling props or are you selling food?" Always be careful not to over-prop your food photographs. Antique stores, thrift stores, and Ikea are all great places to find and purchase unique pieces that will enhance your photographs. Start simple with monochromatic colors in order to enhance the food in the photograph. You do not want to distract from the beauty of the food or the "hero" shot.
  • Play with textures. When you go into a shoot, think texture. You should constantly be seeing textures, colors, and contrast in order to bring out the best in the object. Wood is always a great option and so is the color white. Buy old pieces of wood and paint it white. This technique is one of the best options to use as a tabletop when photographing food.
  • Look for height and complementing colors. This will add visual interest to your photographs. Always thinking in 3D will provide a sense of depth to the food and your photographs. Be sure to show volume in the food but do not overwhelm the viewer.
  • Use color. In the words of Diane, "Don't be afraid to us color." Linen is a great to use in food photographs. Buy linens and feel free to cut them to size. When cutting and resizing, keep the manufacturers' hem line to keep the linen nice and clean. When selecting linen, choose a bright and fun color that complements the food. Book Cloth is also another great option. Book Cloth is fabric that wraps around books and it can be purchased at specialty paper stores and online. Book cloth doesn't wrinkle and it comes in all sorts of types and colors.
  • Change your perspective. Taking photographs from the same angle with every shoot can be boring. Use symmetrical angles and change your perspective. Style from the lens and top-down. You should train your eye to shoot from a 45 degree angle and from the top-down.

Lighting, according to the talented Todd Porter from @WhiteOnRice:

  • Dictate the mood. Lighting will help dictate the mood of the photograph.
  • Think of light as a clock. The subject is positioned at the center of the clock. The photographer is positioned at 6:00. Light can come in from the window at 3:00, 9:00, and 12:00. Each position and direction will give the photograph a different type of light and mood.
  • Bounce light. Bouncing light with a white foam core board is a great way to deal with shadows and dark areas. A white board will bounce clean white light back onto the subject and fill in the shadow areas. If you do not have access to a foam core board, use a napkin, piece of cardboard -- basically anything that is clean and white. The more shiny the surface, the more it will bounce the light.
  • Diffuse light. If the light is too harsh, feel free to diffuse it with sheer white curtains or purchase a 5-in-1 Diffuser.
  • Invest in a good lens. A good lens will last you a lifetime. A camera body will only last up to three years.
  • Meter your camera. There are three forms of metering on your camera: Matrix (whole frame), spot (pick a spot for the metering), or center-weighted (meters the center).Knowing how your digital camerameters light is critical for achieving consistent and accurate exposures.
  • Experiment with exposure compensation. This device on your camera (usually it has plus and minus signs) will allow you to tweak the lighter or darker when the camera is set in aperture priority mode.
  • Set your white balance. Cameras now have an amazing auto white balance. If your camera falls into this category, feel free to use the auto white balance setting.

A big thanks goes out to Bush's Beans, Chef Jeffrey Saad, Diane Cu, Todd Porter, and the staff at the Waldorf Astoria for an unforgettable food and photography experience. To give you a better idea of what happened during the day's events, here are some photos that I took during the workshop.

What type of objects do you love to photograph? What are some of your tried and true photography tips?

Parts of this post were originally published on the evo Conference website. Microsoft provided me with a laptop to live blog from the conference.

Jen Tilley has an insatiable appetite for all things related to baking and cooking. She is the author, photographer and recipe developer on How To: Simplify, a blog that shares tips, tricks and recipes to simplify life in the kitchen. She enjoys sharing recipes that require very few ingredients and only a small amount of prep and cook time, all of which make time spent in the kitchen simple and enjoyable. Find her online at How To: Simplify and @HowToSimplify.

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